The Jets have their regular season finale against the Bills on Sunday. With a win, Gang Green will make the Playoffs for the first time in five years. Over the last two decades, the Jets have played a number of Week 17 games with a Playoff spot in site. Only twice during that span (in 1998 and 2010) have the Jets already clinched a Playoff spot before their regular season finale.
Let's take a look back at the big Week 17 games over the last twenty years.
December 21, 1997: Detroit Lions 13 New York Jets 10
Even though the Jets and the Lions play in different conferences, this was a virtual Playoff game. The Jets clinched a Playoff spot in the AFC with a win and were eliminated with a loss. The Lions clinched a Playoff spot in the NFC with a win and were eliminated with a loss.
The Jets jumped out to a 10-0 lead in the first half that was cut to 10-3 on a Jason Hanson field goal on the last play of the first half.
Bill Parcells lacked faith in quarterback Neil O'Donnell, who had been benched just a few weeks earlier for Glenn Foley. A Foley injury forced O'Donnell back into the lineup. Parcells' lack of faith showed itself when he inserted Ray Lucas into the lineup in the middle of a third quarter drive with the Jets on the move. Lucas hit a few passes but threw an interception with the Jets in field goal range. He had only thrown one NFL pass before that drive, a pass that came earlier in the game.
The Jets bottled up Barry Sanders through almost three quarters, holding the Hall of Fame back to 23 rushing yards before the final play of the fourth quarter. On that final play of the third, Sanders ripped off a 47 yard run. Including that final play of the third and the fourth quarter, Sanders had an absurd 161 yards on his last 11 rushes in the game. A 15 yard Sanders run gave Detroit a 13-10 lead.
The Jets drove it into the red zone, but Parcells again showing his lack of faith in O'Donnell called for a halfback pass. Ron Rice intercepted Leon Johnson. Had there been instant replay, the call would have been overturned. Rice did not have possession before he went out of bounds, but the officials saw it differently. The Jets improved from 1-15 to 9-7 in 1997, Parcells' first year, but the end was bitter. Detroit won 13-10, and the Jets missed the Playoffs.
December 24, 2000: Baltimore Ravens 34 New York Jets 20
The Jets jumped out to a quick 14-0 lead in this game, surprising the legendary 2000 Ravens defense with a spread passing attack. Baltimore chipped away at the lead in the first half. The Jets were still ahead 14-12 and had driven to the Baltimore 8 with 28 seconds left in the first half when Vinny Testaverde threw an interception Chris McCallister returned 98 yards for a touchdown to give the Ravens their first lead.
They would never surrender it. Jermaine Lewis returned two punts in the second half for touchdowns, and the offense eventually bogged down as the Ravens won 34-20.
The Jets actually still had a chance to make the Playoffs if a few late afternoon games broke the right way. The problem was they needed a Bubby Brister quarterbacked Vikings team to beat the Colts and a Ryan Leaf quarterbacked Chargers team to beat the Steelers. It should come as no surprise that neither happened.
Just two weeks earlier, the Jets were 9-5 and in the running for the top seed in the AFC Playoffs. This game was their third straight loss to close out the season. Head coach Al Groh took the same job at the University of Virginia one week later, bolting from the Jets after a single season.
January 6, 2002: New York Jets 24 Oakland Raiders 22
This was originally supposed to be a Week 2 game, but the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks postponed all Week 2 games to the regular season finale.
The Jets needed a win to make the Playoffs. John Hall's 53 yard field goal with 59 seconds left gave the Jets a 24-22 lead. It was the eighth lead change of a wild game. Gang Green held onto the victory.
The kick was a bit of redemption for Hall. A year earlier, he had missed two field goals in a bitter loss to the Lions in the second to last game of the season. The Jets already would have had a Playoff spot wrapped up before that Baltimore game had Hall come through.
The win earned the Jets a return trip to Oakland for the Wild Card game. Oakland won the rematch.
December 29, 2002: New York Jets 42 Green Bay Packers 17
The Jets actually started this game not knowing whether it would have any sort of meaning. To make the Playoffs, the Jets needed help in the early afternoon games. Either Atlanta had to beat Cleveland to open up a Wild Card opportunity or New England had to beat Miami to open up a chance to win the AFC East.
Things looked bleak. The Browns defeated the Falcons. The Dolphins led New England by 11 points and under 5:00 to play in the fourth quarter. A Dolphins collapse followed sending the game to overtime, where Adam Vinatieri connected on a 35 yard field goal to give New England the win.
This set the stage for the Jets. There was a bit of nervousness when Brett Favre found Terry Glenn on a 14 yard touchdown right before halftime to cut the New York Jets from 14-3 to 14-10. The Jets steamrolled the Packers in the second half, however, rolling to a 42-17 win.
