Winning isn't supposed to matter for the Jets this season.
But it absolutely does.
For all the talk of tanking, for all the dreaming about a franchise quarterback at the top of next year's draft, and of selling off every asset for future picks, there might be nothing more important to the long-term development of the Jets than what could happen this week.
The Jets, once left for dead, will be 3-2 if they can beat the winless Browns in Cleveland, and they'd head into an unexpected showdown against the Patriots next Sunday on remarkably equal footing with the defending Super Bowl champs.
These Jets, who were supposed to be lovable losers at best, would actually be a winning team - by far the best football team in New York. And it's hard to understate what that can do for young players, or even veteran players on a rebuilding team.
"For old guys and young guys, winning helps a lot," Jets coach Todd Bowles said. "So it really doesn't matter the age. We're trying to win ball games."
That may sound obvious, but it wasn't so obvious at the beginning of the season when the Jets, with a freshly purged roster, seemed destined for the bottom tier of the league. Some - as Bowles has pointed out to his players - seriously expected the Jets to go winless on the season. Some believed they were doing it on purpose.
The players heard all that, and it wasn't easy for them to push the negative noise aside and actually win a couple of football games. Maybe they're not really a good team, and maybe they're still heading towards a disastrous finish. But, for the moment, their egos have been boosted and their confidence is soaring.
And if you don't think that's important, just ask Hue Jackson, the coach of the 0-4 Browns, who is trying to get the same confidence boost for a team that hasn't won yet.
"It could be tough. I mean, let's be honest, nobody likes to lose," Jackson said. "But at the same time, this is the process that we're in, so, we'll continue to work. I think we're pros and that's part of it. Sometimes it's not going to go our way. We want more victories, there's no question about that. But, we understand that there's an end to all of this at some point."
Do they understand that? That's a fair question to ask of the Browns who haven't had a winning season since 2007 and who have gone 4-32 over the last 2 ¼ years. Imagine being a young player on the Browns, trying desperately to grow and buy into a program. Even if they truly believe in Jackson and his coaching ability, he's gone 1-19 since taking over as the Browns head coach.
How can he stand in front of his players and convince them that his way works?
Bowles, meanwhile, experienced the same thing last season, but now he can stand in front of his rebuilt roster filled with new and young players and have proof that what he's been saying this season works. They've seen their hard work pay off, at least a little. They've learned, on a minor scale, what it takes to win.
And they can still enjoy that and learn the lessons from what they did wrong.
"It's always fun to watch the tape after a win," said quarterback Josh McCown. "But we look at it with a critical lens so that we can continue to improve. There was a lot of good things. (But) we have to start faster (and) get (some things) corrected. But we're very encouraged by what we saw and different guys see that and getting their hands on the ball and making plays too. That's fun."
The key, of course, is not having too much fun, too soon. There is the danger of the Jets getting too big-headed and over-confident against a winless team and throwing all their early progress away. Bowles has worked overtime this week trying to make sure that doesn't happen, that his players don't have what would be a very Jet-like letdown in a game they should win.
"I shouldn't have to, but we talked about it," Bowles said. "We're 2-2. We're.500. That's nothing to brag about. We have to get better in a lot of areas each week. We made some mistakes in the Jacksonville game (that) we have to get better at, and we have to keep building.
"We're not good enough to look past anybody. Really, we're not. We just work every day to get better from the week before."
And that's another lesson the Jets can learn now - how to deal with success, how to build on it without getting too complacent. That's a lesson they couldn't learn if they were, say, the Browns or in the middle of a tank-job on the fast track to 0-16.
Yes, having a high draft pick would be a huge boost to a sagging program, especially if it lands them the franchise quarterback they crave. And yes, there is an obvious benefit to losing and picking higher in next year's draft.
But it's impossible to ignore the value in winning, in learning how to win, and then learning how to win again. That's what the Jets are experiencing now. And that's going to have a huge impact on their future, too.