The Jets may not be a playoff-caliber team, but they believe they're far better than their record indicates.
And if all goes according to Rex Ryan's plan, Miami will see it too.
Payback isn't necessarily on the Jets' minds, but it's a nice incentive after the Dolphins embarrassed the Jets 23-3 three weeks ago at MetLife Stadium.
Ryan called the Dec. 1 loss -- a game in which he benched rookie quarterback Geno Smith for the third time and his defense surrendered 453 yards of total offense -- "the low point" of their season.
"They whipped us pretty good," the Jets coach said Tuesday. " . . . It was ugly."
But Ryan remains confident that his players, and in particular his quarterback, are much improved. And Sunday will be their chance to prove it.
"We'll see if we're better. And we'll see how much better we are," he said. " . . . The challenge in front of us is, obviously, going to be big. It's a talented football team we're up against."
The Jets (7-8) entered their last meeting against the Dolphins as one of six teams (including Miami) vying for the final playoff spot in the AFC. But instead, they were dominated by the Dolphins on both sides of the ball and dropped to 6-7. Smith, who was benched at halftime, finished the game with an 8.3 passer rating.
The playoffs no longer are an option. But even more is at stake now for the Jets, who could knock the Dolphins (8-7) out of playoff contention with a win at Sun Life Stadium.
Pride, bragging rights and -- potentially -- job security are on the line for Ryan and his players. So Sunday's game will be the ultimate litmus test to see just how good these Jets really are, Ryan said.
"At the end of the season you want to try to peak at the right time," receiver David Nelson said. "Unfortunately, we're not headed to the playoffs, but at the same time you do want to play your best ball at the end of the season. And I feel like we've done that. And in order to submit that, we have to win this weekend.
"It'll all be for nothing if we don't come out and win this game on Sunday."
Willie Colon agreed that the team has gotten better over the past few weeks, adding: "A lot of the games we've been fighting back . . . so we're growing."
As for the importance of a win, the veteran right guard said, "I definitely think so. I think it just helps us a team. Not just Rex's situation -- all of us. We understand that we let [the last Miami game] slip away and to finish 8-8, have a second win back-to-back is a positive notes to finish on."
Playing the role of spoiler isn't the goal, players said this week. But Ryan's players will revel in the opportunity to ruin Miami's season as they attempt to right their own.
"It's not just a division opponent, it happens to be the last game of the season," Nelson said. "And there's a lot of things riding on this last game. So for us, there is reason to play. Guys are playing for each other and guys are playing for individual purposes. I wouldn't say we owe them one, but any time you go against a division rival, there's a little extra motivation."