I'm going to ask a simple question: did the 2009 New York Jets earn their playoff berth?
My answer is likely going to be 100% different than yours, but part of the fun of following sports is supposed to be the debate that ensues from the games. And what I write here may spark a heated one.
For me, the 2009 Jets were not a playoff team.
I freely admit they had the no. 1 defense in the AFC and the no. 1 rushing offense in the NFL. Without doubt, those numbers alone usually spell success for any franchise.
Yet despite those stats, just two weeks ago the Jets stood at 7-7 with two games remaining against certain playoff teams—the Colts and the Bengals. The Jets looked to be the odd man out in the playoff picture.
For the Jets and their fans, an amazing thing happened over those last two weeks of the season. The Jets' playoff-bound rivals laid down.
In Week 16, the Colts were winning 10-3 at halftime. After Brad Smith's record-setting kickoff return for a touchdown to start the second half, Peyton Manning marched his offense right back down the field and retook the lead, 17-10.
After that score, the Colts suddenly decided to rest their stars. The Jets jumped on this opportunity and took advantage of Manning's replacement, the previously untested Curtis Painter who instantly fumbled away the Colts' lead.
Despite what was said well after the game was over, it did not seem that the Colts' starters were aware of the decision to turn the second half over to the second string like a preseason contest. Mannng and company looked upset, with lip readers everywhere seeing Manning tell his coach, "we're losing now" as if to say, "we want to win this game, let me (us) back out there."
That didn't happen and the Jets won. It also put the Jets playoff hopes into their own hands.
To make it, they would need to beat the Bengals in Week 17. The Bengals, too, were a playoff-bound team with nothing to play for in the game against the Jets, especially given the fact that if the Jets won, the Bengals would be playing them again in a week's time in the Wild Card game.
Las Vegas oddsmakers seemingly knew the Bengals were ready to lay down. They made the Jets a 10-point favorite in the game. Lo and behold, the Bengals did next to nothing and the Jets won with a shutout 37-0.
Yet now that the playoffs are set, and the Jets are in, Las Vegas has quickly changed it's tune on the Jets-Bengals matchup . Instead of the Jets being favored by 10, oddsmakers have the Bengals favored by two or three points (which is simply based on their home field advantage, meaning they really see the game even).
This could have simply been a quirk in the schedule-making that played out perfectly for the Jets. You can't fault the franchise for this. They didn't make the schedule; they just played the games laid out before them and won when the needed to.
But let's go one step further and play a little game of "what if?"
Go back to the 2008 season. The Jets appeared to be playoff bound with Brett Favre leading the way, starting the season 8-3. Then the wheels of the Brett Favre bandwagon fell completely off. The Jets finished 1-4 and missed the playoffs.
My contention has been that Favre intentionally lost those last few games. My reasoning for this—highly questioned by most—was written up six months ago here on the Bleacher Report.
In a nutshell, I believe the prima donna Favre didn't want to reward the Packers in any way for being rid of him (which the Packers would have been had the Jets made the playoffs) and still wanted to beat his former team as a member of the Vikings. But the Jets would have never traded Favre to the Vikings because they would have sacrificed three first-round draft picks to make the deal.
What happened at the end of 2008 made Favre's wish come true without rewarding the Packers. Due to his poor play, the Jets missed the playoffs. Once again, Favre "retired" and the Jets quickly cut him loose, allowing for Favre to unretire and walk into the starting job in Minnesota.
The Jets, for their willingness to take Favre off the Packers' hands, got nothing out of the deal except a $125,000 fine for hiding a injury to Favre that was never revealed during the 2008 season.
Had this healthy Brett Favre stuck around in New York another season and put up the type of numbers he did in Minnesota, where would the Jets be in 2009? Division winners? With a first round bye, perhaps?
As the season progressed, the Jets play was up and down. The playoffs appeared out of reach as even Rex Ryan mistakenly claimed a few weeks prior to the end of the season.
Then the Colts and Bengals laid down for the .500 Jets, granting them a 9-7 season. The exact record they possessed with Favre at the helm, albeit with one major difference: this year's 9-7 record put the Jets in the playoffs.
What I ask is, was this all happenstance or did the NFL throw the Jets a bone? The NFL has complete plausible deniability here: hey, both the Colts and Bengals had nothing to play for. Who can argue with that?
Well, for some odd reason, the NFL can. Commissioner Roger Goodell has suddenly surfaced to claim that the league will now look into finding a way to ensure teams don't tank games as appeared to happen at the end of the 2009 season (and in reality, happens nearly every season). Is this suddenly news because too many "conspriacy freaks" (like your author) are pointing out how this benefited one team over some others?
If the NFL orchestrated Favre's move to the Vikings in some way (and it has been a financial boon for the league to have him there), couldn't they have then rewarded the Jets for their troubles? Couldn't the NFL, having witnessed the Jets struggle to reach the playoffs this year, tapped both owners of the Colts and Bengals and asked "why don't you give the Jets a break here?"
Maybe I see too many coincidences here, and maybe I'm reading too much into what happened in the Favre/Jets/Vikings saga. But I'm not sold on the Jets' playoff berth having occurred without those last two victories that came under unusual circumstances.
Call me crazy, I'm fine with that. But let's just see where the Jets go after playing Saturday in Cincinnati.
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