Happy New Year!
But what kind of an HNY will it be for the NYJ? A sarcastic, snide one filled with empty resolutions for the coming season way off in the distance? Or a truly celebratory, fireworks-filled affair, complete with an unlikely playoff berth, a trip to Houston the following weekend, and the possibility of again playing deep into the AFC postseason?
One thing's for sure. Whoever is considered the NFL's Tiebreaker Mogul has earned his/her salary on the AFC side of the ledger this year. In Week 17 four teams are vying for one silly little sixth seed, but that seed is the ticket for the team that wins it for entree into the Super Bowl tournament.
And six has been good for the Jets over the years. In 1982, in the strike-altered 16-team postseason, the Jets were the sixth out of eight playoff teams in the American Conference and rode that seed like Jack on the beanstalk to road wins over the Bengals and the L.A. Raiders before their waterloo at Miami in the AFC Championship Game.
The Green & White also had the sixth and last seed in 1991 (wild-card loss at the Houston Oilers) and '01 (back-to-back trips to Oakland and another WC loss), and most recently last year, when they again ventured deep with road wins at Indianapolis and New England before their deep-freeze in another title game, this one at Pittsburgh.
It also should be said that sixth seeds have fared very nicely in the league in the previous six postseasons. The Steelers won it all from that lowly perch in the 2005 playoffs, as did the Packers, who beat the Steelers in Dallas for all the marbles a year ago.
Now could the same fate be awaiting the 2011 Jets? That is much too premature to say. Job One is to get past Miami today at 1 p.m. at Sun Life Stadium. That's certainly possible. The Dolphins have been playing much better after their 0-7 start, going 5-3 (and 3-1 at home) and ready to send former Jet for a year Jason Taylor off into retirement with a rousing victory of their own.
But the 'Fins Are Hurting
However, Miami will be without its sparkler of a running back, 1,000-yard man Reggie Bush, ruled out of this game with a knee injury. And if the Jets find that perfect blend of offense, defense and special teams that has eluded them too often this year, well, they're the team that has something to play for today while the Dolphins, whether they finish 6-10 or 5-11, have nowhere to go but to golf.
To be sure, the Jets and Dolphins have hooked up in this situation before — last game of the regular season, playoffs ahead. Let's review:
1968 — Nothing on the line here, just a tuneup for the Jets in the Orange Bowl en route to that glorious day a month later in the same South Florida venue. Four different players scored touchdowns in the Jets' 31-7 over the under-.500 'Fins.
1969 — Same setting, one year later. Joe Namath threw two touchdown passes, Bake Turner caught two TDs and the Green & White rolled in the Orange Bowl again, 27-9. However, a week later at home, the Jets' reign as defending NFL champions was ended by the Chiefs.
1991 —Quite the unexpected outcome, as the Jets (7-8) and Dolphins (8-7) hooked up at Joe Robbie Stadium for an AFC Playoffs play-in game: winner in, loser out. The visitors got two TDs from FB Brad Baxter and two clutch field goals from pinch-kicker Raul Allegre, who tied the game at 0:00 and won it 7:33 into overtime, 23-20.
But their most recent such meeting went the other way. In 2008, in the final game of the Brett Favre Experience, the Jets had a home game at 4:15 p.m. against Miami. A win there following a Buffalo upset of New England at 1 p.m. and the Jets had the third seed. A win there coupled with a Jacksonville win over the Ravens at 4:15 and the Jets had the sixth seed.
The Jets got none of the wins they needed, including their 24-17 loss to the Dolphins.
Rex Still Believes
Today's alignment of the stars is just a little similar to 2008. No third, fourth or fifth seed is possible, but the Jets need a Houston win over Tennessee while they're beating the Dolphins to send their sixth-seed playoff hopes on to the 4:15 games. Then they would need a Baltimore win at Cincinnati and either an Oakland or a Denver loss.
That's all. Just four favorable outcomes to reach the playoffs for the third time.
It's far from an easy road. But as head coach Rex Ryan said Thursday:
"I think in my heart, 10 percent or whatever, I still believe we'll get in the playoffs. Obviously it's a tough task in front of us and a lot of things have to happen but that's what I believe."
Ryan also identified the hardest piece to acquire for this puzzle as being the Jets' win over Miami, which many would concur with.
Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer said the task for Mark Sanchez and his side of the ball is simple.
"One thing we know about Mark is he's extremely tough, both physically and mentally — he's a fighter," Coach Schotty said. "He's been working his tail off this week and I don't think that he'll perform poorly at all. I think we need to perform well around him as a staff, as a unit, and I think we'll do that. We have to go into this game knowing that we have to play it one play at a time. The game will start, the game will end. If we play well, the way we're capable of playing, we should be able to beat this team.
And for the defense, Mike Pettine acknowledges the Dolphins' threat with Matt Moore at QB and Brandon Marshall at WR and even without Bush in the backfield, and admits to inconsistencies on the defensive side. But he's hardly throwing in the towel.
"We're perfectionists here. We don't like to give up a yard, we don't like to give up a point. So it's rare that you're going to sit at the end of the year, unless you're getting fitted for a ring, and be pleased with how things went," Pettine said. "I don't get too much into the numbers, but I know we're in the top 10. Again, I wouldn't look at this year and say, "Wow, it's been a major disappointment." We've played some pretty good offenses and we've had some young guys that we've had to work in."
Add in some big kicks and returns and coverage for the Jets' specialists in the warmth of South Florida, and who knows? The Jets know they've got no one to blame for the position they find themselves in this afternoon, but it's no time to wallow in the past. It's time to head into the New Year and whatever that year holds for the Green & White, beginning today.