The Jets finished 9-7, sparked by the insertion of Chad Pennington into the lineup. The win over the Packers gave the Jets the AFC East crown. It was doubly sweet because the win also eliminated their two most bitter rivals, Miami and New England.
January 2, 2005: St. Louis Rams 32 New York Jets 29
Despite a 5-0 start in 2004, the Jets entered the final weekend of the season with their Playoff future in doubt. They had a trip to St. Louis. This game featured seven lead changes. The Jets erased an 11 point second half deficit on a pair of nonoffensive touchdowns, a 94 yard kickoff return by Jerricho Cotchery and a 38 yard interception return by Jonathan Vilma.
St. Louis took the lead back with just over 5:00 to go on a 19 yard scoring pass from Marc Bulger to Torry Holt. The Jets forced overtime by taking the ensuing drive to the St. Louis 9, setting up a 27 yard Doug Brien field goal.
The teams played deep into overtime, but a Brien miss from 53 yards gave the Rams good field position. They drove the ball to the New York 13, and Jeff Wilkins connected from 31 yards to give the Rams the win.
The Jets still made the Playoffs, though, because the Steelers beat the Bills in Buffalo. This was a stunning result. Pittsburgh had nothing to play for. They had already clinched the top seed in the AFC, and they were playing their backups. Somehow they mustered a win over a Bills team with everything on the line.
Unfortunately the Jets would lose a heartbreaker two weeks later to that same Steelers team.
December 31, 2006: New York Jets 23 Oakland Raiders 3
The 9-6 Jets were one of the surprise teams of the NFL. After a big Christmas Night win in Miami, all they had to do to make the Playoffs was beat the 2-13 Raiders, a team with one of the worst offenses in modern NFL history. It was a workmanlike effort for the Jets as they led 7-0 after one quarter, 10-3 at the half, and 13-3 after three quarters on their way to a 23-3 win. The Jets gave rookie head coach Eric Mangini a Gatorade bath after the win.
December 28, 2008: Miami Dolphins 24 New York Jets 17
It was another Pennington vs. Favre meeting in a Week 17 game at the Meadowlands. This time Favre was the Jet, and Pennington was the enemy.
The Jets were in the middle of another collapse. After starting the season 8-3, they had lost three of four. The only win required a miracle strip sack and fumble return against the Bills. The Jets completed the collapse as Favre threw three interceptions.
The Jets took their only lead of the game on a 10 yard Leon Washington touchdown run early in the third quarter. Pennington promptly answered with a 6 play touchdown drive capped by a 20 yard scoring strike to Anthony Fasano to reclaim the lead for Miami. It was Pennington's second touchdown of the day, and it gave the Dolphins the lead for good.
Favre's third interception of the day came as the Jets had moved the ball to the Miami 29 with around 5:00 to go. The defense then could not get off the field as the Dolphins bled the clock to 17 seconds before the Jets had finally forced a punt and taken the ball back.
As it turned out, the Jets would not have made the Playoffs even if they had won. They needed either Buffalo to beat New England or Jacksonville to beat Baltimore in addition to beating the Dolphins. Still they had to watch their former quarterback celebrate on their field as the win gave the Dolphins the AFC East title.
Mangini was fired the next day, paying for the collapse with his job.
January 3, 2010: New York Jets 37 Cincinnati Bengals 0
It was simple. This was the last game of the regular season. If the Jets won, they made the Playoffs. If they lost, they were out.
Gang Green dominated this one from the opening kickoff. They outgained the Bengals 320 to 72 yards. Carson Palmer was 1 of 11 before being pulled. Darrelle Revis shut out Chad Ochocinco. Brad Smith ran for 92 yards, and Mark Sanchez only had to throw 16 passes.
The Jets closed out the old stadium with a bang. Then for good measure they beat the Bengals again five days later in the first round of the Playoffs.
January 1, 2012: Miami Dolphins 19 New York Jets 17
The Jets were mathematically alive, but they had the feel of a dead team walking. They had dropped a crushing game to the Giants a week earlier and needed a lot of help in addition to beating a Dolphins team that had fired head coach Tony Sparano and was working under interim head coach Todd Bowles.
The Jets jumped out to a 10-3 lead, but right before the half Mark Sanchez threw an interception with the Jets driving that the Dolphins turned into a field goal. It was 10-6 at halftime. Miami took the lead early in the fourth quarter capping a twelve and a half minute drive with a Matt Moore one yard touchdown pass to Charles Clay. Another Sanchez interception set up another Dolphins field goal to make it 16-10. The Jets brought it to the Miami 10, but Sanchez's third interception of the day essentially ended this one as it as returned 55 yards and set up another field goal.
The Jets scored a touchdown against a prevent defense but failed to recover the onside kick. Miami won 19-17. Santonio Holmes had been benched late in the fourth quarter, capping a season of in-fighting and drama.