For years, the New York Jets started talking about the playoffs and the Super Bowl months before they were within reach.
This year? One game out of the playoffs with three games to go, and not a peep from the Jets.
It will take a flawless record for the next three games if the Jets want to play more than three more games.
Will they do it? Here's a progress report recapping this week's developments, and what the future may hold for the Jets.
Primary Talking Point
The Jets defense has put the team on its back in dominating two weak opponents.
In fact, they have been largely responsible for all of the Jets' biggest wins this year, including their run of three wins in the past four games. The players have to get the credit for carrying out their assignments, but this season's Jets defense is an example of a masterful coaching job by Rex Ryan.
Throw out all the numbers you want, but for all the talk that the Jets defense was a one-man show, they are ranked No. 4 in defensive passer rating 14 weeks into the season, not deviating much from the team's third ranking in defensive passer rating from 2011.
The Jets defense features two edge rushers over the age of 30 and a patchwork secondary without its star cornerback; for them to be where they are—not in spite of, but because of their defense—is nothing short of remarkable, and strong evidence that Rex Ryan should keep his job as head coach of the Jets.
It's becoming clear that any hopes of a postseason push are directly tied to continued success on the defensive side of the ball, but they'll need to replicate those performances in the coming three weeks to finish the job.
Wide receiver Stephen Hill was diagnosed with a lateral collateral ligament sprain in his right knee, and linebacker Bryan Thomas has a pectoral strain. Both players are considered day-to-day according to Newsday, but the prognosis is considered more favorable for Thomas than Hill.
The absence of the rookie wide receiver has many Jets fans and media members buzzing about the possibility of a reunion with a specific free agent. Find out who in the notebook section below.
Young running back has started to earn a bigger share of the workload in recent weeks, and has made the most of his opportunities with 218 yards on 54 carries (4.04 YPA). The Jets have allowed him to shoulder a heavier load as they have eased the load on Shonn Greene, potentially in preparation to transition to Powell as the leader of the backfield.
Paved open some pretty huge holes for Jets running backs to dance through on Sunday against the Jaguars, and apparently took some initiative in motivating his fellow offensive linemen to raise their level of play. The Jets will need that kind of veteran leadership if they're to have any hopes of making a playoff push.
Didn't even suit up for Sunday's game, just seven days after he was responsible for the lone touchdown in the Jets' win over the Cardinals. There are many theories behind why he was deactivated, but this was just another case in point that the Jets don't have confidence in any of their quarterbacks not named Mark Sanchez.
- Safety LaRon Landry came to the Jets with many question marks around his ability to stay healthy. Landry has yet to miss a game this season, and has taken 97.2 percent of the team's snaps this year (via ProFootballFocus.com). He has played 100 percent of the team's snaps eight consecutive weeks, and hasn't played fewer than 80.6 percent of the snaps in any game this year. That's while playing nearly 50 percent of his snaps in either run support or as a pass rusher. Questions?
- Muhammad Wilkerson has been having a Pro Bowl-caliber season, but could come up short behind some of the other big-name defensive tackles in the AFC (Vince Wilfork, Haloti Ngata and Geno Atkins). After logging three pressures, one hit and one sack on Sunday, he has 18 pressures, seven hits and four sacks on the season. With 36 stops on 336 snaps in run defense, Wilkerson's 10.7 run stop percentage ranks third among 3-4 DEs (via ProFootballFocus.com).
- A lot of chatter that the Jets might go after Braylon Edwards, who was recently cut by the Seattle Seahawks. He's a wide receiver. The Jets need a wide receiver (see Hill injury status above). He was with the Jets in 2009 and 2010, and is a friend of Mark Sanchez even to this day. This is not the same system as it was when Braylon left, and Braylon is not the same Braylon he was when he left. Edwards has eight catches for 74 yards and a touchdown this year; his last reception was a touchdown catch against the Patriots in Week 6. All that said, the benefits outweigh the risks. At best, Edwards turns out to be the perfect stop-gap in the offense for a playoff push. At worst, his rustiness gets in the way of New York's slim playoff hopes.
The Jets may be one game out of the playoffs in spite of their up-and-down season, but the "down" parts have not made their path to the postseason any easier. They have to finish one game ahead of the Pittsburgh Steelers (due to the team's Week 2 loss at Heinz Field) in order to claim the sixth wild-card spot in the AFC.
Pittsburgh's final three games (at Cowboys, vs. Bengals, vs. Browns) are much more difficult than New York's (at Titans, vs. Chargers, at Bills). Pittsburgh may have two home games, but New York doesn't face another winning opponent all year.
Will the Jets make the 2012 playoffs?
The Jets can't afford to lose another game this season, but with three opponents that feature a combined record of 14-25, it doesn't look like they will.
It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas, but it's also beginning to look a lot like 2009, with the Jets finding their way into the playoffs despite a sluggish start to their season.
Erik Frenz is the AFC East lead blogger for Bleacher Report. Be sure to follow Erik on Twitter and "like" the AFC East blog on Facebook to keep up with all the updates. Unless specified otherwise, all quotes are obtained firsthand or via team press releases.