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Palmer is key for Bengals to knock off Jets

Three pressing questions surrounding the N.Y. Jets-Cincinnati wild-card matchup on Saturday:

1. Can Cincinnati's corners neutralize the Jets receivers, so the safeties can play the run?

Pro Bowl voters snubbed Bengals corners Jonathan Joseph and Leon Hall, but at least one of them should have made it. They will be asked to cover Braylon Edwards and Jerricho Cotchery man-to-man to free up the safeties to work in run support. The Jets have attempted the most rushing plays (607) in the NFL and the fewest passes (393).

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It's no secret the Jets are coming to Cincinnati to run the ball 40-plus times. The Bengals' first-down rush defense has to be great. Opponents ran 194 first-down running plays on the Bengals this season, and were held to 2 yards or less 85 times (44 percent of the time).

New York's offensive line will block a Bengals front seven that is missing LB Rey Maualuga, but it can't block the safeties as well. The Jets convert only 29 percent of third downs when they have to go at least 4 yards. There will be first-down opportunities to throw, but can rookie Mark Sanchez capitalize on them with Cincinnati's corners playing tight man coverage?

2. Can Cincinnati block New York's pressure scheme?

It's no secret the Jets love to blitz. In fact on third down, they have blitzed more than any team in the NFL. Carson Palmer has to get ready for a defense that will blitz on all downs, but comes on third down 79 percent of the time.

What makes this interesting is the fact Palmer is one of the least blitzed quarterbacks in the NFL. He is second only to Philip Rivers in handling the blitz with a passer rating of 74.5 in such situations, and only Drew Brees has been blitzed less than Palmer.

The Bengals' success against the blitz will not discourage Rex Ryan, who will bring pressure upwards of 30 times during the game. Cincinnati's coaches and offensive line are used to the Ryan blitz package from his days in Baltimore and are confident they can pick it up.

With all-pro corner Darrelle Revis locked up on Chad Ochocinco, Palmer needs former Jet Laveranues Coles and Andre Caldwell to come through on most big pass situations.

3. Which quarterback can make the plays in the fourth quarter to win the game?

I would be surprised if this turned into a high scoring game. Both offenses average less than 20 points per game and need help from their stingy defenses or special teams in the scoring department.

Sanchez is on the road in his first playoff game, and has never led his team on a game-winning drive. Palmer is at home, and is a former Pro Bowl quarterback with 16 game-winning drives to his credit.

Sanchez has thrown eight more interceptions than touchdowns this year and has been sacked once per every 14 dropbacks, while Palmer has eight more touchdowns than picks and gets sacked once in every 19 dropbacks.

This year, in games decided by one score, the Bengals are 6-3, while the Jets are 3-5. One of these quarterbacks will have to employ the 2-minute drill to win the game and I think Palmer has a much better chance of succeeding than Sanchez.

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