After an upset win over the Eagles, making the playoffs is very much on the New York Jets’ radar
Tell me, New York Jets fans, does this sentiment sound familiar?
Playoffs?! Don’t talk about playoffs. Playoffs?! I just hope we can win a game!
This is the story of the last decade for the Jets, and really, the story of the franchise. After all, in their 63 seasons of play before this one, both as the Titans and Jets, this organization has managed to make it to the postseason only 14 times (22.2%). Though 12 years is a particularly long malaise, the truth is that the Jets usually make the playoffs only once every five years, anyway.
Therefore, even without Aaron Rodgers (assuming he follows a normal human path of recovery), the Jets can’t just give up on this season. They’re 3-3 and just pulled off an upset against the previously undefeated Philadelphia Eagles, who promptly went out and beat the 5-1 Miami Dolphins by two touchdowns during the Jets’ bye week in Week 7. This is a team ready to shoot their shot. As Robert Saleh said when Rodgers went down, writing the Jets’ obituary was premature.
Still, New York’s slate ahead remains challenging, even with some underachievers dotting the schedule. To speculate about how the Jets could possibly get into the playoffs may seem foolish at this point in the season, but it’s a post-bye week type of exercise.
What’s the most realistic path to the playoffs for the Jets?
Winning the division would be difficult for the Jets, but it’s not impossible. They’re currently 1.5 games behind the division-leading Dolphins, 0.5 behind the Bills, and 1.5 ahead of the Patriots. In 2022, the Bills won the division with 13 victories, so that might be the bar. If so, that’s a tough ask, as the Jets would need to go 10-1 the rest of the way.
Still, with the difficulty of each team’s remaining schedule, it’s more likely that the teams cancel each other out to some extent. That might have happened last year, too, if not for injuries to Tua Tagovailoa and the Jets’ entire offense. Let’s assume that it will take 11 or 12 wins to clinch the division.
Right now, the Jets have the easiest strength of schedule (SOS) remaining of the three (.500 vs. .530 for the Dolphins and .554 for the Bills). SOS means something more now than it does when the schedule is announced in the offseason, but there’s still plenty that can change after just six games.
Path to the division
Assuming that winning the division will take 12 games, here is the most plausible path for the Jets.
- Go 3-1 in the remaining divisional games with two wins over the Dolphins (finish 4-2 in the division with tiebreaker over Dolphins)
- Go 3-1 against the Chargers, Raiders, Browns, and Texans (finish 8-4 in the conference)
- Go 3-0 against the Giants, Falcons, Commanders (finish 4-1 in the NFC)
This is a lot to ask, but it’s not impossible. The Jets match up very well against the Bills, and we saw them come close to beating Buffalo twice in 2022. The Bills don’t have Matt Milano or Tre’ White, two players who were missing in the 2022 Week 9 tilt.
Miami is going to be a really difficult matchup, especially considering the Jets’ poor run defense. Beating them twice would be quite a tall order. Still, Sauce Gardner and D.J. Reed are potential equalizers, assuming they’re healthy.
Then there’s the Jets’ Achilles heel, the Patriots. You have to think that the streak will end sometime. If New England gets the opportunity to play spoiler in Week 18, you can bet that Bill Belichick will go all-out. Still, this Patriots team has lost several key players, including Christian Gonzalez, since the Jets last played them.
New England beat the Bills and shouldn’t be underestimated, but we’re talking about a divisional run here. That would mean the Jets come into the final week of the season with at least 11 wins. Beating the Patriots in that scenario should be an easy task.
If it will take 11 wins for the division, the Jets still need to go at least 3-1 in the remaining four divisional games. Still, it would give them some more wiggle room to lose another game, preferably an NFC one.
Obviously, there are many more options for a wild card berth, but also many more competitors. The good news for the Jets is that none of the teams they’ve lost to so far should have any relevance in the wild card race. The Chiefs seem to be running away with the AFC West once more, while the Patriots are the AFC East basement-dwellers. Still, losing two AFC games could already hurt them in potential tiebreakers.
In 2022, three NFL teams made the wild card with nine victories and two missed it. In 2021, the first year in which there were both 17 games and 14 playoff teams, two nine-win teams made the wild card. Still, there were also four 9-8 teams that missed it.
In other words, it’s likely that the final wild card in the AFC will be a 9-8 team, but it’s a toss-up whether the Jets would be in or out. Meanwhile, not a single 10-win team has missed the postseason under the 14-team format.
The path to 10 wins + wild card
- Go at least 2-2 in the division and beat the Dolphins at least once (finish 3-3 in the division)
- Go 3-1 against the Chargers, Raiders, Texans, and Browns (finish 7-5 in the conference)
- Go 2-1 against the Giants, Falcons, Commanders (finish 3-2 in the NFC)
This is the most realistic way that the Jets could make the playoffs. Going 3-1 with the Dolphins twice and the Bills on the slate is certainly possible, but it’s not likely. It’s far easier to envision the Jets going 2-2 in those four games.
Meanwhile, beating the other four AFC teams is doable, but that certainly doesn’t mean the Jets will do it. The one loss gives them a little more leeway.
Beating all three NFC teams would be the easiest way for the Jets to ensure a playoff spot. That starts in Week 8 with the crosstown rival Giants. Still, the Jets cannot afford to overlook any team, particularly since those same teams are likely looking at them as a beatable opponent. The Falcons, in particular, can be a bad matchup for the Jets.
The nine-win pipe dream
If the Jets had been able to beat the Jaguars, Lions, or Seahawks near the end of the 2022 season, they still could have made the playoffs with a Week 18 victory. The Jets kept many of their ailing veterans out of that game because they were mathematically eliminated from contention, but had that not been the case, Duane Brown et al. would have most likely played.
Making the playoffs at 9-8 would mean that the Jets need to go 6-5 the rest of the way. Still, to get in with just nine victories, they will need the proper tiebreakers.
- Go 2-2 in the divisional games, preferably to finish with two wins against the nearest wild-card competitor (finish 3-3 in the division); or go 3-1 in the divisional games (finish 4-2 in the division)
- Go 3-1 against the Chargers, Raiders, Texans, and Browns (the loss must be against a non-wild card contender) or go 2-2 against those four teams if 3-1 in the division
- Win one more NFC game (finish 2-3 in the NFC)
All in all, while the goal is to win games, beating AFC opponents is absolutely critical. And the Jets can do it. Their most difficult remaining AFC games are against their division rivals. The Texans and Browns have better-than-expected records, but neither one has blown the doors off their opponents. They’ll be tough, grind-it-out games, which is what the Jets usually play, anyway.
The Jets already got the Bills, Cowboys, Chiefs, and Eagles out of the way. Their loss to the Patriots was very unfortunate but not insurmountable for their playoff hopes. Meanwhile, Miami and Buffalo still have some combination of the Chiefs, Eagles, Cowboys, Bengals, and Ravens remaining, as well as each other.
Obviously, the Jets’ path to the playoffs would be much clearer with Rodgers under center. But they still have a decent chance, and laying it out shows just how realistic that chance can be.
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