But after back-to-back horrible losses, to Buffalo and Baltimore, things have changed completely. The Jets' offense has been dreadful, led by a quarterback who can barely complete a pass. The defensive backfield has been unable to cover anyone, getting beat deep consistently all season long. Overall, the Jets have gone from owning the second wild card spot two weeks in a row to being in a log-jam of 5-6 teams, with the team losing tiebreakers to almost everyone.
Now the Jets are in must-win mode just to keep pace in the race for the final wild card spot Sunday at home against the Miami Dolphins. Mathematically, the Jets won't be eliminated with a loss, but there would be nearly impossible to qualify if they can't beat Miami and drop to 5-7. So, yes, the Jets have to win to remain alive in the playoff hunt.
The Jets can help their own cause in two ways, with a win and knocking Miami down a spot, one of the many teams to be tied for that final wild card spot. Around the league, Jets fans need to hope the Colts beat the Titans, the Falcons beat the Bills and the Bengals beat the Chargers. If the Jets get those three results and a victory of their own, they would be tied with just the Ravens at 6-6. The Jets lose the tiebreaker against Baltimore, but that won't be a worry until the final couple weeks of the season.
The Jets aren't out of the postseason race by a longshot, but they must put together a winning streak immediately or the season will be over. The Jets have a great opportunity to move back into great position in the playoff hunt. It starts with a victory over Miami.
Here's our in-depth preview of just how the Jets can beat the Dolphins at home Sunday afternoon.
Miami Dolphins (5-6, tied for final wild card spot)
at New York Jets (5-6, tied for final wild card spot)
The Spread: Dolphins +2; Jets -2
Major Injury Report: JETS: Questionable, S Antonio Allen, CB Antonio Cromartie, WR Santonio Holmes, WR Jeremy Kerley, LB Garrett McIntyre. DOLPHINS: Out, T Jonathan Martin, CB Dimitri Patterson, RB Daniel Thomas, CB Jamar Taylor. Questionable, S Chris Clemons.
GameDay Staff Picks: Brad: Jets 21, Dolphins 17. Craig: Jets 28, Dolphins 17. Matt: Dolphins 21, Jets 10.
How Jets Can Beat Dolphins
Run The Ball: This seems easy enough, but the Jets haven't been willing to rely on the strongest part of their offense. With Chris Ivory and Bilal Powell the Jets have two starting-caliber running backs who can combine to control the flow of the game on the ground. Both have had their moments this season, but neither has been given the ball consistently, whether based off injuries or the game plan. The Jets have rushed for 1,397 yards as a team in 11 games, with Ivory gaining 502 yards and Powell 482. Powell was one of the leading rushers in the NFL in the early part of the season, but has fallen off dramatically. Ivory has had a couple of huge games this season, but has been used almost as a complimentary player to Powell, even though he has shown more burst. That has to change against Miami. The Jets have to feed Ivory and let him beat up the Dolphins defensive front, one of the worst in the NFL at stopping the run. Powell can be used as a change-of-pace back, which likely would pick up big yards on runs late. The Jets need to go back to ground and pound in order to move up among the teams tied for the final wild card spot. It's not the most exciting way to play football, but the Jets are desperate for a victory. Go with what works.
Secondary Concerns: The Jets front seven, and especially the defensive line, should dominate against the Dolphins' patch-work offensive line, which is missing Jonathan Martin and Richie Incognito. The Jets already have two more sacks, 32, than they did all last season, with Muhammad Wilkerson leading the way with 10. He should be in the Dolphins' backfield all day long. But as good as the Jets are up front, they are terrible in the back end, with a secondary that can't cover anyone this year. Antonio Cromartie consistently gets beat deep and Dee Milliner is having the rookie season from hell, showing no promise as the ninth overall pick in the draft. The signing of Ed Reed to shore up the defensive backfield hasn't worked out yet, as he was beat deep last week, along with Milliner, on the only touchdown of the game in a loss to Baltimore. The Dolphins have Mike Wallace, who could have a big day if the Jets don't get better in a hurry. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill isn't anything special, but the Jets haven't been able to able to corral any quarterback this season. The secondary has to finally step up and make a couple of big plays. Not allowing any big plays to Miami would be a start. A turnover or two could change the complexion of the season.
Geno's Security Blankets: When Smith was clicking in the passing game, he was targeting the tight ends to move the ball down field. Big plays to Kellen Winslow and Jeff Cumberland were actually common place. But with the suspension of Winslow and injuries to Cumberland, Smith hasn't been able to rely on his security blankets in the offense. A rookie quarterback, especially, needs to have one or two players on the offense he can consistently go to when in trouble in the pocket. Typically that's the tight end, and that was the case for Smith early. But he's been hurt by several missing pieces in the passing game, not to mention Stephen Hill being completed invisible even when on the field. Smith has completed just 25 passes in his last three games, but with Winslow and Cumberland back, offensive coordinator Marty Morhninweg needs to get Smith in the game with planned short completions to the tight ends. Smith needs a shot of confidence and a couple early completions can do that. Get the tight ends involved and the Jets will live to play another day, especially since Jeremy Kerley and Santonio Holmes might not play.
Three Dolphins To Stop
WR Mike Wallace (5 catches, 127 yards, touchdown last week against Carolina); DE Cameron Wake (has 6.5 sacks this season); QB Ryan Tannehill (310 passing yards and a touchdown last week against Panthers).
AFC East Games
Miami at New York Jets, 1 p.m.
New England at Houston, 1 p.m.
Atlanta at Buffalo, 4:05 p.m.