Week 8's 49-9 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals was the most disastrous showing for the New York Jets this season. Worse, they face the possibility of a similar fate in Week 9's game when Drew Brees leads the New Orleans Saints into MetLife Stadium. However, don't write off the Jets' playoff chances regardless of this game's outcome. They'll probably have to win five or six of their last seven games, but at least the schedule gets easier.
Don't Concede Defeat
In 2012, the Saints finished 7-9. They had the second-best offense in the NFL and the worst defense.
This year, Sean Payton's return to coaching combined with Rob Ryan's work as defensive coordinator has improved the team's overall quality. The offense has slipped from second to sixth, but the defense has leaped from 32nd to 12th. That's a major factor in the Saints' 6-1 start.
In other words, the Saints are a far more complete team this year than last. However, that doesn't make them invincible.
New England and Tampa Bay, teams that the Jets have defeated, have either slowed the Brees express significantly or, in New England's case, defeated it. Reviewing these games provides the following insights about how a defense might stop Brees:
- Confuse him. Brees uses play action, eye movement and pump fakes to confuse defenders and hide his intentions until the last possible moment. Defenses can play the same game with coverages. They can pretend to fall for fakes or pretend to blitz, then drop into coverage. Tampa Bay intercepted Brees twice using these techniques. Dekoda Watson's first-quarter interception set up the Bucs' first touchdown drive. Mason Foster's fourth-quarter pick-six gave the Bucs a 14-13 lead.
- Deny him weapons. Two of Brees' principal weapons, tight end Jimmy Graham and running back Darren Sproles, sometimes have pass-blocking responsibilities. This gives the defense an opportunity to make them forsake receiving options for pass protection. They don't always have to blitz. A convincing show followed by a drop into pass coverage could put Graham and Sproles into pass-blocking mode while leaving defenders downfield.
- Deny him the ball. I state the obvious, but the best way to stop Brees is to keep him off the field. However, winning the time of possession battle will be a hollow victory if the Jets don't score points. The Saints, like the Bengals, can score from anywhere on the field.
- Pressure him. ProFootballFocus.com (requires paid subscription) indicates that left tackle Charles Brown may be the weak link in the Saints' pass protection. Brown's pass-blocking grade of -7.0 is partially based on allowing four quarterback sacks. He'll face Muhammad Wilkerson, the Jets' sacks leader with seven.
- Think outside the box. The Patriots neutralized tight end Jimmy Graham by shadowing him with cornerback Aqib Talib and later, Kyle Arrington. That probably won't happen with the Jets. According to ESPNNewYork.com's Rich Cimini, safety Antonio Allen will cover Graham, as he covered New England's Rob Gronkowski in Week 6. Rex Ryan will have to be creative in some other way.
Employing these strategies doesn't guarantee victory. Tampa Bay ultimately lost, 16-14. They couldn't stop Brees from overcoming a 14-13 deficit with a fourth-quarter field-goal drive. New England needed a last-minute Tom Brady touchdown drive to overcome a 27-23 lead despite its success in containing Graham.
Defeat, in other words, is possible unless the Jets pitch a shutout. Now let's examine how that defeat would affect the Jets' playoff hopes.
State of the Wild-Card Race
This table shows the top three teams in the AFC wild-card race at Week 8's conclusion.
|San Diego Chargers||4-3||2-3|
The Jets are a half-game behind San Diego in the battle for the final wild-card berth. Behind the Jets are four teams with 3-4 records (Baltimore, Miami*, Oakland and Tennessee) and two teams with 3-5 records (Buffalo and Cleveland).
If the Jets fall to 4-5 after Week 9, they'd continue to trail San Diego. They'd also trail any 3-4 team that wins. In the worst-case scenario, Tennessee would be among those teams. They own the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Jets because of their Week 4 38-13 victory.
Let's look at the remaining schedules of San Diego and Tennessee, the teams the Jets won't play, to see how well the Jets might have to do to pass them.
First, we'll take San Diego.
San Diego's schedule includes Cincinnati (6-2)*, Denver (7-1), Kansas City (8-0), Miami (3-4), the New York Giants (2-6), Oakland (3-4) and Washington (2-5). That's a combined record of 31-22. Excluding Washington, their Week 9 opponent, makes their opponents' record 29-17. (When we cite the Jets' opponents' record later, it will exclude Week 9 opponent New Orleans.)
They'll play both Denver and Kansas City, teams with a combined record of 15-1, twice.
