Winning out no longer is good enough. Now the Jets need help.
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Saturday night’s win over the Cowboys kept the Jets’ playoff hopes alive for one more week. But within 24 hours, they found themselves on the periphery of the postseason race, thanks to victories by the Chiefs and Steelers.
Hours after the Chiefs defeated the Ravens, 34-14, the Steelers came back from a 17-point deficit to defeat the Broncos, 34-27, on Sunday night.
That left the Jets, Chiefs and Steelers at 9-5 — but the Steelers moved ahead of the Jets to claim the sixth and final spot in the AFC playoff race because of a common-opponents tiebreaker.
That means the Jets not only have to win out but need the Chiefs, Steelers and Broncos (10-5) to lose.
Here’s the silver lining: The Broncos are in first place in the AFC West, but if the Chiefs overtake them and win the division title, the Jets will get in as a wild-card team because they own the tiebreaker over Denver.
The Jets have a much tougher schedule (at least, on paper) compared with the Chiefs and Steelers. Kansas City is at home against the Browns (3-11) and Raiders (6-8) the next two weeks. Pittsburgh will close out the year at Baltimore (4-10) and at Cleveland.
Denver will finish up at home against the Bengals (11-3) and the Chargers (4-10).
As for the Jets, they host the Patriots (12-2) on Sunday before traveling to Buffalo to face Rex Ryan’s Bills in Week 17.
But if they don’t handle their business next week against the Patriots, it won’t matter what else happens around the league.
“We can’t hang from the rafters right now because of a little win streak,” Brandon Marshall said after the Jets eked out a 19-16 win over the Cowboys. “We’ve just got to focus on our job.”
The Jets — who have won four straight for the first time since 2010 — lost to the Patriots, 30-23, in Foxborough in Week 7. If they expect to keep the momentum going, they’ll need to execute a nearly flawless game against future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady.
“It’s a good time to start playing good football. Wasn’t pretty today,” coach Todd Bowles said Saturday night in reference to the Jets’ sloppy performance against the Cowboys. “We’re on our way to becoming one of those type of teams if we can keep it up.”
So how much better will the Jets have to play against the Patriots?
“They’re a division rival,” Bowles said. “We know how good they are and they’re the Super Bowl champs, so we’ve got to clean up a lot of mistakes before we get to them.”
The Jets are jelling at just the right time, but they still have to prove they’re up to the task of taking down the AFC East powerhouse. The Patriots also have something to play for Sunday: A win would guarantee them home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
With each passing week, the vision of reaching the playoffs becomes more clear. And New England is the next roadblock in the Jets’ path to the postseason.
“That is the ultimate goal,” linebacker Calvin Pace said of making the playoffs, something the Jets haven’t done since 2010. “But right now, we just focus on stacking these wins up. We have to win out. There are some scenarios where if some other people win out, they will go. You just have to focus on what we can control. We got this win on the road, a tough one. We have to get two more.”