I am going to make two assumptions here. First, it will take a record of at least 9-7 to make the AFC playoff field. Second, no team left in the race for the final wild card spot is good enough to run the table or go the rest of the way with only one loss.
If those two assumptions prove accurate, then the Tennessee Titans just eliminated themselves from playoff contention on Thursday night. With 6 losses in the books, their starting QB done for the season and three straight road games looming, first making the brutal trip west to Oakland, then visiting powerhouses Indianapolis and Denver, it would seem highly unlikely the Titans finish the season better than 8-8. One team down.
That leaves the remaining field of the Chargers, Dolphins, Browns and Ravens, all currently at 4-5. The Chargers face remaining road games at Miami, at Denver and at Kansas City, along with home games against the resurgent NY Giants, Cincinnati, Kansas City and Oakland. This schedule looks like 2 road losses against powerhouses Denver and Kansas City, but the rest of the schedule could prove problematic. Unfortunately the home game against Kansas City falls in Week 17, when it is likely the Chiefs' playoff position, whether they are division champs or the 5th seed wild card, will already be determined. If so, the Chiefs may be a pushover as they rest their starters. The other games are all winnable, but with any luck at all the Chargers will not be able to go 4-0 against the Dolphins, Giants, Bengals and Raiders. One loss against any of them and it is likely the Chargers are out of the playoffs.
Now we have the Dolphins, Browns and Ravens.
The Dolphins face the Chargers next. A Dolphins' win and the Chargers are likely done. After that they have two games left against the Jets, road games against Pittsburgh and Buffalo, and home games against Carolina and New England. It is crucial that the Jets take at least one of the games against Miami. If they do, then losses against Carolina and New England, two teams clearly superior to Miami, would eliminate the Dolphins from the playoffs. A Jets sweep would all but insure the Dolphins' elimination. But a Dolphins' sweep would be devastating for the Jets, as the Dolphins would then own the first tie breaker against the Jets.
Next up: the Browns. The Browns may be the most serious roadblock to the Jets' postseason hopes. They have a very good defense that keeps them in nearly every game. And they have a manageable schedule remaining. The Browns have home games against the Steelers, the Jaguars and the Bears, and should be favored in every one of those games. They face road games against the Patriots, the Bengals, the Jets and the Steelers. That is a tough road schedule, but if the Browns manage to beat the Jets it isn't difficult to see them squeaking out one other road win here. Thus the head to head matchup is crucial. Beat the Browns and they are likely all but eliminated from the playoffs. Lose to the Browns and they have the first tie breaker against the Jets in the head to head matchup.
Finally there are the Ravens. The Ravens have home games remaining against the Patriots, the Jets, the Vikings and the Steelers. They have road games against the Bears, the Lions and the Bengals (Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh My!). It's extremely likely the Ravens will stumble at least once somewhere among the three road games and the home game against the Patriots. If they do, then if the Jets beat the Ravens the Jets will own the first tie breaker against the Ravens.
So there you have it. The Jets currently have a one game lead for the final playoff spot. The Titans are already all but eliminated. The Chargers do not play the Jets the rest of the way, but if they lose as expected on the road to the Chiefs and Broncos, they will have to run the table the rest of the way to finish with nine wins. That is possible, but not very likely. Which leaves the Dolphins, the Browns and the Ravens. All of whom the Jets play down the stretch. Four games; two against the Dolphins, and one each against the Ravens and Browns. Take them all and the Jets are guaranteed at least nine wins on the season, as well as tie breakers against each of the remaining contenders other than San Diego. It is nearly all in the Jets' control. Win four crucial games and the playoffs are almost certainly ours. Not an easy task, to be sure, especially the road games against the Ravens and Dolphins. Not easy, but not out of the question. It's a situation every athlete savors. Beat your remaining challengers head to head and you don't need any help. Take care of business and seal the deal. Four games and in all likelihood nothing else matters. Win and we're in. Four games to glory. Just the way we like it.