Why the 2011 New York Jets Will Make the Playoffs
It’s not easy being a Jets fan (just ask this kid).
For the past two years, we have watched the Jets claw their way into the playoffs, only to see them miss their chance at the big dance in the AFC championship game. We have grown accustomed to both the highs and lows and even the inevitable disappointments. And this year is no exception.
At 5-5, the Jets appear to be nowhere near making good on Rex Ryan’s Super Bowl guarantee, let alone hosting a playoff game. But it’s not time to stick a fork in this team just yet.
Yes, it’s true the Jets will likely have to win all of their remaining games on the schedule to make the playoffs. Just ask linebacker Calvin Pace, who told the media, “Six-and-0. We just need to win.” Rex Ryan echoed his sentiment, saying, “We go 6-0, we’ll get in there.”
All of this means that for the Jets, the playoffs begin now. But if you seriously think this team only deals in mathematical probabilities, you haven’t been paying attention.
Here is how the Jets can squeeze their way into the playoffs for the third year in a row.
1. The Jets are entering the softest part of their schedule.
The Jets have a fairly “soft” schedule down the stretch (Bills, Redskins, Chiefs, Eagles, Giants, Dolphins), with five of their last six games being against teams with a losing record. In fact, their remaining opponents have just a 43% winning percentage and only the Ravens, Patriots, Titans and Texans have an easier schedule in their last six games.
Don’t get me wrong, we are talking about a league where anything can happen on any given Sunday (or Thursday; or Monday) but if this team is truly who we think they are, it is not inconceivable that the Jets walk away with enough wins to get by.
2. The AFC is Wide Open
In contrast to the NFC, the parity in the AFC heading into Week 12 is extremely high. Every AFC team has at least three losses to speak of and recent injuries to quarterbacks (Schaub, Roethlisberger, Hasselbeck, Cassel), key players and overall inconsistency has further muddied the playoff prospects of this conference.
Real talk: Standings aside, let’s make an educated and realistic guess on how this will pan out based on what we have seen so far. It’s seeming more and more like the Patriots and the Ravens will win the East and North, with the Steelers easily taking the first WC spot. Even without Schaub, it is likely the Texans will take the South, while the West remains somewhat of a mystery.
This leaves the Jets likely chasing either the Raiders, Broncos, Bengals, or Titans for the final spot. If the playoffs were to starttoday, the Bengals would get the final wildcard spot, but their remaining schedule gives me pause as they still have games against the Texans, Steelers and Ravens. Barring any real surprises, the Jets have an opportunity to rise to the occasion and snag a spot while the performance of other teams comes back down to earth.
Statisticians tell us that the Jets currently have a 17% probability of earning this spot but based on strength of schedule, which we have already examined, I would estimate this number will go up.
3. Defense Wins Championships
Rex Ryan prides himself in building a team around defense. It worked for him in Baltimore and that formula has continued to be successful in his first two years as head coach of the Jets.
While they have certainly been inconsistent this season, the Jets still boast one of the best defenses in the league. They rank near the top in total defense* and they boast one of, if not the best secondary in the league thanks in large part to Darrelle Revis, who is having a career season. Even the previously struggling run defense has turned around in the past few weeks, which will help this team stay in games as the weather gets cold.
An important point to consider is that discounting return touchdowns scored off offensive turnovers, the Jets defense has given up fewer than 18 points per game to opponents this season (they give up 21.3 ppg otherwise). The remaining teams on their schedule score less than 20 points a game on average.
This is a team that has been constructed to physically dominate opposing offenses and as long as Rex Ryan is the head coach, this will not change. If the Jets can play consistent, focused defense and close out games, they can handily win the majority of their remaining games.
*Editorial Note : As a general rule, I do not strictly follow by the NFL’s ranking system which uses total yards for and against as a measure of a defense. In this system, the 4-6 Cleveland Browns rank first in passing defense (5th in total defense), which in all reality, if likely due to the fact that their rushing defense is so putrid, teams run the ball down their throats. I prefer to use defensive productivity and efficiency rankings, and I really wish the league did the same. I referred to these rankings in this instance.
4. The Jets Have the Offensive Talent
I know what you’re thinking: The Jets offense ranks near the bottom of the league, so how does anything relating to their offense make a list of reasons they’ll make it to the playoffs? Just hear me out for a brief moment.
While the Jets offense has been inconsistent and sloppy, the fact remains that they are loaded with explosive talent. Jets fans, myself included, have been critical of the offensive personnel decisions made in the offseason but it’s clear that those decisions were made to begin building a team that is a step beyond conservative and safe and ready for the next step.
What I am saying is that there is a difference between playing poorly and not having an offense to speak of at all. Poor play can be overcome with talent, hard work, quality play-calling (which is an entirely different conversation) and execution, while a lack of skill will be exposed.
The spotlight has been hot on Mark Sanchez for his mistakes in recent weeks and rightfully so, but two trips to the AFC Championship in his first two years in the league have shown that he is more than capable of putting it together with even less talent than that which currently surrounds him. So even while Rex Ryan continues to tout ‘Ground and Pound’, the Jets have use what they’ve got, get these guys involved and avoid being too conservative.
That means it is task that is not just up to Sanchez but also to those that are responsible for the game plan itself.
5. They’ve Done it Before
The reason cannot be explained, but it seems that this Rex Ryan team has a way of playing their best football with their backs against the wall. Good or bad, ugly or beautiful, they pick themselves back up and figure out a way to get it done.
In his first season as head coach, Rex Ryan declared that the Jets were mathematically eliminated from the playoffs. Thankfully, Rex does not proclaim himself a mathematician because that turned out not to be true.
In his second season as head coach, the Jets were basically written off by the media after an ugly 45-3 loss to the Patriots in Foxoboro. They responded by making a late season playoff push and eliminating that same Patriots team from playoffs in the first round.
This team will not allow themselves to be counted out, no matter the circumstances, and if we have learned anything from the recent victories of Tim Tebow, it’s that will and determination do play a part in this game.
One of the biggest reasons this Jets team believes they can get there is because their coach instills that belief them each and every week. As Ryan told the media, ”I just know, in my opinion, we have the kind of team that can get hot and can put it together.”
In other words, I don’t care what you say.
So while Ryan’s soundbites might sound and look silly to all of us, the thing is, it’s not for us. It’s for the players who love and support their coach and go out there every Sunday to put up or shut up.
I realize that this is an intangible explanation for why this team will make it to the playoffs, it’s also the most reasonable. And wouldn’t it just make sense that a late season push is what gets them into the playoffs…yet again?
This post was written for Sports of New York, a New York Sports blog covering the Yankees, Mets, Knicks, Giants, Jets and more.