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Jets at Panthers Preview: Jets Must Beat Panthers On Road To Keep Postseason Hopes Alive, Here's How They Can Pull Off Big Upset

  By Brad Carroll  
For a team that has been more down than up, more terrible than good, it's almost impossible to believe with three games to go the New York Jets still have a shot at making the postseason. But the Jets do, and with three victories in their final three games, they actually have a great chance at making it in as a wild card.

After losing three straight games after the bye week, embarrassing losses to Buffalo, Baltimore and Miami, where the offense could barely make it into the red zone, let alone the end zone, there wasn't much reason to believe the Jets could even sniff a playoff spot. There was no talk of playoffs, but rather whether or not Rex Ryan and Geno Smith would be with the team next season.

But the rest of the contenders for the final wild card spot weren't doing much better around the league and when the Jets rebounded to beat the Raiders last week, suddenly the playoffs were a realistic option again. Of course, all that might be more wishful thinking for the team and the fans than the reality of the situation, but a chance is a chance. And, oh yeah, the Jets have a more than solid chance.

It starts with the Jets winning their final three games. The first one, in the late afternoon game Sunday, is the toughest one, while the second and third are winnable games. First it's the Carolina Panthers, then it's the Cleveland Browns and finally it's the Miami Dolphins.

The Jets need help from around the league as well, but not as much as it may seem. Of the two teams ahead of them in the standings for the final wild card spot, the Ravens and Dolphins, it's Baltimore that is the one to keep most track of. The Ravens must lose two of their final three games for the Jets to finish ahead of them in the standings. The Ravens are at Detroit Monday night, home against New England and then finish at Cincinnati. If the Jets lose to Carolina and the Ravens beat the Lions Monday, the Jets will be eliminated from postseason contention.

The Dolphins? The Jets will finish ahead of them based on tiebreakers if they beat Miami in the season finale. The Jets control their own destiny in that situation.

The tougher challenge is passing the Chargers. With San Diego's surprising victory over the Broncos Thursday night, the Jets have fallen a half-game back of the Chargers in the standings. The Chargers win the tiebreaker with the Jets, so they need them to lose one of their final two games. San Diego plays Oakland and Kansas City, both at home. Obviously, the Chargers victory over Denver hurt the Jets' postseason chances severely.

But the main thing for the Jets in keeping this season and the postseason dream alive is taking care of business on the field. The Jets have to beat the Panthers.

On paper, the Jets have little to no shot at winning, and are 10-point underdogs. Under Ryan, however, the Jets have played their best football when nobody gives them a shot at winning. The Jets have beaten the two best teams on their schedule this season, the Patriots and Saints. The Panthers would be the third.

It's in the Jets' DNA to beat Carolina Sunday. We won't talk about what that DNA would reveal the following week in a game everyone would expect the Jets to win because it's a depressing reality.

On the field, the Jets need Smith to build off what he did last week against the Raiders, using his legs to make plays and keep the offense on the field. Not turning the ball over is a given. The Jets need to have a big game from running back Chris Ivory, which won't be easy against one of the best run defenses in the NFL. The Jets must get a vintage performance from the defense, with one and maybe two turnovers needed to win the game.

Here's our in-depth look into the must-win game for the Jets on the road in Carolina Sunday afternoon.

New York Jets (6-7, one game out of second wild card)
at Carolina Panthers (9-4, currently in wild card position)

The Spread: Jets +10; Panthers -10

Major Injury Report: JETS: Out, WR Stephen Hill. Questionable, CB Antonio Cromartie. PANTHERS: Out, RB Jonathan Stewart.

GameDay Staff Picks: Brad: Panthers 20, Jets 17. Craig: Panthers 21, Jets 10. Matt: Jets 24, Panthers 20.

How Jets Can Beat Panthers
Mr. Roboto
: Geno Smith said he played like a robot during the five games before beating Oakland last week, a stretch that was about as bad as it gets for quarterback play. Smith was more aggressive against the Raiders and ended up playing his best game since beating the Patriots in overtime in Week 7. He wasn't great, but he made enough plays to get the 37-27 victory. The best part was Smith finally used his scrambling ability to make plays, rushing for 50 yards and a touchdown. Smith is going to have to make more plays with his legs Sunday in order to move the ball against one of the best defenses in the NFL. The Panthers don't blitz much, but still get plenty of pressure on the quarterback, so Smith is going to have to make smart decisions in the passing game. If he turns the ball over, the Jets won't have much of a chance to pull the upset. Smith will have to ride a fine line between aggressiveness and carelessness, as he needs to make plays but could get into trouble while doing so. This is Smith's greatest challenge and how he answers it will determine whether or not the Jets will still be alive in the playoff hunt come Sunday night.

Stopping Cam: On the opposite side of the field, Panthers quarterback Cam Newton is having a career revival in Carolina, rebounding from a terrible sophomore season with a great third year. He's thrown for 2,776 yards with 20 touchdowns and has rushed for another 495 yards and six touchdowns. Newton's the key to the Carolina offense and if the Jets can't limit his playmaking abilities they won't have a shot to win. The key is getting pressure on Newton and bringing him down when they get their hands on him. Muhammad Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson have to play better than they have the past few weeks. If they do, and the rest of the front seven doesn't let him escape, the Jets can at least do their part on defense. The Saints sacked Newton five times in a victory last week and there is no reason the Jets can't do the same. Newton holds the ball longer than most quarterbacks, so it's up to the Jets defense to make him pay. Forcing the quarterback into a couple of turnovers would help as well. Hopefully for the Jets, Antonio Cromartie is able to play despite suffering a concussion last week.

Talk Is Cheap: Santonio Holmes made headlines when he said the Panthers secondary is the weak link on the outstanding Panthers defense, giving Carolina some added motivation it didn't need. Holmes was right, as the Panthers front seven is among the best in football, but it wasn't necessary. But now that it's out there, it's about time Holmes proves he's the No. 1 receiver he's being paid to be. Holmes hasn't had many great moments since joining the Jets, especially since signing his big contract, so the time is now to actually contribute. Smith is going to need all the help he can get in the passing game and Holmes must get open quickly and make every target count. The Panthers are just like the Jets on defense, with a front that won't be run on. Chris Ivory needs to do some damage against that run defense, but it could come down to a few plays in the passing game that make the difference. For once, it would be great if Holmes rose to the occasion, especially now since he opened his mouth. Smith to Holmes could be what gets the Jets the upset on the road.

Three Panthers To Stop
QB Cam Newton (has 1,035 total yards and 9 touchdowns total touchdowns in last four games); LB Luke Kuechly (113 tackles and 3 interceptions this season); TE Greg Olsen (58 receptions for 651 yards with 5 touchdowns this season).

Who To Root For
New York Jets at Carolina, 4:05 p.m. (Jets)
New England at Miami, 1 p.m. (Patriots, but not a must)
Kansas City at Oakland, 1 p.m. (Chiefs, for motivation later)
Chicago at Cleveland, 1 p.m. (Bears)
Arizona at Tennessee, 4:25 p.m. (Cardinals)
Cincinnati at Pittsburgh, 8:20 p.m. (Bengals, for motivation later)
Baltimore at Detroit, Monday, 8:30 p.m. (Lions)

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