Right about now is when the playoff scenarios begin to ramp up, so let's handicap it.
AFC Playoff picture:
1. Houston Texans (11-1) *clinched playoff berth
2. Denver Broncos (10-3) *clinched AFC West
3. Baltimore Ravens (9-3)
4. New England Patriots (9-3) *clinched AFC East
5. Indianapolis Colts (8-4)
6. Pittsburgh Steelers (7-5)
7. Cincinnati Bengals (7-5)
8. New York Jets (5-7)
9. Buffalo Bills (5-7)
10. Miami Dolphins (5-7)
11. Cleveland Browns (4-8)
12. San Diego Chargers (4-8)
13. Tennessee Titans (4-8)
Week 14 elimination scenarios:
The Cleveland Browns, San Diego Chargers, and Tennessee Titans are eliminated with a loss AND a Colts win + Steelers win + Bengals win.
Week 14 clinching scenarios:
Houston can clinch the AFC South with a win + Colts loss
Houston can clinch a first round bye with a win + a Ravens loss + a Colts loss.
Amazingly, the 4-8 teams are mathematically still alive, though walking on paper thin ice, as one loss or a few other teams winning eliminates them. The same goes for the 5-7 teams, though with a buffer as their victory will keep them alive for this week regardless of what the Colts/Bengals/Steelers do.
Realistically, the Jets are looking to leapfrog the Colts, Bengals, and Steelers for that final spot. While Houston can still drop to the Wildcard, them doing so would mean the Colts have continued to win and we cannot catch up so I will eliminate them from this analysis. Also, Baltimore could also drop to 9-7 by losing out but even if that happens we cannot leapfrog the Ravens because the worst conference record they can attain is 8-4 and the best we can get is 7-5.
Jets remaining schedule:
@ Tennessee on Monday Night Football (schedule makers are kicking themselves right now)
vs. San Diego on Sunday Night Football (likely to get booted because it's a toilet bowl)
While I think it's likely that the Jets trip up at some point, simply because a team of this caliber will have a tough time winning 4 NFL games in a row, it's certainly not a difficult schedule to navigate. There exists a scenario where the Jets could make the playoffs at 8-8, but in checking out the playoff scenarios it appears the only way that could happen is if Indy loses out and the Bengals or Steelers go 1-3 down the stretch, and if we don't lose to Buffalo and/or Buffalo doesn't tie us at 8-8. If Indy wins once, that avenue is gone because it seems we lose tie breaker scenarios to Cincinnati and certainly lose to Pitt. Very remote, so for all intents and purposes, the Jets need to win out or the playoffs are poof.
3 of the final 4 are on the road, where they are 2-3 this season with a good win over the Rams and a rather uninspiring win over the Dolphins, an impressive showing in a loss to the Patriots, and 2 pretty non-competitive double digit losses to the Steelers and Seahawks. Jacksonville is a rather inept team who showed signs of life in beating Tennessee and almost taking down the Texans, but is still a 2-10 team. Tennessee is not much better with a 4-8 record and have been blown out more than a few times, however they have notched an impressive win over the Steelers and have been competitive at home when not playing an elite team. The Chargers are quite similar to the Jets in that they've bullied a few fellow crappy teams, have one ugly win over a crappy team, a quite ugly loss to a crappy team, and have otherwise lost to a bunch of good teams. The Chargers, with a solid defense, have played competitive football recently, keeping within one score of the Broncos, Ravens, and Bengals in their last 3 games but have just been able to pull down the actual W. Buffalo we all know, bad QB that sometimes plays well, dangerous run game, mediocre defense. However, they do sport a 3-2 home record and playing there in late December could be absolutely miserable. I still don't understand why people actually live up there, but to each their own.
Let's look at the guys we are chasing:
vs. Dallas, @ Philly, @ Pittsburgh, vs. Baltimore
A rather difficult schedule, with only one sub-.500 team on tap, the woeful Eagles (but somehow still alive in the NFC East!). Unfortunately, the Bengals and Steelers play each other, giving one of the 2 teams we chase a guaranteed victory (or tie). Depending on how the rest of the year goes, Baltimore may not have anything to play for in Week 17, but of note is that they blew out Cincinnati 44-13 in Week 1, which was quite a long time ago. The Cowboys is a Jeckyl and Hyde team so who the hell knows, I think Dallas can beat Cincinnati if they play to the level they are capable of for 60 minutes, but Dallas fans have waited 12 weeks for that to happen. The Bengals have been playing tough defense, currently 8th in the league, and have supplemented it was a league average offense behind Andy Dalton and quite possibly a top 3 WR in the NFL in AJ Green, so they may be hard to knock off.
