AFC East rivals the New York Jets and Miami Dolphins close out the 2011 regular season on New Year's Day at Miami's Sun Life Stadium, with kickoff slated for 1:00 PM. The two long-time adversaries met back in Week 6, with the Jets snapping a three-game losing streak with a 24-6 victory, highlighted by CB Darrelle Revis' two interceptions, including a 100-yard return for a TD in the first quarter. The Monday night defeat dropped Miami to 0-5 at the time. The early betting line for Sunday's contest favors the Jets by -2 1/2 points.
Jets QB Mark Sanchez didn't put up big numbers in the mid-October meeting (14 of 25, 201 yards, 1 TD), but directed the offense effectively and didn't make any costly mistakes. RB Shonn Greene of the Jets carried 21 times for 74 yards, while WR Santonio Holmes (3 receptions, 63 yards and a TD) made some timely catches as the Jets remained unbeaten (3-0) at home.
The Jets came up short in their big meeting with stadium-mates the New York Giants this past Christmas Eve, losing 29-14, putting added pressure on them to win this Sunday for any hope of making the playoffs as a wild-card. At 8-7, the Jets can only make the postseason by beating Miami, having Tennessee and Cincinnati lose, and either Denver or Oakland also lose. If they'd beaten the Giants, they could have controlled their own destiny, but instead now have to rely on some help.
Sanchez attempted a career-high 59 passes against the Giants, completing 30 for 258 yards and a score, but also threw two interceptions, was sacked five times, and fumbled a center snap into the end zone which the Giants recovered, stopping a potential momentum-changing drive midway through the fourth-quarter.
The Jets had an overwhelming advantage in time-of-possession, 36:06 to 23:54, but converted on just 4 of 21 third-downs, and were also plagued by penalties, getting flagged ten times for 95 yards.
Miami's season has been a strange one, stumbling out of the starting gate with an 0-7 mark, winning three straight, then going 2-3 to come into Sunday's game with a 5-10 won-loss record. Head coach Tony Sparano was fired three weeks ago, and under interim coach Todd Bowles, the Dolphins bounced back with a 30-23 victory at Buffalo, and nearly pulled off a huge upset on Christmas Eve over New England, bolting out to a 17-0 halftime lead before falling victim to Tom Brady and the Patriots in the second half, falling 27-24. QB Matt Moore, returning from a head injury, proved he's fully capable of being considered Miami's long-term answer under center, connecting on 16 of 32 passes for 281 yards and three TDs, while RB Reggie Bush recorded his career-best fourth consecutive 100-yard plus performance, gaining 113 yards on 22 carries in the loss. WR Brandon Marshall also had a huge game, hauling in six passes for 143 yards and a touchdown.
Miami has the third-stingiest run defense in the league, and for New York to have success, an efficient ground game is practically a must, given Sanchez's inconsistency and occasional mental lapses. Miami's pass defense isn't nearly as stout however, and the Jets may rely on the passing game predominantly, although not to the tune of 59 pass attempts.
Jets coach Rex Ryan, frequently criticized for his penchant for making brash predictions, saw his big talk backfire gainst the Giants, and not surprisingly, he's been relatively quiet this week. Miami, however, has nothing to lose as the season winds down, and given the history between these two, nothing would be more rewarding than for the Dolphins than to send New York home with quite a few "what-if's" facing them.