Nobody thought the bumbling New York Jets stood a chance to contend for a playoff berth at the start of the 2013 season.
Football pundits dubbed the Jets an inevitable cellar dweller with a lame-duck coach and horrific quarterback situation. It seemed virtually impossible for New York to rise from the ruins of an ugly 6-10 season that saw the Sanchez effect and Tebow-mania engulf the team in a fiery disaster.
Enter: a new-found offensive concept and a revamped defensive mastery.
The Jets aren't fooling anybody in how they've climbed from the seeming inevitability of a last place team to a 5-4 record and the cusp of a playoff appearance.
Gang Green doesn't feature a crew of electric playmakers on offense. They don't boast a star-studded backfield or highly praised quarterback. New York no longer owns the principal rights to Revis Island or the partial circus that coincided with its sandy disaster.
The 2013 version of the Jets is a scrappy, gut-strong band of bullies that will continue to push opponents off their heels and into the turf until the clock strikes quadruple zeros. This team is a straight-up force to be reckoned with.
Just ask Pro Bowl quarterbacks Drew Brees and Tom Brady, who both struggled mightily against Gang Green's salty defense.
The only defect separating the Jets from the unthinkable status of AFC East contender is inconsistency. Rex's Jets have been up and down since the season commenced and have yet to string together consecutive wins.
That could change when the Jets return to action in Week 11 on the road against the beatable Buffalo Bills (3-6), whom New York manhandled earlier this year in a game not as close as the 27-20 final suggested.
Gang Green currently rocks the best rushing defense in the NFL, giving up a meager total of 73.8 yards per game. The Jets' beastly front seven, led by stud defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson and supreme nose tackle Damon "Big Snacks" Harrison, have mostly made opposing offenses one dimensional in games, which helps a steadily improving secondary.
The Jets' defense surrenders an average of 251.4 passing yards per game, which ranks 21st in the NFL. But these mediocre numbers against the pass are somewhat inflated by the Jets' outstanding ability to stuff the run.
For the Jets to continue to develop as a defensive unit, they need to force more turnovers. New York won the turnover battle in a crucial Week 9 contest at home against the New Orleans Saints (6-2), forcing Brees to chuck two ill-advised throws, which were promptly picked off.
However, the Jets have coughed up the football 18 times on offense, while recording just seven takeaways on defense. That margin needs to shrink over the second half of the season for the Jets to make the playoffs.
The Jets' defense does an effective job of pressuring opposing quarterbacks in the pocket, frequently creating opportunities to generate turnovers. However, the Jets seldom capitalize on such game-changing opportunities, forcing 11 fumbles on defense but recovering just two.
Failing to generate turnovers could ultimately cripple the Jets' playoff chances, especially if rookie QB Geno Smith is unable to supplement his dynamic playmaking with better ball security.
The Jets' second-half schedule is favorable though, featuring seven winnable games. In fact, the Carolina Panthers (5-3) are the only team left on the Jets schedule that boasts a winning record.
|AFC Playoff Picture|
|New York Jets (6)||5||4||.487||.429|
|Tennessee Titans (7)||4||4||.574||.412|
|Miami Dolphins (8)||4||4||.544||.529|
New York needs to win at least five of their final seven contests to stand a realistic chance of claiming the sixth seed in the AFC Playoffs. That won't happen if the Jets continue playing atrocious football every other week.
The team has delved into the depths of mediocrity over the previous two seasons. However, this season could be different, specifically because of the team's stout defense. New York will need to win a few road games, though, a feat they've struggled to accomplish thus far in 2013.
The Jets' lone road win this season happened in Week 5 on Monday Night Football, a 30-28 triumph over the former Super Bowl hopeful Atlanta Falcons (2-6). In their three road losses, the Jets have been outscored 100-32, including two walloping defeats against the Tennessee Titans (4-4) and Cincinnati Bengals (6-3).
Gang Green's toughest road game left on the schedule is likely to be against the Carolina Panthers (5-3), a team which hasn't lost at home since it fell to the Seattle Seahawks in Week 1.
For the Jets to mount a significant playoff push and eventually earn a berth, they ultimately need to stick to their strengths, which means continuing to play fierce defense while grinding out points on offense.
The Jets offense is marginal at best, although its able to sustain long drives, thus wearing down the opposition and giving the New York defense a chance to rest on the sidelines.
New York doesn't need a flashy offense to bust a move, especially in the face of beatable competition down the stretch.