vs. San Diego, @ Dallas, vs. Cincinnati, vs. Cleveland
Pittsburgh may have the luck of the draw here- 3 of their final 4 games are at Heinz field, including a potentially pivotal showdown with the Bengals who they defeated in Cincinnati by a TD back in Week 7. Going to Dallas should be a tough game in theory but they have not been able to put together a complete game since Week 1. They bracket those 2 games with a Charger team traveling from California to Pitt that can't pull out wins and with Cleveland to end the year when they likely will be out of contention and playing spoiler (which is actually very dangerous, especially a team that already defeated them). They do get Ben Roethlisberger back this week, which is a huge boost as Charlie Batch is pretty terrible, and the Steelers defense, after a long stretch of up and down play, are rounding back into the form we all recognize as they are the NFL's #1 total defense and #5 scoring defense.
vs. Tennessee, @ Houston, @ Kansas City, vs. Houston
Indy's huge last second victory against the Lions was monumental for the Colts playoff hopes, and a huge punch to the face of ours. We will be unable to catch Indy if they win 2 of these last 4 games. And, unfortunately, the Colts have 2 games that are very, very ripe. This week they at home against Tennessee. Tennessee fought them to a near standstill weeks ago until an unbelievable Colt effort to get into the end zone, but this game will be in friendly confines at LucasOil Stadium, where the Colts have defended their home turf to the tune of a 5-1 home record. 2 weeks from Sunday they have a date with the hapless 2-10 Chiefs who right now look like the worst team in football. Andrew Luck is already doing what Sanchez made fashionable in 2010, with 5 fourth quarter game winning drives to his credit this year thus far. They have a couple of tough ones in between those 2 with the Texans, but if the Texans keep winning and lock up that home field advantage prior to week 17, Luck may be dueling with TJ Yates in that final game. Major advantage to the Colts. While the Colts defense has been a sieve this season, Colts fans have every reason to believe in Andrew Luck right now.
vs. St. Louis, vs. Seattle, @ Miami, vs. NYJ
It's probably a waste of time to analyze Buffalo's schedule because essentially the week 17 showdown is going to be the one that eliminates us or Buffalo, if we haven't both been eliminated by then. Since we can control Buffalo's destiny, looking into it is pointless. Buffalo could theoretically win their next 3 as Seattle is a lesser team on the East Coast, but I doubt it. Buffalo is just a mediocre team.
@ San Francisco, vs. Jacksonville, vs. Buffalo, @ New England
Ouch. Despite a poor Jacksonville team and a mediocre Buffalo team on the slate, playing San Francisco and New England (both on the road) makes it very difficult to believe the Dolphins are going to win out to get into the playoff picture. While I commend Miami for some of the things they've done, because they looked like they would be completely inept this year (I thought taking the under on 7 wins was easy money, now I'm hoping I just get a push), it's highly unlikely they will stay in this race past Sunday. The Pats may have their seeding locked up by Week 17, so if the Fins do get past San Fran and take out J-Ville and Buffalo, that may be something to watch out for. If we both win out, we will rank ahead of the Dolphins due to a superior conference record, but it could be interesting if we tie at 8-8.
So, getting in?
How do the Jets wind up in the playoffs? I'll lay out some scenarios, though not all because they are too numerous. All scenarios presume we win out, which would put us at 9-7, 3-3 in the division, and 7-5 in the conference.
Scenario 1: The outright victory
The most straight forward scenario is for two of these 3 teams drop to 8-8, the Dolphins lose along the way, the Jets get in with the 6th seed outright. If all three drop to 8-8 or worse, the Jets get the 5 seed. For this to happen though, the Colts would have to lose out, the Bengals and Steelers winner would have to lose the other 3 games, and the loser of the Bengals/Steelers game could only win 1 other game. All 3 dropping to 8-8 would also open up a path for Miami to squeak in at 8-8, provided Miami's only loss is to San Fran and not a conference team, else it would be the winner of Pittsburgh/Cincy taking the 6 seed. This scenario is highly unlikely IMO, I think 2 of these teams will get to 9 wins.
Scenario 2: The Colts and Steelers finish at 9-7, the Bengals go 10-6 (or better).
Let's say we tie Indy, and we tie the Steelers, and the Bengals go 10-6. In this scenario, the Jets would get the 6 seed. For Indy and Pitt to go 9-7, Indy would have to drop 3 conference games, putting their conference record at 6-6. Likewise, Pitt, even if they beat Cincinnati, they could not go 9-7 and do better than 6-6 in the conference. In the 3 way tie, the Jets superior conference record would put them in.
Scenario 3: The Colts and Bengals finish at 9-7, the Steelers go 10-6 (or better).
This is the interesting one. One of 2 things could happen:
~ If the Bengals were to lose one of the 2 games to either the Ravens or the Steelers, then the Jets get in due to superior conference record.
