The Jets are on a winning streak! Back to back close wins against a crippled Ravens team and an abhorrent Browns team don't do much to alleviate the pain of a 1-5 start to a season in which many fans expected the Jets to at least contend for a playoff seed (myself included), however. It is the first step to the Jets clawing their way back to .500 this season, though, and this seems very feasible when looking ahead at the schedule. With 8 games remaining on their slate, the Jets have 5 divisional matches ahead.
Where We Are
The Jets have not looked like a very good team this year, frankly. They haven't been horrible, but they're clearly a middle of the pack to bad team rather than the contender that many pundits expected prior to week 1. Sitting at 3-5, the Jets would need to win at least 6 of their remaining 8 games to really have a shot at a playoff seed. In all probability, they'd need 7 this year after crippling losses to most of their potential wild card competitors. Luckily for the Jets there aren't too many world beaters left on the schedule, with only 2 of their remaining games coming against teams with a winning record this year or last year (both against the Patriots.) The Dolphins, Colts, Bills, and Rams are all middle of the pack teams with flaws. The 49ers are a trainwreck. If the Jets can continue to beat weak teams consistently, they actually have a decent chance to finish .500 or above. It's far from guaranteed, though.
Where They Are
The Dolphins are in a spot eerily similar to the Jets right now. Despite major investments in free agency with the goal of a 2015 or 2016 run, the team is just not very good. The new coach is struggling and the talented DL isn't playing up to its potential. They're also on a 2 game winning streak which came against crippled and subpar teams, though they are just 1 game below .500 right now. In terms of talent, the Dolphins are relatively evenly matched with the Jets. Though the Jets swept them with ease last season, the Dolphins and Jets appear to be in very similar situations this season. The Dolphins could easily turn their season around with a few divisional wins, while the loser of this game will very likely be out of contention moving forward.
The Jets defensive line needs to show up. It's starting to get ridiculous how little production the Jets have gotten out of a defensive line that features 3 insanely talented first rounders. Despite being the youngest member of that group, Leonard Williams has been far and away the most productive this year. Leonard Williams has as many sacks (6) as Sheldon Richardson, Muhammad Wilkerson, and Steve McLendon combined thus far. He leads the team in forced fumbles and leads all Jets defensive linemen in tackles, ranking 4th on the team. Williams has quietly been a dominant force in his second season, though it has mostly been overshadowed by the underwhelming performance of the DL and the defense as a whole. He has been the best defensive player for the Jets all season and I expect him to be the x-factor this Sunday.
It's essentially impossible to pick any player other than Jay Ajayi coming into this game. He's coming off back to back 200+ yard games in which he's rushed for a minimum of over 7.5 yards per carry on 25+ carries. Those are ridiculous numbers for a player who had barely seen the field coming into last month. While I was very high on Ajayi coming out of college, I definitely don't see these games as typical of his production going forward. I think the Jets should be able to contain him, but he clearly has the potential to take over a game when everything breaks right. If that were to happen, Ajayi would be the first player in NFL history to record 3 games in a row with 200+ yards on the ground...I'm assuming. Someone want to check that? X-factor.
Keys To Victory
Offense: Another week in which avoiding turnovers is important. The Dolphins' secondary and linebackers are weak, so don't be afraid to let Fitz spread the ball around and utilize his receiving threats out of the backfield.
Defense: Put a stop to the developing run game coming from Miami. Put the game on RT's shoulders and watch what happens.
The Bottom Line
This is a game which both teams need to win. Both teams are more or less equal in terms of talent and coaching in my opinion. It's a tipping point game. Whoever loses can more or less kiss their playoff hopes goodbye as they watch the inevitable collapse ensue. I honestly don't know which team I like to win this, except that I'd like the Jets to win this. So I'll pick the Jets in a 3 score blowout. Makes sense.