By Brad Carroll
The mood around the Jets will either improve greatly or hit a new low with the outcome of Sunday's game against the Oakland Raiders. If the Jets lose to the 4-8 Raiders, it would represent the first four-game losing streak since Ryan became coach. It could also be the beginning of the end for Ryan's tenure as head coach. If the Jets beat the Raiders, they stay in the playoff hunt and the season continues to have meaning for at least one more week.
The important thing to remember during this disaster of a stretch is the Jets are still just one game back of both the Baltimore Ravens and Miami Dolphins for the final wild card spot. The Jets are also tied with the Chargers, Titans and Steelers, so making the playoffs will be tough, but not impossible.
This week, the Dolphins are at the Steelers, the Ravens host Minnesota, the Titans are at Denver and the Chargers are home against the Giants. If the Steelers and Broncos win as expected, and the Jets beat Oakland, they would go into the final three games trailing Baltimore by one game and would be tied with Miami, Pittsburgh and San Diego. The Jets play the Dolphins in the season finale. The playoff picture gets a little clearer if the Jets can get a victory Sunday.
But the Jets have to worry about themselves before they can start scoreboard watching.
The Jets aren't going to the postseason, or even going to win a game, if the offense doesn't start scoring touchdowns. The offense has been pathetic the last two weeks, not scoring a touchdown against either the Ravens nor the Dolphins. Quarterback Geno Smith was benched last week at halftime, but remains the starter against Oakland. Next year might be a completely different story, but right now, Smith is the guy that will lead the Jets for the rest of the season.
He must get a whole lot better, not only if the Jets want to have a shot at the postseason but for his own career in the NFL. If Smith continues to play as he has over the past four games, he'll be a career backup, at best. He certainly won't be a starting quarterback in the league.
He needs help and he might get it with the return of Jeremy Kerley and a healthy Santonio Holmes. With those two receivers, plus Kellen Winslow at tight end, Smith might actually have some playmakers to work with. If Smith can't get the offense going, he'll probably end up on the bench again and the Jets will go into offseason mode, likely with a new quarterback and head coach next year.
The defense needs to have a big game as well with the secondary on the spot against one of the worst passing offenses in the league. If the Jets' defensive backs get lit up by the Raiders, it would be the ultimate embarrassment.
The Jets should win this game, especially considering the Raiders have lost 12 straight games on the East Coast, including one against the Giants earlier this season. But nothing has gone according to plan this season. Here's a closer look at the must-win matchup Sunday at home for the Jets.
Oakland Raiders (4-8, two games out of final wild card)
at New York Jets (5-7, one game out of final wild card)
The Spread: Raiders +3; Jets -3
Major Injury Report: JETS: Questionable, WR Stephen Hill. RAIDERS: Doubtful, G Mike Brisiel, LB Kaluka Maiava, RB Darren McFadden, WR Denarius Moore, RB Jeremy Stewart, S Usama Young. Questionable, S Tyvon Branch, LB Miles Burris, RB Rashad Jennings.
GameDay Staff Picks: Brad: Jets 15, Raiders 10. Craig: Jets 21, Raiders 17. Matt: Jets 14, Raiders 7.
How Jets Can Beat Raiders
Geno's Last Stand: Time is running out on Geno Smith's chances to make his case to be the team's starting quarterback going forward. Right now, there is no way he can be the team's answer at quarterback. He's not only shown that through poor play, but mentally checking out of games as well. During the second half last week, after getting benched in favor of Matt Simms, Smith was sitting on the end of the bench with his head down at one point. That's not how a starting quarterback would act. Mark Sanchez never did that. But if there was ever a game to break out of his long slump it's Sunday against the Raiders. Oakland allows 253.9 passing yards per game, 23rd in the league, so they can be thrown on. Smith and the Jets haven't been able to throw on anybody recently, but they have to attack the Raiders defensive backs. With Jeremy Kerley, Santonio Holmes and Kellen Winslow on the field together for the first time since Week 4, the Jets have to take advantage. Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg has to use those offensive playmakers to move the ball downfield in a hurry. A quick score is a must, as the Jets need confidence more than anything right now. Don't forget about the running game, but the Jets have to throw the ball to win.
Cover Somebody: The Jets secondary is the worst in football, getting picked on by even the most pedestrian quarterbacks in the league. In the last three weeks, E.J. Manuel, Joe Flacco and Ryan Tannehill have thrown deep on the Jets defensive backs, burning rookie Dee Milliner especially, but also former Pro Bowler Antonio Cromartie. Safety Ed Reed was supposed to be the player that pushed the Jets over the edge in their quest for the postseason, but he's been a giant disappointment, and probably shouldn't even be on the team right now. But all of that has to change against the Raiders Sunday. If Milliner, Cromartie and Reed can't limit what the Raiders do with quarterback Matt McGloin, then the season is over. The careers of Reed and Cromartie will likely be over too and if Milliner wasn't a first round draft pick he might be tossed on the scrap heap as well. The Jets desperately need a big day from the secondary and a turnover would be nice too. If they get burned deep again, it won't matter what Smith does on offense, the Jets will lose.
Strength vs. Strength: The Raiders have the fifth best rushing offense in the league, averaging 133.1 yards per game. The Jets have the best rushing defense in the NFL, allowing just 77 yards per game. Obviously, the Jets have to win that battle to keep their playoff hopes alive at MetLife Stadium. The Jets defensive line is the best in football, with Muhammad Wilkerson, Sheldon Richardson and Damon Harrison, but they will be tested by a running game that hasn't missed a beat whether it's Darren McFadden or Rashad Jennings running the ball. But the Jets will be hoping, praying, the Raiders try and run against them, as it would mean the secondary won't be under constant attack. That would favor the Jets in a big way. Nobody has been able to run against the Jets and the Raiders shouldn't either. But will Oakland bank on a passing attack that averages just over 198 yards per game, 28th in the NFL? It could be the game's biggest question.
Three Raiders To Stop
QB Matt McGloin (has thrown for 515 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions the last two weeks); RB Marcel Reese (fourth string running back will start for Raiders with McFadden and Jennings ruled out); LB Nick Roach (has 22 tackles, two forced fumbles and 3.5 sacks over last two weeks).
Who To Root For
Oakland at New York Jets, 1 p.m. (Jets)
Miami at Pittsburgh, 1 p.m. (Steelers)
Buffalo at Tampa Bay, 1 p.m. (Tampa Bay)
Minnesota at Baltimore, 1 p.m. (Minnesota)
Tennessee at Denver, 4:05 p.m. (Denver)
New York Giants at San Diego, 4:25 p.m. (Giants)