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Jets at Dolphins Preview: Jets Can Finish 8-8, Ruin Miami's Postseason Hopes With Victory On Road, Plus Latest On Coach Rex Ryan's Future

  By Brad Carroll  
It's truly amazing a head coach in the NFL who is about to miss the postseason for the third straight season could have as much love and support from players and fans alike as Rex Ryan currently does. It's no secret Jets players want to play for Ryan, as they have made it clear the past week. But it's the Jets fans' loyalty to Ryan that is surprising, as coaches who don't make the playoffs are typically a target of hate, not love.

For Jets fans, the end of this season has become more a battle of letting general manager John Idzik know they want to keep Ryan as head coach. Jets fans, for all their faults, are some of the most outspoken in the league. It's the reason why the team gets so much media attention. So, when they want to take up a fight, they will be heard. And they've been all over social media in support of Ryan.

Even though Idzik likely hasn't and shouldn't listen to the fans in his decision making for the organization, it appears he's about to make them very happy. According to an ESPN report, and in other places since, signs point to Ryan returning as the team's head coach next year. A lot can change between now and after the Jets finish the season against the Miami Dolphins Sunday afternoon, but it appears the Jets will stay the course for at least one more season.

Ryan has done a terrific job winning seven, and possibly eight, games with a team that is completely void of legitimate talent, especially on offense. The Jets didn't have a single Pro Bowl player this season, even though defensive lineman Muhammad Wilkerson should have been a lock. No one on offense was even in the conversation. The offense has no playmakers, with a rookie quarterback who's been more terrible than good and a wide receiver group that has to be the league's worst.

Yet, somehow, this Jets team could end the season with an 8-8 record.

Ryan shouldn't keep his job based on that record alone. He's the right person to lead this organization into the future. Ryan can coach, and anyone who says differently just doesn't understand football. He coached his way to two AFC championship games his first two years with the Jets. More importantly, he's a defensive mastermind and an even better motivator. If Ryan was fired, he would be out of work for a second. He might get a head coaching job, but if not, he'd be the most sought after defensive coordinator in a long time.

The offense, and Ryan's attention to it, needs to have gigantic improvement if the Jets are to become Super Bowl contenders. But with some playmakers at wide receiver and possibly a new quarterback (although odds favor Geno Smith being the starter again next season), this Jets team could be a postseason contender. The Jets are a team on the rise, just as Ryan says they are.

The Jets need stability and Ryan is it. It appears Idzik and the Jets hierarchy believes it as well. And that is great news for fans, players and the entire organization.

If the Jets indeed keep Ryan, it would be the biggest victory of the season. But Sunday afternoon represents the final chance for this Jets team to get a huge victory on the field. The Jets can knock the hated Miami Dolphins out of the playoffs if they can pull the upset on the road. To make the playoffs, the Dolphins need to beat the Jets and either get a Ravens loss or a victory by the Chargers. The Jets might not make the playoffs this season, but if they are motivated by knocking out Miami, this will be their postseason game.

Motivation is always a key factor in a season finale for a team that is out of the postseason race. The Jets can finish 8-8 with a victory and there is the want to win for Ryan, but this game overall is meaningless. Ryan is sure to give one heck of a pregame speech Saturday night to the team, so it's up to the players to show just how good they can be in the future with a big performance in Week 17.

Beat a desperate Dolphins team with everything to play for would be a great jump into the offseason. It would certainly set the stage for what could be a big run in 2014. The Jets season will end in Miami, win or lose, but it could be both the continuation and start of something big.

Here's our in-depth look into this matchup that means everything for the Dolphins and could set the tone for the offseason and future of the Jets.

New York Jets (7-8, third place AFC East)
at Miami Dolphins (8-7, second wild card team)

The Spread: Jets +5.5; Dolphins -5.5

Major Injury Report: JETS: Questionable, CB Ellis Lankster. DOLPHINS: Questionable, RB Daniel Thomas.

GameDay Staff Picks: Brad: Jets 28, Dolphins 21. Craig: Jets 24, Dolphins 20. Matt: Jets 31, Dolphins 14.

How Jets Can Beat Dolphins
Get Motivated: While players and fans have to be ecstatic over news coach Rex Ryan has a great shot to return next season, it might take the edge off the importance of the regular season finale in Miami. Players have come out in force professing their support of Ryan and have said time and time again they will go into battle with him. But if players believe Ryan is safe, it may set up a letdown game in Miami. The Jets have to buy into the fact they can ruin the Dolphins' season, which shouldn't be hard as that's better than playing a team in a similar positions as they are. If not, there's little chance the Jets can beat a desperate team. But if this team wants to make a statement, they can with a victory. Motivation shouldn't be something we talk about for players making millions of dollars, but it's reality. Pay attention to the players who bust their butts on the field, and those who don't. They are the ones to keep and those to get rid of. 

Sack Tannehill: This is the game where Muhammad Wilkerson, Sheldon Richardson, Damon Harrison, Quinton Coples, Calvin Pace and the rest of the Jets front seven get to take out their frustrations of not making the Pro Bowl. Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill could be the recipient of the bad vibes. Last week against Buffalo, the Miami offensive line allowed Tannehill to be sacked seven times. The Bills hit the Dolphins passer 10 times, had nine tackles for a loss and knocked down 10 passes. Tannehill ended up passing for just 82 yards before getting knocked out of the game late. He was pressured, battered and beat up by a team that had nothing to play for but pride. The Dolphins had just 103 yards of total offense. If the Jets can do the same against Tannehill and his offensive line in this game, they will pull the upset and knock Miami out of the postseason. The Jets have a better front seven than the Bills, so the opportunity is there. If the Jets can't get any pressure on Tannehill, the team will finish below .500 for the second straight season.

Geno's Final Chance: Geno Smith had the worst game of his rookie season against the Dolphins in Week 13, getting benched at halftime after completing just 4-of-10 passes for 29 yards with an interception. Matt Simms took over in the second and didn't fare much better in what turned out to be an embarrassing 23-3 loss. Smith has played better since then, with one of his best games coming against Cleveland last week. There, he connected on 20-of-36 passes for 214 yards and two touchdowns. He ran for another 48 yards and a score on the ground. It's obvious Smith has to play well for the Jets to win. Smith also can't turn the ball over, especially on the road, where the Jets struggle. He also needs a big game to give himself a head start on the offseason, giving the organization something to think about when figuring out who the starting quarterback will be next season. This game might be meaningless, but it's huge for Smith.

Three Dolphins To Stop
QB Ryan Tannehill (3,709 passing yards with 23 touchdowns and 14 interceptions this season); WR Mike Wallace (had six catches for 105 yards and a touchdown against New England two weeks ago); DE Olivier Vernon (had 10 tackles and three sacks against the Jets in Week 13)

AFC Playoff Possibilities
Ravens get final wild card berth with a victory at Cincinnati and either a Chargers or Dolphins loss. If the Ravens lose, they can get in with losses by the Chargers, Dolphins and Steelers.
Dolphins get final wild card berth with a victory at home against the Jets and a loss by the Ravens or a victory by the Chargers.
Chargers get final wild card berth with a victory at home against Kansas City and losses by both the Ravens and Dolphins.
Steelers get final wild card berth with a victory at home against Cleveland and losses by the Ravens, Dolphins and Chargers.

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