FLORHAM PARK, N.J.
The Jets have put their playoff hopes in peril with a midseason slump in which they have gone from 5-3 to 6-5, but as far as outspoken cornerback Antonio Cromartie is concerned, there is no doubt the Jets will be in the tournament come next month.
He all but guaranteed it.
"This will be a playoff team," Cromartie said at his locker after practice Thursday. "There's no question in my mind. I would never question this team or the ability that we have here. We're going to have to be a wild-card team, but there's no problem with us being that."
Playoff guarantees have been few and far between around the Jets these days. Coach Rex Ryan's comments have been tempered lately; even he hasn't been dishing any guarantees the way he did the previous two seasons.
But Cromartie remains bullish on his team's chances, regardless of the inconsistent play that produced three straight losses earlier in the season and then two more before last Sunday's 28-24 nail-biter against the Bills. In that one, they nearly blew the lead in the final minute after Mark Sanchez threw a touchdown pass to Santonio Holmes.
"I believe in the guys in this locker room," Cromartie said. "I believe in the coaching staff that we're going to be well prepared. Rex and his staff do a great job. We try to go out every single day and prepare the way we need to play. Every game is a one-game playoff right now for the next five games going into the playoffs."
Asked if he'd be willing to use the word "guarantee'' when making his prediction of a playoff berth, Cromartie said "no" before adding: "I'll just say we will be. We will be a playoff team."
Credit Cromartie for keeping his confidence at a high level, but his bold prediction will turn out to be a hollow one if the Jets' defense can't figure out a way to play at a higher level.
Unlike the past two years, when the Jets could legitimately consider themselves an elite defense, this year's unit has been inconsistent much too often, particularly at the end of games.
The most glaring example was their complete domination of the Broncos' offense deep into the fourth quarter, followed by a meltdown on a game-winning 95-yard drive led by Tim Tebow in the final minutes.
In Sunday's win over the Bills, they had to sweat it out at the end again. Had it not been for Stevie Johnson's dropped pass over the middle in the final minute, the Jets might have wasted Sanchez's touchdown pass to Holmes with 1:01 left.
"If you're going to be a dominant team on defense, you've got to close things out," Ryan said. "Are we a dominant defense? I don't know. I don't think there is a dominant defense in the league this year. Are we pretty good? I think we're pretty good. I think we're capable of being better."
The overall numbers for the defense are a mixed bag: The Jets are 17th in points allowed (21.9) but eighth in yards allowed (318.7), seventh in passing yards allowed (204.6) and 16th in rushing yards allowed (114.1).
Those numbers actually are a major improvement over their early-season performance, but they're still not good enough to qualify as elite.
No matter to Cromartie, though. He thinks the Jets will put it together down the stretch and get into the postseason.
"I think it's a dominant defense," he said. "We're in the top 10 in defense [yards allowed], and by the end of the year, we'll be in the top five. We can make plays when we need to."
But can they make enough plays to make it deep into January?