Although running the table is important, a loss from the Pittsburgh Steelers looms more important than the New York Jets defeating the Dallas Cowboys.
By Robby Sabo
13 games played, three remaining. This is the exact situation all 32 NFL teams are facing as we head down the stretch of the 2015 season.
For three specific teams in the AFC, these final three games mean just a little more. Actually, they mean a lot more. Some might say they mean everything.
The New York Jets, Pittsburgh Steelers and Kansas City Chiefs are all 8-5. While it’s a commendable record at this point, only two will be tasting the sweet riches of the AFC Playoffs – or as the players of today call it: the “tournament.”
The reason only two AFC Wild Card spots are open for this trio is due to the four-division playoff system which currently boasts an extremely undeserving AFC South team.
But I digress. That’s another story for a different day. Today it’s about the Jets and how utterly important this weekend is.
This Saturday Gang Green visits Jerry’s Place to take on the 4-9 Dallas Cowboys. On the surface it looks like a slam dunk victory. New York has won three straight including a 30-8 dismantling of the Tennessee Titans this past Sunday, while Dallas can’t do anything right on offense with Matt Cassell running the show.
In any event, and probably to the surprise to many, the Jets-Cowboys game isn’t anywhere as important to the Jets playoff chances as another NFL tilt happening on Sunday.
Regardless of the outcome on Saturday, eyes need to be glued to the Pittsburgh Steelers when they host Brock Osweiler and the Denver Broncos at 4:25 PM ET.
Although it looks pretty when CBS and Fox throws those AFC Playoff Picture graphics up – because the Jets are currently sitting in the No. 6 hole – this graphic couldn’t tell more of a lie if it tried.
New York does not control their own destiny. In fact, if they, the Steelers, and the red-hot Chiefs all win out and finish 11-5, it would be the Jets who’d be the unfortunate squad who’ll start their family vacations early.
It comes down to one very important thing: strength of victory.
The Chiefs currently have a 7-2 record against AFC opponents. The Steelers sit at 5-4. Because the Jets are at 6-4 they currently squeeze the Steelers out of that last Wild Card slot due to conference record is the tiebreaker that’ll effect this race (no head-to-head tiebreakers apply).
However, should the Steelers win out they’ll finish with an 8-4 conference record just as the Jets would. This is where strength of victory comes and kicks Todd Bowles and company to the curb.
The AFC East has enjoyed playing one of the easiest schedules in NFL history.
Recently we’ve seen 8-8 or 7-9 division winners make the playoffs. We witnessed it just last year in the Carolina Panthers (who, by the way, haven’t lost since the Divisional Round). Very rarely have we witnessed two divisions be so terrible in the same season.
The NFC East and AFC South have been that bad. And what do you know, these are the exact two divisions teams of the AFC East had on their slate this season.
So, strength of victory (which essentially means the combined winning percentage of the teams the playoff team in question has defeated), would obviously go in the direction of anybody trying to break a playoff tie against the Jets.
This is exactly why the Jets desperately need Pittsburgh to fall to Denver this Sunday.
Should it happen, Gang Green would automatically control its own destiny. More importantly though – and even if the Jets should lose to the Cowboys on Sunday – they’d automatically be in position to win the conference record tiebreaker over the Steelers (8-4 against 7-5).
Because Kansas City possesses a 7-2 conference record, it’s much more realistic to hope Pittsburgh falters. The other two opponents the Steelers will face are the Baltimore Ravens and the Cleveland Browns.
New York Jets (8-5)
- Week 15: @ Cowboys (4-9)
- Week 16: vs Patriots (11-2)
- Week 17: @ Bills (6-7)
Pittsburgh Steelers (8-5)
- Week 15: vs Broncos (10-3)
- Week 16: @ Ravens (4-9)
- Week 17: @ Browns (3-10)
Kansas City Chiefs (8-5)
- Week 15: @ Ravens (4-9)
- Week 16: vs Browns (3-10)
- Week 17: vs Raiders (6-7)
Thanks to that information, it’s now obvious to see how critical Denver winning this Sunday truly is. To also think Bill Belichick and Tom Brady will lay down against the Jets would have your friends telling you to lay down and put a cold towel on your head.
Both the Steelers and the Chiefs have much easier schedules. Osweiler needs to be the heart of every Jets’ fan on Sunday.
The other possibility for New York comes when you think of the 10-3 Broncos losing twice and allowing the Chiefs to surpass them in the AFC West. The Jets would most likely have to run the table for this scenario (of them passing up the Broncos in the Wild Card race), so it’s not a realistic option at this point in time.
There’s no question going 3-0 the rest of the way is huge. But beating the New England Patriots and Rex Ryan’s Buffalo Bills are extraordinarily more important than the Cowboys game on Saturday.
The bottom line is this: Because it’s been one wild ride for the New York Jets up to this point, there’s absolutely no reason to think the final three will bring anything different.
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