While every Jet fan in America (and overseas) will instantly remind me that looking ahead to the playoffs is a dangerous thing and invites bad karma, some analysis is in order for us to know who to root for in the coming few weeks.
Let’s start off with some things we would like to see.
1. NO PATRIOTS: No Jet fan on earth wants Belichick to make the playoffs. If you just became a Jets’ fan, here’s why. Because a) his team knows the Jets really well and always plays it tough, b) his team has a lot of veterans who expect to win and who have playoff experience, c) he is a humorless jerk, d) he cheats, e) we’d all just love to see New England fans crushed and changing the channel when Sportscenter is on starting in early January for fear they might hear how good the Jets are.
2. NO COLTS: No Jet fan wants the Colts to make the playoffs because of Manning and because they play the no-huddle, which might offset our size matchup with their offensive line.
3. A BYE, PLEASE: We’d love the bye. Few coaches take better advantage of time off than Mangini and it would be nice to have an extra week for the older players (one in particular) to rest and heal. I’ll take the Jets over anyone given two weeks to prepare.
So how do we get the outcome we want considering the teams in a position to make the playoffs? First, let’s consider the division winners.
In the AFC East, let’s assume the Jets win out. While they might get picked off, particularly by a division opponent, Mangini’s teams, judging by 2006, do not slip once they start believing in themselves. In 2006, they were 5-5 with a far weaker team in week eleven and went 5-1 thereafter only losing to the Bills. This year’s Bills are not improving and they have nowhere’s near the confidence that the 2006 team had. I don’t believe in the Dolphins and the two west coast games don’t scare me much. So, if the Jets win out or even lose one of the next five, they win the division on record or tiebreakers.
Denver is liable to win the West. They now have a two game lead and San Diego can still blow games in a variety of ways. Whoever wins is probably first week fodder anyhow but one of them makes the playoffs even if they have a losing record. Tennessee, with an easy schedule, probably can not be caught by Indianapolis. They are almost guaranteed to win 13 by week 16 and, even if they lose their last two to Pittsburgh and Indy, they would still finish ahead of Indy by a game at 13-3, even if Indy wins out. This leaves the North, which will be very competitive since both Pittsburgh and Baltimore have tough remaining schedules.
So how do we get what we want?
The four division leaders make the playoffs. That’s likely to be the Jets, Steelers, Titans and Broncos, although the Ravens could make it interesting. That leaves two slots for wildcards. Who are they going to be?
Jets’ fans have to allow that Indy will probably make the playoffs. They are 7-4 with games against Cleveland, Cincinnati, Detroit and Jacksonville coming up before the matchup in week seventeen against the Titans. Let’s assume they’re 11-4 going into the last week. Who do we want to win the finale? Simple answer: Indy. We want this on the theory that we’d rather face the Colts than the Patriots. The Pats, after next weeks’ tough game against Pittsburgh, have Seattle, Oakland, Arizona and Buffalo. The Cardinals might give them some trouble. I would imagine they have one more loss in them by the final week. Win out or one loss, we still can expect them to finish with roughly the same record as the Colts. Since the Colts would win the tiebreaker, we would want them to be edged out on head-to-head.
So, if we want to keep the Pats out of the playoffs, we have to root for Indy and the AFC North teams. Go Pittsburgh. Go Ravens. The Ravens have the tiebreaker over the Pats with only three conference losses and two easily winnable conference games (against JAX and Cincinnati) other than the head-to-head game with Pittsburgh. The Pats already have four conference losses thanks to the Jets.
So we want the Steelers to win next week and we want the Ravens to win out. For the bye, we’d still like to see the Steelers lose to a non-conference opponent (in case they finish with the same record as the Patriots) to knock them down to an inferior record than the Jets since they have the tiebreaker over us with only one conference loss.
So root for Indy and the Ravens and let’s hope the Steelers and the Cardinals can beat up the Patriots. Either way, there are a number of scenarios where the Pats can win out and still miss the playoffs. Meanwhile, if we take care of business, we’ve got a chance to get what we want. That would be nice, for a change.