We are just past the halfway mark of our season and it is time to sip some of that 5-4 Kool Aid. At this point, the playoff picture is very much in our favor. We are almost entirely in control of our own destiny. A 5-2 record the rest of the way is almost definitely going to get us the last wild card spot, and there's even the slight chance that a near perfect 6-1 or a perfect 7-0 gets us the division. New England's next four games include matchups against three of the hottest teams in football. If things go exceptionally well for us, we could be in control of the division a month from now. (That may be a bit too much kool aid for a team as inconsistent as ours, but hey, it's a kool aid post!)
Here is a look at our remaining games. You'll note that in my predictions I have the Jets going 7-0 to close out the season. This is a total koolaid prediction. I acknowledge that and you don't need to point that out. (My sincere prediction is 4-3 with losses to Baltimore, Miami and Cleveland. (I do think 4-3 could get us the last wild card spot but we will need help warding off Tennessee and Baltimore.) But you didn't hear that from me. All you heard from me is 7-0 and the division. HECK YEAH. )
@ Bills- On paper, these should be two evenly matched teams. But let's be real here. The Bills are one of the least potent passing teams in football, they are only slightly better on defense this year than they have been for the past three supposed breakout years for them, and Rex Ryan is thoroughly and completely their daddy. Rex-coached Jet teams are 7-2 against them, and we've been around the 30 point mark while holding them to 20 or less in more than half of those games. They can't stop the run and we run well against them. And despite the fact that EJ Manuel will be back, I'll still take Rex over a rookie qb any day.
Disaster looms if: Buffalo gets the run game going. This should not be a problem but it is always the threat. They usually win if they get serious production from their two headed attack of Jackson and Spiller.
Victory awaits if: We contain their run game and limit Stevie Johnson on third downs. Their defense is not good enough to stop our offense.
Prediction: Jets win 34-17.
@ Ravens- Baltimore is currently on a three game losing streak and will be facing the Bengals and the Bears before we get them. We could be facing a broken team by the time we get them, or a resurgent one. It's kind of hard to tell at the moment. Despite their record, they are a very good football team. They have a top ten defense that would probably be ranked in the top five if not for their season-opening franchise record whupping by Peyton Manning. Their offense has a pair of very good receivers in Torrey Smith and rookie Marlon Brown, and Joe Flacco can make all the throws. Working against Baltimore this year has been injury and underperformance. Their run game has been utter garbage, which bodes well for us. Also boding well for us is the fact that they are one of, if not the worst team in football in the first half of games this year. If we come out strong and take a solid halftime lead, we should be able to use our defense to overpower their injured and underperforming o-line to put them away.
Disaster Looms if: We do not contain the duo of Torrey Smith and Marlon Brown. These are a pair of big receivers and I don't think either of them is going to be afraid of Milliner. If we allow them to get behind the defense, it's going to look like the Cincinnati game. And on offense, we need to play carefully but not conservatively. Baltimore is vulnerable to the big play but they will generate turnovers up front and Lardarius Webb is adept at picking off poorly thrown passes on short patterns.
Victory awaits if: Rex does not bring the same timid mentality he has at times against his old AFC North teams and rivals. Outside of Denver, Baltimore has not lost a game this year by more than one score. The key to beating them is playing a full sixty minutes of aggressive football. Chris Ivory is the exact kind of churning back that has been able to run on the Ravens with some success this year. If he has a good day we should be golden.
Prediction: Jets win 17-14.
Vs. Dolphins- Here we have a team on the brink of an epic collapse. I would not be entirely surprised if they did not win another game this season. Before the preseason they were my pick to win the division. That was before Dustin Keller's injury and before their O-line imploded in the spectacularly dramatic fashion that it has. They have a decent amount of talent. Brent Grimes has been amazing for them this year, and their pass rush has been dominant in stretches. Brian Hartline has cooled off a bit since his amazing start and Mike Wallace is still trying to get on the same page with Ryan Tannehill. We know they will play us tough because they always do, but I just don't see them having an answer for the new sack exchange. I expect the D-line to win this game for us by forcing a couple of turnovers and getting in Tannehill's face all day.
Disaster looms if: Our O-line falters. Miami is eminently beatable, but they have a solid pair of pass rushing outside linebackers, a pair of very fast middle linebackers and a beast in the middle in Paul Soliai. If we do a good job against them, we can grind it out on the ground and use our short passing game to beat them. If their front seven gets traction, it could be a long day for us.
Victory awaits if: Ryan Tannehill is hurried. Tannehill is your typical young qb. He makes huge mistakes when he's facing heavy pressure. If given time to throw he is accurate and dangerous. Their run game is not scary at all. On offense we need to generate some run game and take the occasional deep shot against Dmitri Patterson. Look for Kellen Winslow to have a big day as Miami has really struggled against the tight end this year.
