A Look to the Road Ahead
Florham Park, N.J.- Since the devastating loss to the Denver Broncos the talk around this team has been about the need for the Jets to win the rest of their remaining games. With the first two games down, marked in the win column, the Jets just have four more games to put away before they can feel comfortable that they have secured a playoff birth. But even that’s not a guarantee at this point.
Right now, with four weeks remaining, there are four teams that have essentially wrapped up playoff spots (Texans, Ravens, Patriots and Steelers) with a record of 9-3 and five teams (Jets, Titans, Bengals, Raiders and Broncos) tied for the final playoff spot at 7-5. The Jets would lose in a tiebreaker scenario with the Broncos and the Raiders, but the good news is they only have to finish with a better record than one of those teams because one is likely to win the division (crazy as it seemed a few weeks ago I’m guessing it’s the Broncos) leaving the other to fight for the Wildcard.
The Jets shifted into a playoff mindset immediately after that loss to the Broncos and with that mindset they are sticking by the one game at a time mantra, but that doesn’t mean us reporters have to. While the players and coaches are drowning themselves in information about the Chiefs and the game plan being implemented to beat them, allow us to take the time to take a look to the road ahead to see just how daunting of a task this playoff run will be.
Mathematically there are still many different scenarios that could possibly play out over these next four weeks, realistically though there are only a few actual possibilities. While it’s still mathematically possible the Jets could still win the division and the Patriots could miss the playoffs by losing their next four, no one really believes that will happen do they? Not with the Redskins, Broncos, Dolphins and Bills as their remaining games that’s for sure. So realistically speaking even if the Jets do complete their mission to win the rest of their games the Patriots will still win the division. The Ravens will most likely win their division as they have the tiebreaker over the Steelers, but for the purposes of the Jets hopes it’s irrelevant because whichever of these two teams doesn’t win the AFC North will win the first Wildcard spot. The Texans will win the South and most likely the Broncos will win the West, leaving one Wildcard spot up for grabs that will almost certainly go to one of four teams (Bengals, Jets, Raiders or Titans).
The Raiders are the team least likely to grab the remaining spot as their schedule consists of a road game against the undefeated Packers, home against the Lions (with Suh back, fresh off suspension), at the Chiefs and closing out home against the Chargers. Considering how the Raiders appeared to quit last week against the Dolphins and they had to bring Carson Palmer out of retirement there’s a extremely high possibility they lose at least two of those games, if not all. The Bengals have two should be wins on their schedule (away for Rams, home for Cardinals) mixed in with two tough games, home this week against the Texans and away for Ravens, but that Ravens game might not mean anything to the Ravens since it’s the last game of the season and they could potentially decide to rest their starters (although they could still need this game to lock up a first-round bye or home-field throughout the playoffs). If the Bengals lose one of those games the Jets playoff window opens a little wider, if the Bengals lose two of them they will likely find themselves on the outside looking in.
Which leaves us with the Jets and the Titans. The Titans schedule looks similar to the Bengals in that it has two should be wins, away for Colts and home for Jaguars, and two tough games, but one of them (Texans) being in the last week against a team who might not have anything to play for and they other one against the Saints. Anyone who has watched the Saints the past few weeks would probably look at this game as an automatic loss for the Titans, but just remember the Saints are a completely different animal at home (6-0) than they are the road (3-3) and against the Titans they will be on the road. If the Jets and Titans both win out and Bengals and Raiders don’t the Titans would win the Wildcard because they would have a conference record of 8-4 while the Jets would be 7-5 (Bengals are currently 6-4 with two conference games left and Raiders are 5-5 with two left as well.)
What all this means is the Jets will need to win at least one more game than the other three contenders and in order to do everything in their power to make that happen they will need to do exactly what they have been talking about doing for two weeks now, win out. First up will be the Chiefs, who will likely rely on Tyler Palko with Kyle Orton having dislocated his finger on his throwing hand last week, and while the Chiefs will be limited in what they can do offensively their defense is good enough to win the game for them if Sanchez and company struggle. Then the Eagles, who get Vick back this week and if he can stay healthy it will make it a much tougher game for the Jets to win than if Vince Young was still the quarterback).
Then comes the Christmas Eve battle for New York against the Giants, who let’s face it while the two teams are built much different, they both exhibit the same bi-polar tendencies that drive their fans absolutely bonkers. The Giants will be fighting for their own playoff lives as well and this game could be not only a battle for New York, but a battle for the one New York team to have a shot at the playoffs. The final game is in Miami on New Year’s Day against a Dolphins team that is playing at a ridiculously high level right now. If the Dolphins didn’t lay down at 0-7 for a shot at Andrew Luck, you can be sure they won’t lie down in the final game with their mission being to keep their hated rival out of the playoffs.
For Jets fans these next four weeks are pretty simple, although it may not look or sound simple. Obviously you root for the Jets to win these last four games, after that this week root for the Texans to beat the Bengals, the Saints to beat the Titans, Raiders to lose to the Packers and Broncos to lose to the Bears. Next week, you’ll be rooting for the Lions to beat the Raiders and yup sorry to do this to you, but you’ll want to root for the Patriots to beat the Broncos. You can also root for the Bengals to lose to the Rams and Cardinals and the Titans to lose to the Colts and Jaguars, but none of that is likely to happen. Which means you’ll want the Ravens and Texans to need the final game of the season for home-field/bye purposes so they can beat the Bengals and Titans, respectively.
If the Jets can win out they will be looking at the very real possibility of earning that final Wildcard spot, but because of the hole they dug themselves earlier in the season it’s possible that won’t be enough. So while the players won’t worry about who loses to who, let them take it one game at a time and keep the focus on their opponents, as Jet fans keep your eyes on the Titans and Bengals and pray to the football Gods that they start dropping games while rooting for the Jets to keep rolling.
Maybe, just maybe, the end of the road will be the playoffs, but for that to happen the Jets simply can’t afford another let down and they will need to continue to get better each and every week as the competition gets stronger, otherwise the road will lead to bitter disappointment.