Jets head coach Rex Ryan looks on against the Kansas...

Jets head coach Rex Ryan looks on against the Kansas City Chiefs at MetLife Stadium. (Dec. 11, 2011) Credit: Jim McIsaac

The reasons are right there on the stat sheet.

The Jets -- a team that is 1-5 on the road and still trying to find its way offensively with rookie quarterback Geno Smith -- shouldn't stand a chance against the Panthers in Charlotte, N.C.

The Jets are 30th in total offense and haven't won back-to-back games all season. Nevertheless, they are determined to close out the season by winning four straight in hopes of reaching the playoffs.

"How important is this game?" coach Rex Ryan asked. "Well, it means everything to us."

But to have any chance of playing in the postseason, the Jets (6-7) will have to defeat Carolina (9-4) -- a team that's 5-1 at Bank of America Stadium and features the league's No. 2 overall defense and Cam Newton, one of the best young quarterbacks in the NFL.

In theory, Carolina might be the worst opponent for the Jets right now. The Panthers are 8-1 in their past nine games, they're stacked defensively, and wide receiver Steve Smith is a bona fide playmaker, even at age 34. But despite an 11-point spread that favors the Panthers, the Jets don't see themselves as underdogs.

"If we kind of tuck our tails and have this attitude like 'let's get ready for an [----]-whupping' -- it's foolish," veteran right guard Willie Colon said.

"We've suffered three losses and bounced back. And we have just as much fight and heart as they do. So let's get it."

The Jets still are alive in the AFC playoff hunt despite losing to the Bills, Ravens and Dolphins after their Week 10 bye. Last week's 37-27 win over the Raiders boosted team morale, but Ryan and his players know there's more work to be done. At the very least, they've got to win out and get help from other teams.

"Our backs are against the wall," receiver David Nelson said. "If we don't play well, then we're out.

"We're a young team, we're a hungry team and we're coming off a great week offensively. The biggest advantage we have is -- this is the only option for us."

But the Panthers will be playing for more than just a "W." After being embarrassed by the Saints last week on national TV, Carolina's pride is hurt. And Cam & Co. plan to use the Jets as a means to an end: their first playoff berth in five years.

The Panthers -- who are second in the NFC South behind the Saints (10-3) -- likely will earn a wild-card spot if they win two of their final three games. And in order to regain their footing in a murky playoff picture, they'll need to disrupt Smith and his offense today.

Carolina coach Ron Rivera called their 31-13 beatdown last week a "humbling" experience, adding: "Maybe we got a little full of ourselves."

The Jets are all too familiar with embarrassing losses, but they say they've drawn confidence from the fact that they've been able to rebound from a three-game losing streak.

"It's called never losing hope and keeping faith," rookie defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson said. "Never losing hope and keeping faith in your brothers next to you. Rex, the whole organization just has to have faith and hopefully you make it to where you're trying to go."

But to get where they want to go, the Jets must make a stand in hostile territory. And according to Colon, Sunday's opponent is much bigger than just the Panthers.

"Right now, we've got to be positive," the Bronx-born Hofstra product said. "Oakland was huge because we were kind of able to give the fans some hope that we don't stink, that we're not the Bad News Bears of New York.

"I don't look at it as us against them,'' he said. "Whoever it is, it's us against the world right now."

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