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No NFL team is more deeply situated in a playoff life support state than the New York Jets. At 5-5 and one game behind the surprising 6-4 Cincinnati Bengals, the Jets will most likely have to win five out of their next six games to qualify for the playoffs as the sixth seed in the AFC. Their first test: The plummeting 5-5 Buffalo Bills, a team falling apart at the seams.
Some questions going into Sunday afternoon’s contest…
Sure. The Jets have more talent than the other 5-5 teams in the AFC (the Denver Broncos, Buffalo Bills, and the Tennesee Titans). The Jets defense is Super Bowl quality, and Mark Sanchez should play with sufficient consistency for the rest of the season. Why? Because the Jets have a schedule that any talented team should devour. They get the Buffalo Bills once more, the KC Chiefs, a Giants team that may very well be floundering by late December, a matchup against the Eagles whose QB may be second string sensation Vince Young (three interceptions against the Giants last week), and some other insignificant franchise. Not only is a 5-1 record manageable against these teams, but it should be expected.
I’d like to think of more nice things to say about the Jets as a team, but I really can’t, so let’s go back to their oppositions’ more miserable situations. The currently 6-4 Bengals have to play both the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Baltimore Ravens once each this year. They also have a date with the Houston Texans, who currently boast the NFL’s top defense. Depending on how their back-up QB Matt Leinart plays, the Texans would most likely be favored to defeat the Bengals.
If you’re worried that the Jets are in bad shape, then just give the Bills a look. You’ll feel much better. Early season sensation Ryan Fitzpatrick, who started the first five games in a blaze, has regressed back to career form. His interception tally is now at a nice, robust 14 for the year. So, all things considered, Fitzpatrick should be easy prey for the Jets active secondary.
The Bills defense stinks on all fronts. Sanchez should have enough time to make the decisions he wants in the pocket. So, as long as the decisions that Sanchez wants aren’t terrible (hmmm?), the Jets will be more than fine.
The 9.5-point spread basically says that the Bills at 5-5 is a hyper inflated record buttressed by a QB who over-performed early in the season against other teams who were underperforming at the time (the Patriots, Eagles). It’s like this: the early season NFL is a volatile stock-market; a team’s true value is only revealed around the last third of the season. Now, Fred Jackson, the NFL’s third leading rusher, is out for the year, so that’s a huge blow for the Bills. Jackson’s value as a top shelf running back is very real and they will miss him.
Earlier this year, a wide receiver mutiny erupted before the Jets went into the toughest part of their season schedule. Mark Sanchez has played an undisciplined game at quarterback, making rookie mistakes during critical stages of games. Could it be that the Jets head coach’s own controversial outspokeness is starting to rub off negatively on a young team that already has maturity and discipline issues of its own? Shouldn’t Ryan’s strategy at this point be to impress upon the Jets squad that they need to come together as would an elite professional organization?
There is no doubt that Ryan is a tough head coach, and that is ruggedness is inspirational. However, perhaps Ryan needs to aspire a little more to AFC nemesis Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin, who is as tough as he is stately.