The New York Jets Actually Have A Decent Shot At Making The Playoffs

  • Dylan Murphy

The New York Jets – Mark Sanchez and Rex Ryan in particular – have become somewhat of a joke this season. We’ve been building towards this for a while, but it all came to a head (butt?) in that famous ass pancake on Thanksgiving when the Pats walloped the Jets, 49-19. It was at that point, when Sanchez was felled by his own lineman’s backside, that the team hit rock bottom and most people wrote off their playoff hopes. But there were guarantees to be lived up to, and bravado to be upheld, so the Jets — and give them credit for this, because a Thanksgiving ass pancake is enough to make most teams throw in the towel — kept clawing away.

In Week 13, Greg McElroy happened, and the Jets eked out a 7-6 win over Arizona. Then, this past Sunday, they snuck by Jacksonville 17-10. Now, whaddayaknow: the New York Jets are 6-7… and one game out of the second of two AFC Wild Card spots.

Wait. What?

It’s true! The Jets can still make the playoffs.

As it stands right now, the AFC playoff picture looks like this:

1. Houston (11-2)
2. New England (10-3)
3. Denver (10-3)
4. Baltimore (9-4)
5. Indianapolis (9-4)
6. Pittsburgh (7-6)
7. Cincinnati (7-6)
8. New York Jets (6-7)

The Jets are in 8th, with three games to go, one game behind Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, who are tied for the 6th and final playoff spot. Let’s see what it’ll take for them to actually get there, which would just be great on a whole bunch of different levels (Blustery Rex Ryan pressers! More questioning of Mark Sanchez’s competence, this time on a bigger stage! Tim Tebow playing with Gatorade cups! In the playoffs!)

Their final three games are at Tennessee, at home against San Diego, and at Buffalo. A very winnable home stretch.

First, here are the Wild Card tiebreakers. This matters, because New York could very well end up tied with Pittsburgh or Cincinnati for that last playoff berth.

1. Head-to-head, if applicable.
2. Best won-lost-tied percentage in games played within the conference.
3. Best won-lost-tied percentage in common games, minimum of four.
4. Strength of victory.
5. Strength of schedule.
6. Best combined ranking among conference teams in points scored and points allowed.
7. Best combined ranking among all teams in points scored and points allowed.
8. Best net points in conference games.
9. Best net points in all games.
10. Best net touchdowns in all games.
11. Coin toss.

(It probably won’t come to a coin toss – which is bad for the Jets, because Pittsburgh would probably lose.)

The Jets’ chances are much greater if the Bengals beat the Steelers in Week 16.

Here’s why: As divisional opponents, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati play each other twice each season. Pittsburgh won the first matchup on the road 24-17 in Week 7, so the Steelers have the leg up right now. The rematch is in two weeks, Week 16, in Pittsburgh – a huge game, obviously, for both teams. If Pittsburgh wins that game, it will effectively eliminate Cincinnati from playoff contention because they can’t force a second tiebreaker after head-to-head against Pittsburgh. And that means they’ll need a record superior to that of Pittsburgh, which demands one rigid and unlikely path to the playoffs: that Pittsburgh loses both of its other two games (at Dallas, home against Cleveland) and Cincinnati wins both of theirs (at Philadelphia, home against Baltimore). But if anything, Pittsburgh will at least beat Cleveland, eliminating Cincinnati from playoff contention.

This matters for the Jets because Pittsburgh beat New York in Week 2, meaning Pittsburgh currently holds the head-to-head tiebreaker with New York. With Cincinnati out of the picture, this means Pittsburgh is all but guaranteed to make the playoffs if they take care of Cincinnati and at least one of the two other games (at Dallas, Cleveland) on their schedule. Because even if the Jets go 3-0 down the stretch, they will still be tied at with the Steelers at 9-7.

There are five scenarios the Jets are likely to encounter.

1. New York finishes with a record worse than both Pittsburgh and Cincinnati.
2. New York finishes with a record better than both Pittsburgh and Cincinnati.
3. New York ties Pittsburgh for 2nd AFC Wild Card spot.
4. New York ties Cincinnati for 2nd AFC Wild Card spot.
5. New York ties both Pittsburgh and Cincinnati for 2nd AFC Wild Card spot.

The outcome of scenarios 1 and 2 are obvious – the Jets miss the playoffs in scenario 1, the Jets make the playoffs in scenario 2. Scenario No. 3 was just covered, and that equals the Jets missing the playoffs. But:

If Cincinnati beats Pittsburgh, the Jets can more likely entertain scenarios No. 4 and 5.

4. New York ties Cincinnati for 2nd AFC Wild Card spot

For clarity, here are all the team’s remaining games for the rest of the season.

