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How the Jets could turn their unexpected win streak into a trip to the playoffs

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Don’t laugh. The Jets may actually have a shot at this.

NFL: Oakland Raiders at New York Jets Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Jets hit rock bottom in the first weekend of November with a 26-18 loss to the Dolphins. Or so we thought.

It was the first win of the year for Miami, which spent its offseason unapologetically tanking. The Jets, on the other hand, weren’t supposed to be bad in 2019. They spent big in free agency to land running back Le’Veon Bell and linebacker C.J. Mosley, and expected Sam Darnold to make a leap in his second season. Instead, the Jets hit the midway point of the season with a 1-7 record after the loss to Miami.

The weird list of injuries Darnold suffered early in the season — including mono and an enlarged spleen — were certainly part of New York’s early struggles. But after he led the Jets to a win over the Cowboys in his Week 6 return, he threw eight interceptions in losses to the Patriots, Jaguars, and Dolphins.

Now the season outlook looks much different for New York. The offense scored 34 in each of the last three weeks of November — winning all three games, including a blowout of the Raiders in Week 12. Darnold looked rejuvenated and comfortable in Adam Gase’s new offense, which was always going to take time to get down. That recent win streak moved the Jets to 4-7 on the year and opened up the faint possibility of a postseason run.

And then, one week later, New York began digging again. For the second time after Week 7, they gave a winless team its first victory of the season, dropping a 22-6 decision to the previously 0-11 Bengals. That was enough to put the Jets’ postseason hopes on life support — but they aren’t dead yet.

The AFC East crown is out of the question for New York with the 10-1 Patriots six games ahead. The wild card? There’s still a sliver of hope there.

The wild card race in the AFC is wide open

The Jets would be toast in the NFC. Fortunately for them, they’re in the AFC where only Buffalo has jumped out to a significant lead in the wild card race. It’s now impossible for the Jets to catch the 9-3 Bills, but New York isn’t totally screwed yet.

The Jets’ only chance at the postseason is to climb through the logjam of contenders for the second wild card berth. Currently, the Steelers and Titans have the inside track on the six-seed with identical 7-5 records. The Colts and Raiders aren’t far behind.

That’s a crowded field of obstacles, but not an especially daunting one. None of those teams has shown any consistency in 2019, and the Jets have a schedule down the stretch that will give them a chance.

Here are the opponents still on the docket for New York:

  • Week 14: vs. Dolphins
  • Week 15: @ Ravens
  • Week 16: vs. Steelers
  • Week 17: @ Bills

A mid-December game against Baltimore on a Thursday night is a nightmare scenario for any team. The other three games don’t look that scary, however. The Jets were set up to get to 6-7 thanks to that Bengals-Dolphins stretch after Week 12, but imploded instead to erase any remaining margin of error and fall to 4-8. If New York can win out — unlikely thanks to games at Baltimore and Buffalo, but still within the realm of possibility — it’s sitting at 8-8 at the end of the year.

Would that be enough? Probably not, but it can’t be ruled out yet.

Catching the Steelers and Raiders shouldn’t be too difficult. The Jets already own a head-to-head tiebreaker over Oakland thanks to a Week 12 win, and could snag one over Pittsburgh too in Week 16. Cleveland, currently 5-7, is still in the mix and could be a problem; the Browns beat New York way back in Week 2, but only has a one-game lead.

They also finish the year with games against the Bengals, Cardinals, Ravens, and another against the the Bengals. If Cleveland stumbles at all in that stretch, the Jets could jump the line in the wild card race.

The bigger concern for the Jets should be the AFC South. The Texans, Colts, Titans trio will all likely finish with a higher conference record than the Jets and, thus, own a tiebreaker. Two of those teams will need to limp across the finish line for New York to have a shot. Interdivisional games in December could help, though.

In the final five weeks of the season, there’s a Week 13 matchup between Indianapolis and Tennessee (won by the Titans), as well as Week 15 and Week 17 meetings of the Texans and Titans.

It’d take a perfect alignment of the stars for the Jets to make the playoffs at 8-8. Rattling off five more wins would have been a much more viable way to get in. Any chance of that is gone after New York paved the way for Cincinnati to improve to 1-11.

Still, it’s incredible the Jets can even discuss the possibility of the postseason considering where the team was when November began. It’s mini-win streak has turned a lost season into one with a glimmer of hope.