When the schedule came out, these two games on the Jets schedule looked like bunnies:
— Dec. 18 against the Lions at MetLife Stadium. The Lions entered the season with an 11-36-2 record in the previous three seasons, including 3-13-1 last season.
— Dec. 22 against the Jaguars at MetLife. The Jaguars entered the season with a 10-39 record in the previous three seasons, including 3-14 last season.
These games, to be played in a span of four days, looked like two layups for the Jets.
Now, as those games sit in front of the Jets in the next week, they take on a totally different meaning and level of pressure, because the Jets are a surprising 7-6 and in the thick of a wild-card playoff race.
And, if the Jets believe they’re the team their head coach Robert Saleh professed they are with his bold statement in the aftermath of Sunday’s 20-12 loss in Buffalo — a playoff-bound team — they have to win these next two games.
Because, with four games remaining, the Jets stand as the No. 9 seed in the AFC, which grants admission into the playoff tournament to the first seven seeds. The Jets are tied in overall record with the Patriots and Chargers, but the Patriots, who’ve beaten them twice this season, and the Chargers, who have a better conference record, are ahead of them in tiebreakers.
The Jets’ final two regular-season games are on the road — at Seattle against the 7-6 Seahawks and at Miami against the 8-4 Dolphins. They’ll likely have to win one of those two games.
This brings us to the Lions and Jaguars.
Detroit head coach Dan Campbell has the Lions believing and they’ve won five of their past six games after a 1-6 start.
The Jaguars, led by second-year quarterback Trevor Lawrence, have won two of their past three games, including an upset victory over the Titans on Sunday. Interestingly, the Jags’ loss in that stretch was a 40-14 blowout by the Lions.
These games the Jets may have looked at as gimmes back in September are now games they probably have to win if they’re going to end their drought without a playoff appearance since the 2010 season.
If the Jets are the playoff team they think they are, they have to take care of business and beat the Lions and Jaguars at home in December.
Figuring out who these Jets are is a fascinating exercise.
Yes, they’ve lost their past two games. But those losses came against the 10-3 Vikings on the road and the 10-3 Bills on the road this past Sunday. Both were one-possession games.
Two of the Jets’ other losses came against the Ravens and Bengals, who are tied atop the AFC North with 9-4 records. So, four of the Jets’ six losses have come against teams with a combined 38-14 record.
“The encouraging thing is we can go toe-to-toe with anyone,” Saleh said. “I think that anyone who watches football can watch our games and say, ‘God, this team can play with anybody.’ ’’
The primary area where this is true is on defense.
The Jets are ranked sixth overall in scoring defense, allowing an average of 18.69 points per game. They’re ranked third in fewest yards allowed. Their passing defense is ranked fourth in the league. They’ve allowed the second-fewest TD passes in the league (12) and the second-worst passer rating to opposing quarterbacks (78.1). Only four teams have more sacks than the 39 the Jets have produced.
Yes, the NFL is a league dominated by offense, but good defense travels in December and January, and the Jets’ defense is as good as any in the league. It would be a shame if they aren’t able to get that defense into the playoffs and see what kind of damage they can do, because these AFC playoffs figure to be as wide open as any in recent years.
Who, other than maybe the Chiefs and Patrick Mahomes, is considered even close to a sure thing in the AFC?
If you poll AFC teams, you’re not going to find a lot (if any) of them who’ll sign up for a playoff game against the young, talented and brash Jets, because the Jets are dangerous.
Yet, in order for them to get there to be a postseason threat, the Jets are going to need to take care of business in these next two games in what might be a season-defining span of four days.
That, if nothing else, is a necessary start.
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