The Jets? In the playoffs?
Don't look now, but what was once seen as an impossibility is starting to become more of a likelihood as the AFC playoff picture starts to take shape.
In what was supposed to be a rebuilding year for a team with a new general manager, the Jets are actually in the driver's seat with more than half of the season in the rearview mirror.
Let's take a look at where the Jets stand in relation to the rest of the conference as they try to shock the world and be the most unlikely playoff team in years.
If the Season Ended Today
...the Jets would be in the playoffs.
Yes, not only are the Jets in the playoff mix at this point in the season, but they are actually in control of their own destiny. If the Jets win out (which is unlikely), they will have punched their ticket to the postseason.
The only bad news for the Jets is that the odds of winning their division are slim. The Patriots have a commanding division lead at 7-2, and the Jets will need help from some unlikely opponents to have another chance at gaining back ground.
Here is the breakdown of all of the current division leaders in the AFC, according to NFL.com:
- AFC East: New England Patriots
- Remaining opponents: at Panthers (5-3), vs. Broncos (7-1), at Texans (2-6), vs. Browns (4-5), at Dolphins (4-4), at Ravens (3-5), vs. Bills (3-6)
- AFC West: Kansas City Chiefs
- Remaining opponents: at Broncos (7-1), vs. Chargers (4-4), vs. Broncos (7-1), at Redskins (3-5), at Raiders (3-5), vs. Colts (6-2), at Chargers (4-4)
- AFC North: Cincinnati Bengals
- Remaining opponents: at Ravens (3-5), vs. Browns (4-5), at Chargers (4-4), vs. Colts (6-2), at Steelers (2-6), vs. Vikings (1-7), vs. Ravens (3-5)
- AFC South: Indianapolis Colts
- Remaining opponents: vs. Rams (3-6), at Titans (4-4), at Cardinals (4-4), vs. Titans (4-4), at Bengals (6-3), vs. Texans (2-6), at Chiefs (9-0), vs. Jaguars (0-8)
The AFC playoff picture is very odd this year. For one, many of usual contenders, such as the Pittsburgh Steelers or Baltimore Ravens, have suffered through tremendously disappointing seasons, opening the door for teams like the Jets, Titans, Dolphins, Chargers and Browns to be as relevant as they have been in years.
However, as wide open as the AFC is this year, that does not mean that there are a lot of open playoff spots for the taking. With the Chiefs (9-0) and Broncos (7-1) duking it out for AFC West supremacy, either one of them is going to occupy one of the wild-card slots.
The other spot is being fought over by a handful of five or so teams, with the Jets currently in the lead.
The Last Wild-Card Spot
Here are all of the current AFC teams (besides the Jets) with at least four wins that could be relevant in December, including their current seed if the season ended today:
- Tennessee Titans (4-4, 7th seed)
- Remaining Opponents: vs. Jaguars (0-8), vs. Colts (6-2), at Raiders (3-5), at Colts (6-2), at Broncos (7-1), vs. Cardinals (4-4), at Jaguars (0-8), vs. Texans (2-6)
- Miami Dolphins (4-4, 8th seed)
- Remaining opponents: at Buccaneers (0-8), vs. Chargers (4-4), vs. Panthers (5-3), at Jets (5-4), at Steelers (2-6), vs. Patriots (7-2), at Bills (3-6), vs. Jets (5-4)
- San Diego Chargers (4-4, 9th seed)
- Remaining opponents: vs. Broncos (7-1), at Dolphins (4-4), at Chiefs (9-0), vs. Bengals (6-3), vs. Giants (2-6), at Broncos (7-1), vs. Raiders (3-5), vs. Chiefs (9-0)
- Cleveland Browns (4-5, 10th seed)
- Remaining opponents: at Bengals (6-3), vs. Steelers (2-6), vs. Jaguars (0-8), at Patriots (7-2), vs. Bears (5-3), at Jets (5-4), at Steelers (2-6)
The real threats here are the Titans, Dolphins and Chargers. The Titans now have Jake Locker back from injury and have two easy games against the Jaguars remaining on the schedule.
The Dolphins have been dealing with a lot of drama, but they are still a talented team that is capable of beating any team in the league. Their two remaining games against the Jets could define the season for both teams.
Meanwhile, San Diego will always have a chance of winning under the revitalized Philip Rivers, but injuries are starting to pile up on both sides of the ball. Their schedule is set to take a turn for the worse, too, as they have yet to play a game against either the Broncos or Chiefs in the division.
Can the Jets Hold Onto Their Spot?
Despite the rampant inconsistencies on a young team that has yet to win (or lose) two games in a row, things look very good in terms of the Jets' odds of hanging onto their current spot as the sixth and final playoff seed.
For one, their schedule gets much easier following their Week 10 bye week:
Remaining Schedule: at Bills (3-6), at Ravens (3-5), vs. Dolphins (4-4), vs. Raiders (3-5), at Panthers (5-3), vs. Browns (4-5), at Dolphins (4-4)
Unless they start to deteriorate over the coming weeks, the Jets figure to actually be favored in all of their games, with the exception coming in their trip to play the 5-3 Carolina Panthers.
The most pivotal game comes in the last week of the season, when they visit the Miami Dolphins. There is a good chance that this game could be either a play-in or spoiler game for either (or both) teams.
Also playing into the Jets' favor is the timing of their current bye week. Kellen Winslow will be returning from his four-game suspension next week, while Jeff Cumberland (concussion) and Santonio Holmes (hamstring) will have an additional week to recover from their respective injuries.
The only pass-catching starter (either wide receiver or tight end) to play in every game for the Jets is the human disappearing act, Stephen Hill (who had zero catches last week). Getting a handful of weapons back will go a long way in opening up a passing attack that has been stagnant in recent weeks.
When you combine these factors, the Jets don't just have at as good of a chance to make the playoffs as any of of the other teams in the race; they may have the best chance.
It is impossible to predict the exact record that the Jets will need in order to get to the postseason. Just by projecting identical records across the board for all playoff contenders, nine wins would be enough to put the Jets in the postseason without having to worry about conference and division tiebreakers.
Of course, there are no guarantees in the week-to-week league that is the NFL season, but there are certainly a lot of teams that would love to trade places with the Jets right now.
Now, the task for the Jets is to try to get their young team to find a level of consistency that they can ride through this next phase of the season and reach their more-than-attainable playoff spot.