That's not an angle inside the Jets' locker room as they prepare to play the Carolina Panthers at MetLife Stadium on Sunday. But in the network graphics, the Green & White are there among the "others" in the AFC playoff hunt at 4-6, and reporters questioned head coach Todd Bowles and his players about the postseason this week.
Is a playoff berth possible? Sure, and the Jets and their fans know that from first-hand experience. They started 4-6 in 2009 and, with a great regular-season closing kick, made the AFC postseason grid.
Is it likely? Not so much. Of the 82 teams since 2002 that started 4-6 and didn't win a division title, only two — the Jets and the '13 Chargers — reached the playoffs. That's a 2.4% chance of success.
"It will be a tough one going against Carolina," QB Josh McCown said, "but when your mindset shifts to this mode that you have to play in down the stretch, what better way than to go against a top defense and a top team and get your mind and your team focused on going in the right direction?"
Here are seven points for review on the first of the Jets' six one-game seasons ahead, against the 7-3 Panthers:
1. The Rivalry So FarThe six games against the Panthers since their birth in 1995 are the fewest the Jets have played against any NFL franchise. The games have been split, with the Jets 2-0 in the Meadowlands. The two home wins came in their 48-21 pounding in 1998 (more on that in Point 7) and their 17-6 win in 2009. For those interested in déjà vu all over again, the Jets entered the '09 meeting also at 4-6 and that win started their push toward the playoffs. And the Fox play-by-play announcer for that game was Thom Brennaman, same as Sunday's game.
A Look Back at Battles Between Jets and Panthers
2. Pulling RankThe Carolina defense, anchored by LBs Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis, looks formidable considering its top-five per-game rankings — second in overall D, third vs. the run, fourth vs. the pass, fifth in scoring, tied for first in first downs allowed. These rankings are high in part because the Panthers are No. 1 in the NFL with a 33:42 possession time average, meaning their defense isn't on the field as much as other teams. This is borne out by their per-play rankings: 11th overall, 10th vs. the run, ninth vs. the pass. Still impressive but not invincible, unless the Jets offense makes it so.
3. Josh and JuliusOne of the sidebars two weeks ago was all the teams McCown and Ryan Fitzpatrick had played for in their careers. This week, a variation on that theme: McCown, starting against his fourth former team this season, will run into ageless DE Julius Peppers — they're the only NFL players still around from the 2002 draft. "He's a heck of a dude and a great player," said McCown. "I love that guy." But Josh will feel his age if the Jets blockers turn loose Peppers, who leads the Panthers with 7.5 sacks, as they did the Buccaneers rushers for six sacks.
4. Hot CamCam Newton's been operating efficiently. He coming off a four-TD, no-INT MNF win over Miami. He has top pass-catching rookie/RB Christian McCaffrey as one target and may get Pro Bowl TE Greg Olsen back from an extended injury layoff. And he leads NFL QBs with 436 rushing yards at 5.9 per carry. An Achilles heel for Cam this year? Turnovers. In the Panthers' seven wins, he's thrown 13 TDs to two INTs. In the three losses: one TD to eight INTs. The Jets need their TO edge in this game (they're plus-1, Carolina is minus-7) to be a factor.
5. Home Sweet HomeAny bye-week trends get washed out in this game, since both the Jets and Panthers are coming off their byes. But home field advantage could be another story. On the road the Green & White are 1-4 and have been outscored by 126-87. At home they're 3-2 and have outscored opponents 114-106. And in the first halves of those home games, they've trailed for only 4:12 of the combined 150 minutes. A similar fast start would be helpful in putting the Panthers back on their heels in their first North Jersey visit in eight years.
6. Yellow-Flag Red FlagBowles pointed to several areas in need of improvement down the stretch: "It's finishing ballgames, obviously, and penalties. It's playing together as a team and coming together as a unit." The penalty issue could be paramount in a field position game vs. Carolina. The Jets have committed 81 penalties, tied for third-most in the NFL, for 739 yards, third-most. The Panthers, meanwhile, have had 45 penalties marked off against them for 371 yards — both the fewest totals in the league.
7. Cox Family TreeIn their 1998 win, the Jets defense hammered Carolina QB Steve Beuerlein for five sacks, with Anthony Pleasant notching two of them and Bryan Cox dropping Beuerlein for a safety sack. Nineteen years later, the Panthers return to North Jersey with Bryan Cox on their roster — rookie Bryan Cox Jr., of course, the son of the former Jets linebacker and assistant DL coach. He's a backup DE who's played two games with two tackles. Just one more interesting wrinkle in this infrequently renewed interconference rivalry.