How The Jets Can Get To — Ahem — 9-7
Every year there is a surprise team or two in the NFL that comes from out of nowhere to make the playoffs. Last year, it was the Colts (11-5) and Vikings (10-6) that vastly exceeded expectations and qualified. The Colts benefited from an easy schedule, a great rookie season from Andrew Luck and amazing fortune in close games. The Vikings sailed in on the ridiculous talents of Adrian Peterson who simply refused to be tackled by less than seven guys on every carry and an opportunistic defense. In 2011, the Lions and the Bengals were the Cinderellas that snuck into the dance.
Could the Jets have similar luck in 2013? No, wait, I'm serious! Of course, the odds are against it. Vegas oddsmakers have their over-under wins total at 6.5. Very few prognosticators are bullish on this team. But, the Jets have surprised us before in 2009 and '10 when they reached back-to-back AFC title games. Let's review their 2013 schedule to determine if a 9-7 record is at all possible, or just a pipe dream. We'll do this by classifying games into three categories: probable wins, probable losses and toss-up games.
Probable Wins: This may come as a shock ... there's not too many of these. Thankfully, there's always the Buffalo Bills, the gentle neighbors to the north. The Jets have won six of the seven previous meetings with the Bills and usually in convincing fashion. Relying on their run game, the Jets just plow through the Bills, a team that seems to pride itself each year on not stopping the run. Buffalo should be an improved team, but let's get crazy and say the Jets sweep this series and give them two wins. Only seven more for a possible playoff berth!
The Jets will most likely be favored in three other home games this season: against Oakland, Cleveland and Miami. We will conveniently ignore the recent history that says they often lose to inferior opponents at home and forecast three more Ws for the men in green. The dream season is happening, you guys! This concludes the "probable wins" section.
Probable Losses: Let's face it, even though the Patriots may not have as much talent as they did last year, it's a safe bet that they will take both games. Hey, I don't like it either, but it's hard to defeat cheaters. That's right, I went there. In addition to the Pats, the Jets face three 2012 playoff teams on the road: Baltimore, Atlanta and Cincinnati. When I look into my crystal ball, I don't see any wins there, do you? I see a lot of sacks, punts and images of a dejected Rex Ryan yelling at everyone. If you're scoring at home (and good for you if you are), this brings us to a 5-5 record. Regretfully, we'll also have to mark down home games against the Steelers and Saints as losses. The Saints never play that well on the road, but it's Drew Brees against either Sanchez or Geno Smith. Let's be realistic (for the first time in this article).
Toss Up Games: With their projected record now standing at 5-7, the Jets will need to win all four of their "toss up" games to get to nine wins. Not an easy task, but not impossible. First up is the Week 1 tilt at home against Tampa Bay. The good news is, Darrelle Revis will most likely not play. The Jets have also won two straight home openers. That's good enough for me.
The second toss up game is Week 3 at Tennessee. Last year, the Jets stumbled into Tennessee with a 6-7 record and an outside chance at the playoffs. This had everyone wondering if maybe there was something wrong with the playoff system if the Jets were still in the hunt. Mark Sanchez quickly dashed all hope with his worst game of the season in front of a national audience, which in the year of the butt fumble is saying something. He threw four picks that night, yet the Jets still only lost 14-10. That can't happen again, right? Let's get even more cray-cray and say the Jets steal this game.
What I classify as the final two toss up games are at Carolina in Week 15 and at Miami in Week 17. In a world where everything breaks right for the Jets, they could go to Miami at 8-7 with a playoff berth on the line. If you find all this far-fetched and implausible then congratulations, you are a reasonable person. If you don't, then you are probably a Jets fan like me, and despite so many disappointing losses season after season, you've kept the faith and that's admirable. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go check on airfare to Miami in late December.