What's at Stake:
If the Jets win, they will have completed a miraculous run to the postseason that few thought was possible. That includes their first-year head coach who proclaimed they were eliminated from the playoffs after the Jets’ discouraging 10-7 loss to the Falcons on Dec. 20. But a victory means they’re in the postseason after a two-year absence and they’ll be the AFC’s fifth-seeded team. It would also likely set up a rematch between these two teams in the wild-card playoffs next weekend given Cincinnati will probably be the fourth seed. Of course, a win also closes out Giants Stadium in style.
If the Jets lose, it will be an extremely long offseason and the disappointment and anguish from a monumental collapse will linger until training camp starts in July. They’ve been given so many second chances that we’ve lost count and to not have taken advantage of a situation where if they win, they’re in means they won’t have changed the culture around the franchise at all. Should they not get it done, that will be two straight weeks where the favored home team went belly up in its final game at the stadium erected just off Exit 16W on the Turnpike.
3 players the Jets have to stop:
QB J.T. O’Sullivan: Since starter Carson Palmer will likely give way to his backup at some point in the game, there’s a good chance the Jets’ playoff fate could hinge on whether they are able to keep the journeyman in check. He’s appeared in only two games this season, completing 1 of 3 attempts. But his best season as a pro came in San Francisco last season, when he started in eight games. He threw for 1,678 yards and eight touchdowns, but was picked off 11 times. Jets cornerback Donald Strickland, who played with O’Sullivan last season, has been giving his teammates the lowdown the seventh-year pro.
RB Cedric Benson: Released by the Bears in June of 2008 and out of football until he was inked by Cincinnati in September of ’08, Benson is enjoying a resurgence with Bengals. He’s coming off another solid game, churning out 133 yards on 29 attempts vs. the Chiefs last week. Despite missing 10 quarters of action with a hip injury suffered Nov. 15 at Pittsburgh, his 301 carries are fifth-most in the league and he’s No. 7 in rushing thanks to racking up 1,251 yards, the seventh-best total in franchise. He would need 208 yards today to break Rudi Johnson’s 2005 team record of 1,458.
WR Chad Ochocinco: The flamboyant wide receiver stirred the pot the way only he can during the week, tossing verbal shots at Darrelle Revis on a conference call with reporters and playfully exchanging Twitter messages talking about how he’s going to escape “Revis Island.” He’s caught a pass in a franchise-record 120 consecutive games, which is the fifth-longest streak in the NFL. He has a team-leading nine touchdowns and needs one more to tie him with Carl Pickens (63) for most receiving touchdowns in club history. Ochocinco is also 48 yards shy of reaching 10,000 receiving yards, which are nearly 3,000 more than anyone else in Bengals’ history.
3 Jets who have to play well:
QB Mark Sanchez: The rookie quarterback will need to have another steady performance like he did against the Colts last week, when he was served as a caretaker more than anything and wasn’t asked to do too much. With the Jets focusing on keeping their league-leading ground game churning out the yardage, all Sanchez needs to do is not turn the ball over and play the whole game in the “yellow” color code, which is caution. They Jets are 8-0 when they win the turnover battle and 4-2 when Sanchez doesn’t commit one. In the nine games he’s tossed zero or one interception, the Jets are 7-2 and they’re 0-4 in games where he’s thrown three or more picks.
WR Braylon Edwards: The outspoken wide receiver pulled a Joe Namath during the week, essentially guaranteeing the Jets were going to win tonight. He said he’s going to do everything in his power to ensure the Jets get to the playoffs. Now, he has to back up those words. Edwards has shown flashes of brilliance during his 11-game career as a Jet -- his five-catch, one-touchdown debut against the Dolphins on “Monday Night Football” and the 65-yard bomb against the Falcons two weeks ago come to mind. But he’s also had his share of drops, such as the sure touchdown he lost in the lights against Buffalo in Toronto and the crucial dropped two-point conversion versus Jacksonville.
CB Darrelle Revis: Even though there’s a good shot Chad Ochocinco won’t play the whole game, the third-year lockdown cornerback will have his hands full with the Bengals loudmouth wide receiver. Earlier in the week, Revis was named as a starter for next month’s Pro Bowl in Miami and since Ochocinco wasn’t selected to the team, he might want to put on even more of a show for a national television audience given the game is being played here in the New York area. Revis didn’t have his best game against Reggie Wayne last week, so he could also be on a mission to prove that he is indeed the top cornerback in the NFL and set things up nicely for a potential rematch between the two next weekend.
The wild card
Just as it was last week, when there was some uncertainty regarding how long the Colts would go with their starters, everything depends on the amount of playing time Bengals coach Marvin Lewis decides to give to the likes of Carson Palmer and Chad Ochocinco. If the Patriots upend the Texans -- a result the Bengals will be well aware of by their 8:20 p.m. kickoff time since those teams meet at 1 p.m. -- New England is virtually assured of the No. 3 seed, and Cincinnati won’t be playing for seeding. Lewis hasn’t revealed his plan and even though he said Wednesday that he was approaching it as another Sunday and they were going to play it as a game they needed to win, it’s hard to believe that will really be the case. Especially if the Bengals are locked into their seed by game time.
How the Jets win: By riding the emotional wave the crowd is sure to provide given this is likely the final game at Giants Stadium, and taking advantage of their golden opportunity to make the postseason right from the opening kickoff. They once again must ride the coattails of their NFL-best rushing attack spearheaded by the league’s fourth-leading rusher Thomas Jones, and stick with it despite Cincinnati boasting the league’s second-ranked rush defense. Defensively, they can’t hold anything back just because they might face the Bengals again next week, and must be stout at stopping the run.
How the Jets lose: Given the Bengals don’t have much to play for, the Jets’ biggest mistake would be to take the backups lightly and think they’re going to roll over them just as they did to the Colts’ reserves for the bulk of the second half a week ago. They don’t have much room for error, so the last thing they can do is fall behind by a large margin and be forced to play catch up and put the ball in Sanchez’s hands. They’ve practically invented ways to lose all season and if they somehow can’t get this done despite playing in front of their own crowd for probably the final time this season knowing what was at stake, this could mark a new franchise low.