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Jets-'Fins: Playoff Struggle ... with a Side of QBs


Someone in the NFL scheduling office has to get a nice holiday bonus for today's regular-season finale at the Meadowlands.

After all, who would've thought to schedule the Jets-Dolphins for both the open and the close of both teams' 16-game schedules? Just because of Bill Parcells? That's good for an opener, maybe, but the Big Tuna isn't coaching anymore, merely running the 'Fins' football ops.

Who knew in April that the league and CBS would get Brett Favre vs. Chad Pennington twice? Or that the Jets would come into the finale fighting for their playoff lives, against the Dolphins, their longtime rivals who also would need a win, not only to complete a fine comeback from 1-15 the year before but also to take the AFC East title away from the Green & White?

Coincidence, irony, desperation, playoffs ... cha-ching!

It's enough to turn at least one Jet into a bit of a Fantasy Football player.

"Marshawn Lynch is my man right now — he's my guy," safety Kerry Rhodes said Friday. "He's questionable, but I'm looking at the stats, I'm looking at the updates. He's ready to go."

The reason Rhodes has a new-found affinity for Buffalo's featured back is because of the meaning a Bills win over the visiting New England Patriots (1 p.m. start) would give the Jets, kicking off against the Dolphins at 4:15 p.m.

A New England loss and a Jets win give the Jets the division title and the No. 3 seed. A Patriots win means the best the Jets can do with a victory is the sixth seed, and that only with a Baltimore loss to visiting Jacksonville, also at 4:15. A Pats win plus a Ravens win, or a Jets loss? No playoffs in Jetsville.

Keeping the Faith

But is a Bills upset of the hot Patriots doable? Rhodes gave a solid fantasy analysis.

"Anything's possible," he said. "They went on the road and beat Denver, a team that's been up and down but that's leading that division. And people think they don't have much to play for, but they're playing for their coach right now, Dick Jauron.

"And they're playing at Buffalo, which is always a tough place to play. Anything's possible."

That theme was echoed by a number of Jets in Friday's quickly emptying locker room at the Atlantic Health Training Center.

"I've got faith," said linebacker David Bowens, with conviction.

"First and foremost," said tackle Damien Woody, "we want to get into the playoffs. We want to win this game and finish the regular season at 10-6, 5-1 in the division. That's our goal. Then we'll see what happens after that."

"The NFL's a funny business," Leon Washington stated. "A lot of things happen that you don't expect to happen."

Keeping all that in mind, the Jets completed what everyone felt was a strong holiday week of preparation.

"I think we've had a really great week of practice," head coach Eric Mangini said. "Spirited, a lot of energy, great focus, great enthusiasm. Not just in terms of what each unit has been doing but the back-and-forth between players, the good-natured ribbing that's always there, that's been in full force. All those things have been outstanding.'

As for the Favre vs. Pennington sidebar, it's a big issue for many outside the team, and no doubt the winner will be wearing a Cheshire cat's grin when it's all over around 7:30 p.m. But as Favre said before Christmas, the main story of this game is not any titanic struggle between No. 4 and No. 10 to be able to say, "Nyah-nyah, I told you so."

More Than Just QB vs. QB

"It just so happens it played out that way: I'm here and he's there," Favre said. "I'd like to think it's been a good pickup for both teams. Both teams are obviously better than they were last year. That's not because of Brett Favre and it's not because of Chad Pennington, but I do think we've helped out some.

"If you want to say that quarterbacks get wins and losses — which I still think is unfair — I finally got one against him," Favre added of the Jets' 20-14 win in the opener. "In that game, he played exceptionally well also. I hold him in the highest regards. I think a lot of him. People in our room think a lot of him. But it's the Dolphins versus the Jets. I don't feel like I have to justify anything, nor does he."

Nor does anyone have to justify sneaking a peak at the Meadowlands' end zone mezzanine boards where the out-of-town scores cycle through, although some Jets insist won't indulge.

"Scoreboard-watching's not gonna help our cause," Woody said. And Washington suggested the board operators "don't show any scores throughout the league. That would really do us a favor."

But Rhodes, that football-loving kid at heart, said he'll keep an eye on things.

"The Patriots game? Some people say they won't but I'll check it out," he said. "The Ravens game? During the game, I hope players aren't looking up. But maybe when you're on the side, you might take a glance. It's human nature to wonder what's going on if it affects you."

The Jets all wish they'd done a better job at 8-3 to not let it get to 9-6 and needing help from unlikely sources. But that's where they are, so buckle up the chinstraps and get ready to crack some hats, because you're not getting to the postseason if you don't.

"Our mindset right now is we know we've got to handle business first," Rhodes said. "But I think we've got the feel that this season's been so crazy that if we do our thing and handle our business, something could happen for us. In this situation, that's the way we feel and that's the way you've got to feel."

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