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Jets' AFC East shot hinges on beating Miami

Brandon Marshall

Brandon Marshall Credit: Getty Images

For pride and postseason, the Jets must rebound from the Monday night massacre in New England and make a statement against the rival Dolphins at the New Meadowlands Stadium on Sunday (4:15 p.m., CBS).

To have a shot at winning the AFC East with four games left on the docket, the humiliated Jets (9-3) will likely have to win out while hoping the first-place Patriots stumble. Gang Green currently leads a crowded AFC wild-card race, but a bad reputation for late-season collapses in previous, once-promising years doesn’t guarantee life in January.

Miami (6-6) is 5-1 on the road this season and can still factor into the postseason equation with a win. The Jets haven’t swept the Fins since 2007, and Miami’s talented defense won’t make it easy.

Proud, pounding defense

After allowing 45 points on Monday to the NFL’s highest-scoring team, the most in Rex Ryan’s head-coaching career, the Jets can restore their defensive pride against one of the league’s lowest-scoring teams. Miami’s 17.9-point average is worst in the AFC, while the Jets are the league’s sixth-ranked defense in points allowed at 19.3 per game. Keeping Miami out of scoring position will be especially critical if the Jets' offense struggles against the Dolphins’ fourth-ranked defense.

Play wide awake

Miami’s Cameron Wake, the NFL’s leading sack artist (12), will test Mark Sanchez’s newly established elusiveness in the pocket. Wake, who’s recorded a sack in each of the Fins’ last three games, could work a lot against banged-up right tackle Damien Woody. Sanchez’s receivers will need to be cognizant of the pass rush if Wake collapses the pocket, and break off routes quickly to find space against Miami’s fifth-ranked pass defense.

A wary secondary

Without safety Jim Leonhard to call the signals in the defensive backfield, the Jets secondary was in disarray against the surgical Tom Brady on Monday. Although Chad Henne is no Brady, he did throw for 363 yards against a Jets defense missing Darrelle Revis in Week 4. With Revis healthy and expected to shadow Brandon Marshall (6 catches, 166 yds., TD in Week 4 and expected to return Sunday from a hamstring inury), the onus is on the rest of the defense to keep Davone Bess, Brian Hartline and Anthony Fasano from moving the chains.

Manageable third downs

The Jets have shown a tendency to kill their own offensive momentum with back-breaking holding penalties or strange play selection by coordinator Brian Schottenheimer. Ineffective Wildcat runs and dump-off passes to the flats often leave Sanchez with too much ground to cover on third down. Dustin Keller, who caught six passes for 98 yards and two scores in Week 4, is a mismatch for the Fins linebackers and should be relied upon to split Miami’s defense and avoid long-distance downs.

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