Playoff talk is in the mid-November air. The Jets didn't help themselves with their home loss to the Bills, yet they're still in the thick of things at 5-4.
But they don't want to fall into the pit of 5-5 contenders, which would including the surging Texans, Sunday's opponent, if the Jets were to lose at NRG Stadium on Sunday.
Would it be a failure not making the postseason grid for first-year head coach Todd Bowles?
"For me, yes," he said. "We want to get to the playoffs every year. We don't accept not going."
But not beating the Texans and not going to the playoffs are not in the Jets' collective mindset.
"We've just got to get over the hump," WR Brandon Marshall said, "and we have a chance because we have a great group of coaches and players who understand what we have to do to get better."
"We've just got to stack up some wins and see how it plays out," said LB Quinton Copes. "It's anybody's game every week."
Here are seven points for consideration about Jets-Texans on Sunday:
1. Favorite AFC Foe?
Every opponent poses problems, but the Jets have solved those problems vs. Houston by winning twice at previously named Reliant Stadium — by 19-14 in 2003 and 24-7 in the '09 opener. The Texans are the only NFL franchise the Jets have never lost to on the road, and the Green & White's overall .833 winning percentage (5-1) in the series trails only the .909 percentage (10-1) against Tampa Bay.
2. Texans Rising
But Houston has been hot-hot-hot. Just the Texans' records say so: 1-4 to start but 3-1 since. Turnover margin? Minus-8, 32nd in the NFL, in the first five weeks, plus-7, third in the league over the last five weeks. And consider that the Texans have held their last three opponents (Miami, Tennessee and Cincinnati) to no touchdowns over their last 10 quarters — the longest TD-less streak in the league this year.
3. Watt a Rush
Leading the Texans' rise is their defense, and leading the D is of course DE J.J. Watt, who was asked by Jets reporters how he's doing this season. "You can go ahead and look at the stats," he said. "I mean, you tell me." The one stat that jumps out: 9.5 sacks, making him one of only two NFL players averaging more than a sack a game. (The other: New England's Chandler Jones.) D'Brickashaw Ferguson and Breno Giacomini need to batten down the hatches — the Watt-led pass rush has 18 sacks in its last four games and Houston's 3rd-down D has allowed a league-low 27% conversion rate.
4. Fitz's Helper
Ryan Fitzpatrick is coming off left thumb surgery a week ago. Practice has gone well, but will Fitz struggle at all in taking snaps and handing off with his heavily protected hand? Not if Chris Ivory has anything to do with it. Ivory returned to form vs. Buffalo with 135 scrimmage yards (his fourth 100-YFS game this year). And as a receiver, Ivory unofficially has an 11.6 YAC average, second-best among NFL RBs with at least 15 catches this season (No. 1: Danny Woodhead, San Diego, 11.9). Just stay out of the clutches of former Patriots NT Vince Wilfork, still throwing his "325 pounds" around in the middle.
5. New Starting QB in Town?
It won't be official until coach Bill O'Brien reveals it later today but reports out of Houston are that starting QB Brian Hoyer (concussion) will sit this one out. Which means T.J. Yates is back in the saddle again. It's been four years since Yates last started a game — he had that remarkable seven-start rookie run in '11 in guiding the Texans into the playoffs and to a playoff victory. Then Monday night he came on for the relief win at Cincy. But his career TD-to-INT margin is 4-to-7 and Muhammad Wilkerson and the Jets rush (10 sacks the past two games) will be eager to meet up with him in the pocket.
6. One-Armed Bandits
Two wideouts in this game have made receptions that some have labeled BTB — "better than Beckham's." Jets rookie Devin Smith made his snare for Ohio State vs. Miami of Ohio in 2012. And the Texans' De'Andre Hopkins (fourth in the league at 7.9 catches/game) is competing to be the NFL's big-catch king with a noted helmet grab and his one-handed snatch against the Giants last season, not to mention Sunday night's game-winner vs. the Bengals. Even with Yates behind center, Bowles said, "I don't anticipate them not giving Hopkins his touches."
7. Time for a Happy Return
The Jets solved one of their recent dry wells by turning the takeaway spigot back on. Even though they have no TAs in three of their last four games, they've got 19 for the year, already more than in each of the two previous seasons. Now how about a new gusher? Adding in special teams, the Jets are the only NFL team in the last 30 weeks with no return TDs. (Last: Antonio Allen's blocked punt return vs. Oakland in 2013.) Getting off this schneid would go a long way toward helping the Jets ride past the Texans.