It's plausible that the Chargers could finish 8-8 by beating Miami, the Giants, Oakland and Washington while losing once to Cincinnati and twice each to Denver and Kansas City. That would make their conference record 4-8.
Now let's shift our attention to Tennessee.
The Titans Week 9 opponent is St. Louis (3-5). Their remaining opponents are Arizona (4-4), Denver (7-1), Houston (2-5), Indianapolis (5-2), Jacksonville (0-8) and Oakland (3-4). These opponents have a cumulative record of 24-29. Exclude St. Louis, the Titans' Week 9 opponent and their opponents' record is 21-24.
They play Indianapolis and Jacksonville, teams with a combined 5-10 record, twice.
If the Titans lose once to Denver and twice to Indianapolis, they would finish at 9-7, with a conference record of 7-5. The Jets would have to finish 10-6 to pass them.
What about the others? Shouldn't I discuss scenarios for Baltimore, Buffalo, Cleveland, Miami and Oakland? I could, but I choose not to. Unlike San Diego and Tennessee, the Jets play each of these teams at least once. They can compensate for a loss to New Orleans through head-to-head competition.
That's also important because the Jets are tied with Buffalo for the worst conference record, 2-4, among this group of AFC wild-card contenders. Denver's 3-1 conference record is best, followed by Tennessee's 3-2. No one else is better than Baltimore's and Oakland's 3-3.
That means the Jets' conference record is no worse than a game behind the teams they have yet to play. Winning their six remaining conference games would give them a division record of 5-1 and a conference record of 8-4.
Losing to New Orleans or Carolina of the NFC South won't affect the conference record tiebreaker.
Will the Jets make the 2013 AFC playoffs?
The Jets' Outlook
Let's assume the Jets lose to New Orleans and enter their bye week at 4-5. What could we expect them to accomplish in their last seven games?
Of the Jets' post-bye opponents, only Carolina has a winning record (4-3). The collective record of opponents Baltimore (3-4), Buffalo (3-5), Carolina (4-3), Cleveland (3-5), Miami (3-4) and Oakland (3-4) is an unspectacular 19-25. They play Miami twice.
To earn a 10-6 record, the Jets would have to go 6-1. Given the team's inconsistent performance to date, that goal sounds ambitious. But NFL team statistics indicate it may not be unrealistic.
NFL.com ranks the Jets' offense 17th. That's not spectacular, until you look at the rankings of their post-bye opponents. Buffalo's offense ranks 19th, followed by those of Baltimore (20th), Carolina (22nd), Cleveland (24th), Oakland (25th) and Miami (28th).
Only Carolina's third-ranked defense surpasses the Jets' sixth-ranked unit. Cleveland (seventh) and Oakland (10th) have impressive units as well. Baltimore (16th), Miami (21st) and Buffalo (28th) complete the list.
Does this mean going 6-1 will happen? Not by any means. While these rankings make a 6-1 finish more feasible, Geno Smith would have to end one of his negative trends to do it. He would have to defeat at least one team with a Top 10 defense.
In fact, if current trends hold true he'd have to defeat two of three. Carolina, Cleveland and Oakland all qualify.
That could change in the coming weeks. It shows, however, that making the playoffs won't be easy. The AFC is full of teams that are similar in capability to the Jets, incomplete but capable of beating anyone on a given day.
In other words, don't view the scenarios I've outlined as predictions. They are demonstrations, nothing more. To me a more realistic forecast would be that the Jets finish 8-8, perhaps by beating Baltimore, Buffalo and Miami (twice) while losing to Carolina, Cleveland and Oakland. They'd earn a division record of 5-1 and a conference record of 6-6.
They'd need help to make the playoffs. Assume that either Denver or Kansas City clinches the first wild-card birth. For the Jets to earn the second berth as an 8-8 team, Tennessee would have to finish no better than 7-9. So would any other teams that own the head-to-head tiebreaker, such as Cleveland and Oakland in this example.
But even being able to have this conversation about the Jets with a straight face represents a moral victory. Remember this season's first ESPN rankings that placed the Jets firmly at the bottom? Their current No. 16 position is a tribute to this team's grit and determination. Making the playoffs would represent the icing on the cake.
*This article does not incorporate the results of the October 31 game between Cincinnati and Miami.
Follow Philip Schasillie on Twitter: @digitaltechguid.
Source for NFL standings, team statistics: NFL.com