~ However, if the Bengals defeat both the Ravens and Steelers, and their 2 losses were to Dallas and Philadelphia, then it gets interesting because then it would come down to strength of victory, which would mean we would need teams like Buffalo, St. Louis, Arizona, Miami, and Tennessee to pile up some wins while teams like the Giants, Chiefs, Raiders, Redskins, and Browns to lose.
Scenario 4: Colts go 10-6 (or better), Bengals finish at 9-7, Steelers finish at 8-8
Basically identical to the above scenario, the Jets and Bengals go down to strength of victory if the Bengals beat the Steelers and Ravens, otherwise Jets go.
Scenario 5: Colts go 10-6 (or better), Steelers finish at 9-7, Bengals finish at 8-8
In this case, the Jets would be out due to their loss to the Steelers.
Scenario 6: The Bengals and Steelers finish at 9-7, the Colts go 10-6 or better
This is another fun scenario.
~ If the Bengals defeat Pitt and Baltimore, they will place second in the division by conference record. In which case it will come down to strength of victory between the Bengals and the Jets.
~ If the Steelers beat the Bengals, then they will place second in the division even if their other loss is to Cleveland. That would be bad for us, as Pitt would get the bid due to a H2H victory.
~ But what if Cincy beats Pitt, loses to Baltimore, loses to Dallas, and beats Philadelphia... and the Steelers lose to Cleveland? Cincy would have the superior conference record, thus would win out in the tie breaker over the Steelers, leaving it down to strength of victory again except with a lower strength of victory than in the first sub-scenario. That last week will be very vital if Cincy beats Pitt.
Scenario 7: The Bengals and Steelers finish at 9-7, Colts finish 8-8.
If this happens, bottom line scenario is that it's going to come down to strength of victory between the Bengals and the Jets. Either the Bengals are going to place 2nd in their division (since tie-breakers go in-division first), and have the tie breaker applied versus the Jets at that point, or the Steelers are going to place second, go in over the Jets, then the tie breakers will be applied to Bengals vs. Jets.
Scenario 8: Colts, Bengals, and Steelers all finish 9-7
This one is a bit of a mess.
~ Let's say Pitt beats Cincinnati, giving them 2nd place in the AFC North regardless of if they both go 9-7. At that point, it becomes a 3 way tie breaker with Pittsburgh, Indy, and NYJ, all at 9-7. In that scenario, the Jets would become the 5th seed by virtue of conference record, as it would be impossible for Pitt and Indy to go 9-7 and tie the Jets conference record. Then, it goes to a tie breaker between Pitt and Indy, which would go to common games (Browns, Titans, Jets, Chiefs). Colts are 2-1 thus far with 2 left to play, the Steelers are 2-2 with the Browns left to play. If the Steelers lose to the Browns, then the Colts get in. Otherwise, it will go to strength of victory.
~ Let's say Cincy gets 2nd in the division by virtue of beating Pitt and Baltimore while Pitt loses to them and Cleveland. If this happens, it's a 3 way tie between Indy, Cincy, and NYJ. In this case, Indy is immediately eliminated and the strength of victory tie breaker is applied. If Cincy wins that tie breaker, they will get the 5 seed, while the Jets are put back in the tie breaker ring with now Pittsburgh and Indy, which they would win. Otherwise, Jets get the 5 seed.
Scenario 9: Pittsburgh wins the AFC North, Jets/Bengals/Ravens/Colts all finish at 9-7
Without going too deep, Pitt can win the AFC North at 9-7, or by finishing ahead of the Ravens in the standings. Cincinnati cannot win the AFC North tied with the Ravens but can win by finishing ahead. But if all 3 are tied at 9-7, multiple things can occur. First, to go 9-7, the Ravens must lose out.
~ Pittsburgh must defeat Cincinnati and Cleveland to be in the running to win AFC North at 9-7. Furthermore, the Bengals MUST ALSO go 9-7 to make it a 3 way tiebreaker. This is because the tie breakers for 3 teams is different than for 2 teams, as it will go to best W/L/T record amongst the 3 teams, which in this scenario would be Pittsburgh (3-1, vs. Ravens being 2-2 and Cincy being 2-2). Odd, but interesting, that if Baltimore loses out their fate may rest in Cincy's hands. If that happens, we go into the ringer. Pittsburgh would take a top 4 seed, the Ravens by virtue of conference record would get the 5th seed and then the Jets/Bengals/Colts would be thrown into the loop, where the Jets would get the 6 seed with their conference record.
So, while it looks to be a tough road, the fact is that the Jets are still not only alive, but there's a possibility of getting the 5th seed. I'm skeptical personally, but Rex can perhaps make me look like a fool.