There are five weeks remaining in the NFL’s regular season. So why in the world would we discuss the possibility of the team with the 13th-best record in the AFC […]
There are five weeks remaining in the NFL’s regular season. So why in the world would we discuss the possibility of the team with the 13th-best record in the AFC making the playoffs?
The New York Jets started their season 1-7, and after allowing the Miami Dolphins to earn their first win of the season, the team felt like a laughing stock.
Then Sam Darnold and the Jets did a crazy thing: they won a football game. They defeated their stadium co-tenants, the New York Giants, in the battle for MetLife Stadium. The Giants season had been just as woeful as the Jets, but the win prompted Darnold to say:
“We need every win from now on because we’ve still got a chance. I mean, if we get on a roll here and we win out, we’ve got a chance at the playoffs,”
At the time, winning a game against one of the league’s worst teams to get to 2-7, and then bringing the playoffs into the equation, seemed absolutely ludicrous.
But in the following weeks, the Jets defeated the Washington Redskins, another lowly team, and also the Oakland Raiders, the best opponent faced in their current three-game win streak.
Now standing at 4-7, the Jets are still 13th out of the 16 teams in the AFC. But their path to the playoffs couldn’t be clearer.
Win the five remaining games, likely make the playoffs
Could the Bills have a late-season collapse?
The Buffalo Bills are set to nab the AFC’s 5th seed and top wildcard spot, barring an epic collapse. Buffalo is currently 8-3 with the 3rd best record in the conference.
But if you look at Buffalo’s schedule, it’s actually quite possible they enter their Week 17 matchup with the Jets still standing at just eight wins. That would make things especially interesting, as the Jets could leap-frog Buffalo in the standings in the season finale.
The Bills play at Dallas on Thanksgiving Day, host the Ravens, travel Pittsburgh and New England, and then return home to face the Jets in Week 17. There’s a pretty realistic possibility the Bills aren’t able to win any of those four tough games.
Road to the 6th Seed
However, the Jets can’t pin their seasons hopes on another team losing their final five games. Instead, they just have to focus on winning their own matchups.
To close out the season the Jets play:
- Week 13: at 0-11 Bengals
- Week 14: Vs. 2-9 Dolphins
- Week 15: TNF at 8-2 Ravens
- Week 16: at 6-5 Steelers
- Week 17: at 8-3 Bills
So it starts with winning two very winnable games against the Bengals and Dolphins. New York has to be careful not to look ahead to the tougher matchups, and take things one game at a time. They’ve already lost to the Dolphins once this season, so these games are hardly guarantees.
Let’s say the Jets win these two games: they’re now 6-7, but in all likelihood still need to win their final three games to make the playoffs.
Traveling to Baltimore to play the Ravens (my pick for best team in the NFL after Week 11) on a short week is an incredibly tall task. I wouldn’t be surprised if this is where the Jets hot stretch comes to a screeching halt.
But IF New York wins that tough matchup, they will hit the home stretch. First they play a gritty Steelers team, but one that seems to be trending downwards in the late season. Then as mentioned, they play the Bills in Week 17 in a game that could have major implications on the line.
So the Jets win out, beating the Bengals, Dolphins, Ravens, Steelers, and Bills to end the season on an eight-game win streak.
But Will 9-7 Be Enough to Make the Playoffs?
The way I see it: yes, probably.
As I said before, there’s a scenario where the Bills lose out and the Jets win out. That would get New York into the postseason in all likelihood, but we’ll table that discussion for a more likely scenario.
The sixth seed currently has eight contenders, with the Jets in last place out of the group.
- Pittsburgh Steelers (6-5)
- Oakland Raiders (6-5)
- Indianapolis Colts (6-5)
- Tennessee Titans (6-5)
- Cleveland Browns (5-6)
- Jacksonville Jaguars (4-7)
- Los Angeles Chargers (4-7)
- New York Jets (4-7)
To make matters worse, the Jets aren’t winning any conference tiebreakers. Their current mark, 1-6, could be improved to 6-6. But with the Steelers, Colts, and Browns already at 5 conference wins, it’s unlikely the Jets would win such a tiebreaker.
But the biggest asset the Jets have on their side is another tiebreaker: head-to-head wins. Currently, the Steelers and Raiders are in the best position to take the 6th seed in the AFC. The Jets have already beaten the Raiders, and in the process of winning out, would have to defeat the Steelers as well. So if the Jets finish tied with either the Steelers or Raiders at 9-7, the Jets could win the tiebreaker to make the playoffs.
(If multiple teams finish with the same record, the head-to-head tiebreaker wouldn’t come into effect until other tiebreakers are used first: ones that would likely eliminate the Jets. This is why, while it’s possible a team makes in into the AFC playoffs at 8-8, the Jets would probably be unable to overcome tiebreakers in that scenario.)
What about the Colts, Titans, and Browns?
So things have fallen the Jets way and only one of the Raiders/Steelers teams finished 9-7. What about the slew of other teams ahead of the Jets: most notably, the 6-5 Colts, 6-5 Titans, and 5-6 Browns?
The Colts and Titans play next week, guaranteeing a loss for at least of the two teams. Indianapolis has lost three of four and plays Tampa Bay, New Orleans, Carolina, and Jacksonville in the season’s final four weeks.
Ryan Tannehill and the Titans are hot and are probably making mental playoff plans of their own after winning four of five games. But after playing the Colts, their tough final stretch includes Oakland, New Orleans, and two matchups with the Houston Texans.
Playoff Picture with the Jets In It
Using ESPN’s NFL Playoff Machine, I had to do a few things to make the Jets qualify for the playoffs. I used winning percentages to predict most of the outcomes, but broke the ties and made the following adjustments to ensure the Jets make the playoffs:
- Jets win out: obviously, as we’ve talked about
- Steelers finish 8-8: going 2-3 or worse in their last five games, including a loss to the Jets
- Raiders finish 9-7: going 3-2 or worse in their final five games. Note that the Steelers could go 9-7 and the Raiders go 8-8: that would also work. So long as the Jets and only other team finish 9-7.
- Colts finish 8-8: going 2-3 or worse in their last five games
- Titans finish 8-8 or worse: in my projected outcome they finish 0-5 to go 6-10, but they can get up to two more wins.
- Browns finish 8-8 or worse: in my projected outcome they finish 8-8 with a 3-2 home stretch. Note Cleveland holds the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Jets.
- Jaguars finish 8-8 or worse: I have them going 3-2 in their last five games to finish 7-9. Note the Jaguars hold a head-to-head tiebreaker over the Jets.
So… Will the New York Jets Make the Playoff this Season?
Probably not, but it sure is fun to think about! Until the Jets lose a game, playoff hopes are completely on the table. But if they lose any one of their last five games, those hopes will be dashed. And even if the Jets do win out, they won’t automatically make the postseason.
I’m not a betting man, but I wouldn’t be caught dead betting on the Jets to make the playoffs this season. It’s too much of a longshot, and winning five games in a row to close out the season is a tall task for anyone.
I don’t predict the Jets will make the playoffs. If we’re being honest, I see them going a respectable 3-2 down the stretch to finish with a record of 7-9. That definitely won’t get them into the postseason, but finishing 7-9 after a 1-7 start would be great momentum for the franchise moving forward.
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