The Jets are 3-5 and coming off a bye week. The bye was sorely needed to get some of their myriad injured players back to health. Stephen Hill, Mike DeVito, Dustin Keller, Kenrick Ellis, Sione Pouha, Bart Scott, Joe McKnight, Bilal Powell and Clyde Gates are all nursing injuries and all have at least a chance to play on Sunday.
The Seahawks are 5-4 and will most likely remain in the hunt for the sixth playoff spot in the NFC. They have a difficult second half, including games against the Chicago Bears and San Francisco 49ers. After this week, they have a bye and then two hard road games in Chicago and Miami. A 6-4 record feels very different during a bye week than 5-5.
For the Jets especially, there is no doubt that this is a game they cannot afford to lose. In the current playoff format, no team has ever reached the playoffs after starting 3-6. If they can instead win and get back to 4-5, they will be back in the playoff hunt. The AFC is not deep this year, and 9-7 is likely the target for reaching the playoffs.
In order to get that win and keep their season alive, here are 10 things the Jets must do.
The first thing the Jets need to do is establish the power running game. Running back Shonn Greene is a major barometer for the Jets offense. When he does well, everything goes well. This year for Greene has been much like the first three years of his career: inconsistent.
Greene had strong performances against the Indianapolis Colts and Buffalo Bills, but also some weak performances. He does best when he gets a lot of carries and can get yards after contact. In order to have that opportunity, the Jets need to convert third downs and get more time of possession for Greene.
One strong point of his game is that he is perfect this year on 3rd-and-1 situations. If the Jets can avoid 3rd-and-long and sustain drives, Greene will get better as the game goes on.
The Jets running game thrives more when it is multifaceted. Shonn Greene by himself becomes too predictable.
Having Bilal Powell and Joe McKnight available makes the running game a lot more interesting. In recent weeks, both of them have been injured, and the running game has suffered. If one or both of them is good to go after the bye, that will help.
Both of these change-of-pace backs have done well this season. In fact, Greene has less yards per carry than either of them, and McKnight has been averaging an impressive 6.6 yards per carry.
With a punishing, grueling running back, having more backs is better; health is crucial. Keep an eye on how many running backs touch the ball in the first quarter. If all three of them get first-quarter touches, that is a good sign.
Mark Sanchez is a play-action quarterback but, for the most part, has not been able to get play action going this season.
The play-action game is the next step once you have a running game. Joe McKnight is an excellent receiver out of the backfield and can serve as a good change-up to Powell and Greene. Greene is also a capable receiver, although he has had some miscues this season.
The Jets offense only works when they can run on first down and then convert 15- to 20-yard plays through play action. That is the kind of rhythm Jets fans want to see on Sunday.
Assuming Stephen Hill is healthy on Sunday, Mark Sanchez needs to find him wherever he is on the field. The rookie wide receiver is a matchup nightmare and almost impossible to cover. Hill is constantly open and often does not get seen quickly enough or at all.
Sanchez needs to be aware of where Hill is, have his timing down and find him in stride. When Hill gets one-on-one coverage, he almost always gets open. And if he catches the ball out in front, he is a dangerous playmaker.
The one big flaw in Stephen Hill's game is his hands. He dropped balls in the preseason, and he is dropping balls in the regular season. Drops are the one thing keeping this guy from being an elite wide receiver right away in the NFL.
If Hill can keep his hands on the ball, he can be a nightmare for the Seahawks defense. He needs to catch the ball first and then decide where he is going to run. He sometimes turns his head too soon and leaves the ball behind.
In every aspect of the game, the Jets linebackers have been having a down year. Calvin Pace, Bart Scott, David Harris and Bryan Thomas are all not playing up to their standards.
In the pass-rushing department, they are getting nothing done. The starting linebackers have combined for only five sacks this year. In pass coverage, they are failing to cover tight ends and running backs. Even in the running game, the linebackers have suddenly become a weak spot on the team.
The returns of nose tackles Sione Pouha and Kenrick Ellis are likely to occupy more offensive linemen and make the jobs of the linebackers easier, especially David Harris. We will see if this happens. It certainly needs to if the Jets defense wants to regain its old form.
The Jets defense dominated rookie sensation Andrew Luck in Week 6. Now they get to face another rookie quarterback in Russell Wilson.
Head coach Rex Ryan's defense involves a lot of movement and a lot of complex schemes, which can be tough on rookies. We know the Jets are not going to score a ton of points against a tough Seahawks defense. They can turn the tide of this game with one or two turnovers.
Safety LaRon Landry and cornerback Antonio Cromartie are the ball hawks on this team. They need to deliver on Sunday with an interception.
Sione Pouha, Kenrick Ellis and Muhammad Wilkerson are three of the best run-stuffers in the NFL, with Pouha considered by many to be the best.
This season we have not had the pleasure of watching all three of them play together healthy. The Jets have one of the most talented defensive lines in the NFL and one of the ones most crippled by injury. Arguably the biggest goal of the bye week was to get that line healthy.
The Jets need to have a healthy defensive line on Sunday, and they need to stuff the runs of Marshawn Lynch.
Special teams coach Mike Westhoff is renowned around the league for his long and successful career. Many experts consider him to be the best special teams coach in the league.
Yet the performance the Jets special teams came up with against the Miami Dolphins was perhaps the worst of his career. A blocked-punt touchdown, a field goal blocked, failure to catch an onside kick, kickoff penalties, the list goes on. The special teams failed in every possible respect.
This week they need to get back on track. Joe McKnight has the ability to break big kick-off returns, and Jeremy Kerley can do the same on punt returns. Special teams needs to be an advantage this weekend, not a disadvantage.
Personal fouls have been an issue this season. The young players on the defensive line—especially Muhammad Wilkerson and Quinton Coples—have been hit with roughing-the-passer penalties. Safety LaRon Landry has been penalized significantly as well.
A tough defense also needs to be clean defense, especially now in the NFL. If the Jets do everything else they need to do and play a clean game, they will garner a win against a less-than-dominating Seattle Seahawks team.