What's at Stake:
If the Jets win, they’ll have a season-high four-game winning streak, their longshot playoffs remain alive for another week and they won’t feel like their fireplace stockings are stuffed with lumps of coal as they go through their holiday workweek. The Jets’ best bet remains to win all three of their remaining games and hope Baltimore and Miami stumble like Jacksonville did Thursday night. A victory also sets up a potentially intriguing matchup with the undefeated Colts next week with the Jets needing to get past them to still have a shot at postseason going into Week 17.
If the Jets lose, their postseason aspirations turn into “wait until next year.” Although they won’t be mathematically eliminated, they would almost need a federal bailout package just to even sniff an outside shot at backing into the postseason. They would also fall to 3-4 at home, not exactly creating the home-field advantage Rex Ryan was looking for. Additionally, there could be questions about Mark Sanchez’s ability to get the job done in cold weather since the rookie quarterback and Southern California native faced those very same queries following the Oct. 18 home loss to Buffalo, when he turned the ball over five times.
3 players the Jets have to stop:
QB Matt Ryan: The second-year quarterback hasn’t played much since Nov. 22’s overtime loss to the Giants after suffering a turf toe injury a week later after against Tampa Bay. He’s listed as questionable for today’s game. He hasn’t been healthy enough to play over the last two weeks, finally returning to practice in a limited capacity Thursday and Friday. He hasn’t duplicated the lights-out season he had as a rookie, but has completed 206 of 347 attempts (59.4 percent) for 2,291 yards and 16 touchdowns. His 12 interceptions in 11 games are already one more than he threw through 16 games last season.
RB Michael Turner: Like his quarterback, the 5-foot-9, 244-pound running back is officially listed as questionable because he’s still fighting back from his high ankle sprain, so it’s uncertain if he’ll play. He has missed three of the Falcons’ last three games and was limited in practice Thursday and Friday after being sidelined Wednesday. His lone action since going down against Carolina on Nov. 15 came in a 12-carry, 33-yard outing against the Bucs three weeks ago. Turner, who ran for 1,699 yards and 17 TDs last season, has 864 yards and 10 TDs this season.
TE Tony Gonzalez: The 13th-year veteran got his wish to get traded out of Kansas City in the offseason and has fit in nicely in his first season in Atlanta. He leads the Falcons in receptions with 75 and his 788 receiving yards are second only to WR Roddy White’s 915. He has five touchdowns and has caught a pass in each of the Falcons’ first 13 games. One of his better performances of the season came against the Giants four weeks ago when he grabbed eight passes for 82 yards and reeled in an 11-yard touchdown pass with 28 seconds left to help send the game into overtime.
3 Jets who have to play well:
QB Mark Sanchez: After nearly a week of being held hostage with his status officially up in the air until Friday, the rookie is back in the saddle after a sprained right PCL forced him to miss his first game as a pro. His return comes just in time to face the NFL’s 29th-ranked defense that’s ranked 30th against the pass. But Sanchez, who’ll be wearing braces on both knees and using the color-coded wristband system again, has to do a better job in what are anticipated to be wintry conditions than he did against the BillsMeadowlands.
RB Shonn Greene: With the wind potentially howling around Giants Stadium, that likely means more opportunities for the rookie third-round draft pick, who’s had a bit of a fumbling problem of late. Greene, who never had these issues at Iowa, has lost three fumbles and is averaging a fumble every 23 carries. If he doesn’t want the coaching staff to lose faith in him, Greene must focus on holding onto the ball rather than fighting for extra yardage that’s giving defenders more opportunities to knock the ball free.
S Kerry Rhodes: After getting demoted to the second-team defense two days after the Nov. 22 loss to the Patriots, the safety has slowly elevated his level of play over the last three weeks and technically is back in the base 3-4 packages as a starter. He began the game against Tampa Bay last week guarding TE Kellen Winslow when the Jets came out in an unconventional three-safety look. There’s a really good chance Rhodes could be in the same role today and find himself shadowing TE Tony Gonzalez.
The wild card
With snow expected to pile up around the metropolitan area overnight, there could be some lingering effects come game time. Although it’s always hard to pinpoint exactly what’s happening with these coastal winter storms, the early indications are the snow bands will have pulled away by the time the game kicks off at 1 p.m. But the winds could still pose a problem since they could range from 15-20 miles per hour and gust up to 30 mph from northwest toward the southeast end zone. It certainly won't be fun for the Jets' southern visitors. Atlanta hasn’t played outdoors since their 34-31 overtime loss to the Giants on Nov. 22.
How the Jets win: By following the same formula they’ve been so successful with of late -- run the ball early and often, keep the reins tight on Mark Sanchez in certain situations and play stout defense, especially on third downs. The Jets have been beasts on third downs over these two weeks, allowing conversions on only 5 of 41 attempts. If they can jump on a banged up Falcons team and impose their will on them early, Atlanta might fold things up and pack it it since they are virtually eliminated from playoff contention.
How the Jets lose: If they assume the Falcons are going to be pushovers simply because they’ve dropped four of their last five games coming into today’s contest and don’t come out with their foot on the accelerator, it could be a long and painful afternoon. They also can’t have any emotional letdowns if they find out 90 minutes before kickoff that Matt Ryan and Michael Turner aren’t playing. Otherwise, they could find themselves in an uphill climb all afternoon.