New York Jets: at Tennessee (Week 15), San Diego (Week 16), at Buffalo (Week 17)
Pittsburgh Steelers: at Dallas (Week 15), Cincinnati (Week 16), Cleveland (Week 17)
Cincinnati Bengals: at Philadelphia (Week 15), at Pittsburgh (Week 16), Baltimore (Week 17)

The Jets, as you can see, have a cupcake schedule the rest of the way. Even for the offensively-challenged Sanchez, the 27th ranked Tennessee Titans defense (by DVOA), shouldn’t cause too many problems. In Week 1, the Jets manhandled Buffalo 48-28. Only the Chargers pose a serious threat, but at least in the Rex Ryan era, the team is 2-0 against San Diego, including a playoff victory in 2010. Say what you want about New York still finding a way to buttfumble away their chances, but they couldn’t ask for a better schedule.

The big key in this, however, is the resulting impact on the Jets AFC record – if they manage to tie Cincinnati, and only Cincinnati, for the final playoff spot – which is the second Wild Card tiebreaker. And this one is needed because Cincinnati does not play New York this season.

As it stands right now, here are the team’s AFC records:

Cincinnati: 5-5
New York: 4-5
Pittsburgh: 4-6

If the Jets go 3-0, that brings them to 7-5 in the AFC (all of their remaining opponents are in the AFC), whereas Cincinnati will need to beat Pittsburgh and Baltimore just to tie the Jets at 7-5. We already know that a Cincinnati loss to Pittsburgh is an almost auto-knockout for the Bengals, and a loss to Baltimore coupled with a 3-0 Jets record does the same. If the Jets go 2-1, however, they run into a much stickier situation, needing both Cincinnati and Pittsburgh to finish 1-2 or worse. However it’s not that improbable that Pittsburgh loses in Dallas this Sunday and, reeling off two straight losses, blows another one at home against Cincinnati. Or throws up a dud against Cleveland, because we’ve already seen that happen once this season.

5. New York ties both Pittsburgh and Cincinnati for 2nd AFC Wild Card spot.

The Steelers, really, are the crucial team here because the Jets can only afford to have the same record as them if Cincinnati is tied as well, creating a three-team tie for the final Wild Card spot. Because some weird rules quirk biases towards divisional equity in three-way Wild Card ties, this scenario would likely favor the Jets. Here’s the procedure for three-way ties.

Three or More Clubs

“1. Apply division tie breaker to eliminate all but the highest ranked club in each division prior to proceeding to step 2. The original seeding within a division upon application of the division tie breaker remains the same for all subsequent applications of the procedure that are necessary to identify the two Wild-Card participants.”

Simply put, either Pittsburgh or Cincinnati will be eliminated via division tiebreakers before they would use tiebreakers with the Jets.

Here are the division tiebreakers:

1. Head-to-head (best won-lost-tied percentage in games between the clubs).
2. Best won-lost-tied percentage in games played within the division.
3. Best won-lost-tied percentage in common games.
4. Best won-lost-tied percentage in games played within the conference.
5. Strength of victory.
6. Strength of schedule.
7. Best combined ranking among conference teams in points scored and points allowed.
8. Best combined ranking among all teams in points scored and points allowed.
9. Best net points in common games.
10. Best net points in all games.
11. Best net touchdowns in all games.
12. Coin toss

As it stands now, Cincinnati currently sits behind Pittsburgh at 0-1 in head-to-head, and Cincinnati’s 1-3 in-division record would lose out to Pittsburgh’s 2-2. But again, Cincinnati beating Pittsburgh in Week 16 would level the playing field on both of those tiebreakers. Assuming both of their divisional records then tie at 3-3 or 2-4 (Baltimore could have the division locked up by then and rest starters against Cincinnati in Week 17, making a Cincinnati win over Baltimore and a Pittsburgh win over Cleveland the likely outcome), the next step is won-lost-tied percentage in common games. Cincinnati (5-2) currently has the lead in this category over Pittsburgh (4-3) with only Philadelphia remaining for Cincinnati and Dallas for Pittsburgh. Which means, it seems, that Cincinnati would win the divisional tiebreaker.

If Pittsburgh remains after the division tiebreaker, the Jets are out due to head-to-head. But if, in the more likely scenario, that it’s Cincinnati, the Jets (if in theory, their AFC records are tied at 7-5 or 6-6) would have the edge in the next applicable tiebreaker (winning percentage in common games is tied if the Jets beat the Chargers) after AFC record, “Strength of Victory” – the combined winning percentage of opponents that the teams have beaten. For the Jets, their defeated opponents winning percentage is 39.7% as of right now; for Cincinnati, it’s 34.8%. Of course New York has the easier schedule remaining of the two by record, so everything is subject to change, assuming New York reels off a few wins. But if we assume Cincinnati beats Philadelphia, who will have a bad record by season’s end, Cincinnati will probably not be able to overcome that percentage deficit and lose out on the Wild Card spot to New York.

So how do the Jets make the playoffs, exactly?

In summary: all of this is subject to rampant speculation, because things like the “Strength of Victory” tiebreaker are highly unstable due to the effect of the play of many other NFL teams. And the Jets, of course, could just be the Jets and lose all of their remaining games. But if we boil this down to its most essential parts, New York needs to win two, if not three, of their remaining games, and Cincinnati needs to take out Pittsburgh in two weeks. All of which, somehow, isn’t so far-fetched.

Raise your hand if you understood any of this. No? Well, whatever. More buttfumbles, please.