Given the frequency they have played each other, one might think the New York Jets and Oakland Raiders are division opponents.
The two teams will meet in Oakland for the third time in the last 12 months and the sixth time since the 1999 season in Sunday's AFC Divisional playoffs. The Raiders have prevailed in four of the previous meetings. The two clubs met on Dec. 2 in a Monday night showdown, which Oakland prevailed 26-20.
The Jets started the season horrendously at 2-5 but have won eight of their last 10 games, including a 41-0 whitewash over Indianapolis in Saturday's wild card game. Oakland recovered from a midseason slump as well. The Raiders were 4-4 before winning seven of their last eight games to earn the AFC's No. 1 seed. Here are the keys to victory for Oakland:
1) Touchdowns over field goals: The Raiders outgained New York in total yardage 440-297 and quarterback Rich Gannon chewed up the Jets by going 31-of-42 for 342 yards and one touchdown. Oakland, however, had to settle for four Sebastian Janikowski field goals and scored a touchdown just once in four red zone trips. Gannon should have success against New York's No. 21 rated pass defense but the Raiders can ill-afford to waste their chances.
2) Put the clamps on Martin: Much of the attention of Jets improved play has been centered on the insertion of quarterback Chad Pennington in the lineup in place of Vinny Testaverde. Make no mistake; New York has gone 8-4 with Pennington showing unflappable poise as the starter. Martin's return to health and, however, is as big of a reason. He eclipsed the 100-yard rushing mark in four of New York's last seven games. Martin has had mixed success in Oakland. He rushed for over 100 yards in two of those five games since 1999 but has also had three dud performances or 50 or less.
3) Special teams: If there's one area, the Jets have an advantage it's here. Kick returner Chad Morton and punt returner Santana Moss form a deadly return game while the Raiders have struggled on special teams coverage in the second half of the season. In the first meeting, Oakland held a slight edge in this area. The good for Oakland, Rod Woodson blocked a John Hall field goal and Adam Treu recovered a Morton muffed punt at the Jet 12-yard line to set up a Raider touchdown. The bad for the Raiders, they gave up a 29-yard punt return to Moss that set up a field goal. Morton also had a 58-yard kickoff return that turned out to be inconsequential but Oakland needed Woodson's blocked field goal to make it that way.
Vince D'Adamo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org