Well, hello there. Stephen Haynes back with you for this week's installment of GDL. I'll be providing the usual: stats, updates, miscellaneous info during the game, and, of course, the useless pre-game drivel.
Remember a year ago this time the talk was about the Jets possibly backing into the playoffs? How they only had an opportunity to make it in because they'd beaten a Colts team that didn't care that much about going for the season sweep, and they entered the final week facing the Bengals, who would've gotten nothing tangible from a win.
What's kind of funny now is this year, the Jets have again backed into the postseason – let's call it like we saw it. They've played well once in their last four games and clinched the second Wild Card spot after a loss, by way of the Jaguars' failure to beat the Redskins.
But give them credit. They're in this position now because they're two victories better than they were a year ago entering Week 17. Many of their 10 wins have been sloppy, unimpressive, closer than than they should've been, and there were a few rabbit's-foot wins. The defense has disappointed and the offense, for the most part, didn't perform to the level that was expected with the off-season additions. And, really, going into the playoffs, this team doesn't look as dangerous as the 2009 version (the defense isn't as much of a sure thing, nor is the running game). But then, think back: last year's team didn't appear all that ferocious until it reached the AFC title game and the, “Huh. Wait a minute...” reactions came. What last season showed is that it doesn't much matter how you get into the dance or even what you wear there – long as you can boogie when you get on the floor.
And what the Jets earned themselves this year is a gloriously meaningless regular-season finale; a game in which the priorities can change and the order becomes: (1) get out of it sans a serious injury, (2) maybe reach some statistical benchmarks/milestones, and (3) tune up/tinker with some things schematically.
A good opponent for that is the Bills (4-11). They aren't as much of a pushover as the record would indicate (they've been competitive in several games, including a should've-been win over the Steelers), but this is the best matchup the Jets could've hoped for in this situation. Their win over the Bills in Week 4 was probably their most complete and impressive. They whooped them, 38-14, and the offense had its most productive game of the year. Mark Sanchez threw for 161 yards and two touchdowns (106.4 QB rating), LaDainian Tomlinson (133 yards, two TDs) and Shonn Greene (117) each went over 100 yards and Dustin Keller – remember him? - had two touchdown receptions. Heck, the defense even got sacks from Dwight Lowery, James Ihedigbo and Shaun Ellis.
The Bills' biggest threat is Steve Johnson, he of blaming-God-on-Twitter fame. The third-year receiver has 77 catches for 1,001 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Things to look for
- How will Joe McKnight do in his first start? Tomlinson was 86 rushing yards short of 1,000, but he's inactive for today's game. As is Greene. McKnight, a fourth-round pick, has carried just seven times and caught one pass this season. He was expected to be their versatile, Leon Washington-esque scat back, but disappointed in training camp. Today he gets a shot at some extended playing time.
- Sanchez won't play much and he's probably only starting the game so he can get that “16” in his games started column for the first time, but depending on how long he goes and what he does while out there, he's got an outside shot (outside and two blocks away) at 20 touchdown passes. Sanchez has 17 now. After throwing 20 interceptions last year, it would be a nice statistical achievement for him to flip that.
- What does Mark Brunnell have left? The 40-year-old backup QB has thrown just one pass this season (1-for-1, though) and, since he hasn't been called on to play in three years, really, since 2006, there's a big “Who knows?” in regards to what he's capable of. Figure the most Sanchez will play is the first half (probably not even), so Brunnell will have to run the show for a while. And McKnight isn't a workhorse type of back ,so he won't be handing off every time.
- How will the secondary look? Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie are both inactive and Kyle Wilson and Marquice Cole will start at cornerback. How much has the rookie Wilson learned while sitting behind the veterans and can he apply it today? Dwight Lowery will start at safety in place of Eric Smith. Lowery has decent ball skills but, coming out of college, there were questions about his acceleration and change of direction as a cornerback. His future might be at safety. It'll be interesting to see how he does there today.