Prediction: Jets win 17-13
Vs Raiders- For once, we are not traveling to the west coast to play this game. Instead it will be Oakland coming to us. Here's what you need to know about Oakland. They are not a joke, but they are not good. On both sides of the ball, they are good in the run game and bad in the passing game. Their entire offense is predicated on their ability to run the ball. If we play as well against them as we have against the run so far, we should win this running away. They are a feisty team though, and they play hard.
Disaster looms if: We don't defend the read option well. As the Pittsburgh Steelers recently learned, Terrelle Pryor is lethal if you don't contain him. For those of you who haven't seen it, this is Pryor outrunning the entire Pittsburgh secondary for the longest qb run in NFL history. You let him get going, and they can win the game.
Victory awaits if: We shut down their versatile run game. Oakland's pass defense is a sieve and their passing attack is paltry. They are the 30th ranked passing offense and the 28th ranked passing defense. Unlike our many previous matchups against Oakland in recent Jets history, this time they will be the jetlagged team, so to speak. Look for Geno to have his highest completion percentage since the Atlanta game and for the offense to roll.
Prediction: Jets 30 - Raiders 10
@ Panthers- This will be a tough game if Carolina keeps playing the way they have been, but I for one am not buying them. The combined records of the teams they have beaten so far this year is 8-33. You read that correctly. That is not a typo. Not only have they not beaten a winning team this year, but only one of the teams they have beaten has amassed more than two wins so far. When the St. Louis Rams are the best team you have beaten, you might not be as good as advertised. I expect them to lose four of their next five games and crash back down to earth in a hard way. That's not to call them garbage though. They are very well coached and have many efficient players. Cam Newton has also grown as a player this year, even if it has been against inferior opponents. They also feature a savvy possession receiver in Steve Smith, a three headed rushing attack that is as dangerous as any in football and a secondary that, despite being a hodgepodge group who hasn't played together for very long and doesn't seem to have any superior talent, is still somehow one of the best in football. They also have a pair of solid pass rushing defensive ends. Good team, but as I've mentioned, probably not as good as they seem.
Disaster looms if: Our passing game falters. Carolina is the second best run defense in football after ours and that has come against a bevy of dependable rushers (albeit on weak teams). They have limited or controlled quite a few quality backs this year. We need big plays in the passing game to beat them.
Victory awaits if: Steve Smith and Greg Olsen are controlled and the Panthers run option game is limited. Carolina is a very basic offense. There isn't really a reliable WR past Steve Smith and their entire offense plays off of their many varied backfield looks. If we contain the edges and limit the damage they do on the ground we will win this game. Newton is still prone to hero ball and will make mistakes if the onus is put on him to win the game for them.
Prediction: Jets 24 - Panthers 21 (in overtime)
Vs. Browns- In the Cleveland Browns we face a team on the rise. They are second in the league in sacks and they defend the run very well. They also have an elite cornerback in Joe Haden, and a pair of elite pass catchers in WR Josh Gordon and TE Jordan Cameron. Rounding out their offense is slot receiver Davone Bess, the underrated Greg little and a passcatching fullback who is pretty good in Chris Ogbonnaya. They are very well coached, and currently have a solid 'plus' game manager at qb in Jason Campbell. In my opinion, this will be our toughest remaining game.
Disaster looms if: Geno Smith holds the ball too long. These guys get after the quarterback in a serious way. Aside from having good edge rushers, they are also stacked with interior rushers who get good pressure. The offenses that have beaten them lately have been extremely efficient. This one can also get away from us fast if Cromartie can't limit Josh Gordon.
Victory awaits if: We play a clean, efficient game. They have deficiencies at quarterback and on the right side of their o-line that we can take advantage of. We need to watch for quick passes and have a balanced offensive gameplan that includes our #2 receiver taking advantage of their talent dropoff at cb after Haden, and we should be able to grind out a win.
Prediction: Jets 15 - Browns 12. Fieldgoal-a-palooza.
@Dolphins- I expect the fins to have mentally packed it in at this point. I'm sure they'll still get up for this game, but I don't think they are going to be good enough to hang. See my other recap for how I expect their season to go post-drama.
Disaster looms if: They are still playing for something and we need the win. There's just some bad juju when we go to Miami needing to win. They are talented and prideful. And division games are never easy. Their defense especially has a way of rising to the occasion.
Victory awaits if: We are on a momentum train. As I have mentioned, I expect them to falter seriously. A faltering, defeated squad vs. a team rolling towards the playoffs? I'll take us in that one.
Prediction: Jets 31 - Dolphins 10
There you have it. Enjoy the kool-aid, folks. And in case you were wondering, the super duper Kool aid has us welcoming New England for a buttwhipping at Metlife in the wildcard round, taking out the Colts in the divisional round in a game that is reminiscent of the 41-0 spanking we gave them in 03, upsetting the favored Broncos in a cold weather AFC Championship game and beating the 'not as good away from home' Seahawks for the title at home in the most fairytale ending ever. And now your Kool Aid journey is complete. You may revisit reality at your leisure, but I advise you to spend your Bye week in this state of mind. It's pretty nice here.