When the 4-5 Denver Broncos host the 5-4 New York Jets in a special Thursday night affair this week, it will be a battle between two teams on the brink of playoff contention. Much more was expected the Jets, but after being demolished by the New England Patriots, they are in a tough spot.
The Jets bounced back after enduring a tough three-game slide, but a loss to New England certainly knocked them back down a peg. The Jets are one game back in the AFC East, although it is essentially two games due to tiebreakers and they are also a game out in the wild card.
As awful as the Broncos have looked at times, they are only one game back in the AFC West in their own right. Denver managed to beat the Kansas City Chiefs last week despite the fact that quarterback Tim Tebow threw the ball just eight times. That may happen once again against New York.
The Jets are favored for good reason as they are a battle-tested team, but Denver is not an easy team to play on the road. If the option attack works, then the Broncos stand a good chance, but the Jets have to fully realize how vital this game is.
Where: Sports Authority Field at Mile High in Denver, Co.
When: Thursday Nov. 17 at 8:20 p.m. EDT
Watch: NFL Network
Listen: ESPN 1050 AM (New York) and KOA 850 AM (Denver); Sirius XM Satellite Radio: XM 225 (Internet 870, New York) and XM 226 (Internet 882, Denver)
Live Streaming Audio: NFL.com Audio Pass ($29.99 for year, $27.99 team specific, $9.99 a month)
Betting Line: New York (-5.5)
What's at Stake?
There is no question that playoff positioning is at stake for both teams in this game. The Broncos don't look the part of a playoff team, but they are just a game behind Oakland and San Diego in the AFC West and have been playing inspired football as of late.
I think it's safe to say that every prognosticator predicted the Jets would make the playoffs this season, but it is far from a certainty at this point. The Jets are by no means out of it, but they need to string some wins together in order to get comfortable.
That starts with a beatable Denver squad.
Jets Injury Report
Out: RB LaDainian Tomlinson (knee)
Questionable: WR Patrick Turner (abdomen), WR Plaxico Burress (back), RB Joe McKnight (toe)
Broncos Injury Report
Out: RB Knowshon Moreno (knee - IR)
Questionable: RB Willis McGahee (hamstring), DB Rahim Moore (concussion)
What They're Saying
Despite being wiped out by the New England Patriots last week and being swept by them on the season, the Jets are as confident as ever. The Jets were able to shock the Pats in the playoffs last season, and head coach Rex Ryan thinks they will do it again this year, according to Steve Servy of the New York Post.
"(Rex Ryan) said, 'Guys, we’re gonna have another shot at them in the playoffs, and it’ll be just like last year,'"(offensive lineman) Matt Slauson said.
'We would love it,' Slauson said. 'We know that we squandered our opportunity, it shouldn’t have been like that. It’s just things compounded on top of each other to make them even worse. But they played well and we didn’t.'
It certainly is no guarantee, though, that the Jets will even make the playoffs this season with a record of 5-4. Beating the Broncos on Thursday would certainly help, but a loss would be devastating.
Jets Player to Watch: RB Shonn Greene
Although the New York Jets have gotten away from the running game that has allowed them to be so successful over the past few seasons, they have been getting running back Shonn Greene more and more involved.
The Broncos can be beaten on the ground, so Greene will be of great importance on Thursday.
Backup and third-down back LaDainian Tomlinson is not expected to play, meaning the full workload will belong to Greene. Provided offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer doesn't become enamored with slinging the ball all over the field this week, Greene should be a huge factor.
Broncos Player to Watch: QB Tim Tebow
Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow completed two passes on Sunday, but that was enough for the Broncos to beat the Chiefs. One of them was a long touchdown to Eric Decker, but it seems ridiculous to think that a team can win in today's pass-happy NFL while throwing the ball so little.
Tebow isn't a non-factor, though, as his mobility has allowed the Broncos to run the ball with great effectiveness, and it has also allowed them to use an option attack.
There's no telling how long it will work before the league figures it out, but the Jets struggle to stop the run, so they should see a heavy dose of Tebow who has turned into a quarterback/fullback hybrid of sorts.
Key Matchup: Jets Run Defense vs. Broncos Running Game
The Jets have been successful over the past two seasons thanks to running the ball on offense and playing great defense.
While the pass defense continues to be one of the best in the league, New York's front seven has routinely gotten blown off the ball and gashed in the running game.
Denver isn't a passing team in the first place, so there is no question that they are going to challenge the Jets' toughness by running the ball right down their throats. Running back Willis McGahee seems like he will play despite a hamstring ailment, so the Jets will see plenty of him as well as Tebow and backup running back Lance Ball.
If the Jets can hold up, they will win.
On the Hot Seat: QB Tim Tebow
It's tough to say that a quarterback with a 3-1 record this season is on the hot seat, but that is the case with Broncos signal caller Tim Tebow. While Tebow has continued to prove his status as a winner, his numbers are less than impressive, particularly through the air, as he is completing just 45 percent of his passes.
If the Broncos continue to win, then he will continue to play. Darrelle Revis and the Jets' secondary tends to make even some of the league's better quarterbacks look silly, though, so this is a dangerous matchup for Tebow.
If he looks completely lost, it wouldn't be surprising if Kyle Orton got another look.
Jets 20, Broncos 17