The bye week couldn't have gone much better for the Jets, who sat at home getting rest as the AFC playoff picture collapsed around them.
The Jets may have lost four of their last five games, but thanks to a group of increasingly mediocre, imploding, and very flawed teams in their conference, they just can't seem to slip out of the playoff picture. And in part because the Buffalo Bills and Miami Dolphins lost on Sunday, the Jets will return to action this week just one game back in the race for the final wild-card spot in the AFC.
"I think it energizes us more than anything," Jets quarterback Josh McCown said. "We can't look back, obviously. Every team that has lost any game this year across the league would look and wish they had it back, especially if you are in the AFC. But more than anything it energizes us to know that we're still in the thick of things here with the last six weeks to play."
Yes, their schedule is difficult. But at this point, it's possible 8-8 might be good enough to snag the last playoff spot in this top-heavy conference. So, the Jets are alive. And here - in current order of the conference standings - is a look at the rag-tag collection of "contenders" that might stand in their way:
6.BALTIMORE RAVENS (5-5)
No one mistakes their defense for their great 2000 team, but they have pitched three shutouts this season and two in the last three weeks (albeit vs. offensively challenged Miami and Green Bay). They've also stabilized their season, going 3-3 since back-to-back ugly, early losses to Jacksonville and Pittsburgh. QB Joe Flacco is having a terrible season, but it'll help that their remaining schedule is fairly soft, with the notable exception of a game at Pittsburgh on Dec. 10.
Outlook: They currently sit in position for the final AFC wild-card spot. They are also offensively challenged, but they can run and play defense and that is a winning formula in December. They're the favorites.
7.BUFFALO BILLS (5-5)
Boy, their Thursday night loss to the Jets on Nov. 2 triggered a heck of a tail spin. They've lost three straight now, including back-to-back blowouts to the Saints and Chargers by a combined 101-34. That's not a misprint. A team that looked ready to challenge the Patriots now looks like a train wreck. Sean McDermott's bizarre decision to start Nate Peterman on Sunday (he threw five first-half interceptions) throws in a touch of dysfunction, too.
Outlook: They still have to play the Patriots twice, and make a trip to Kansas City to face an angry Chiefs team next week. This looks like their 5-2 start just set up Bills fans for more heartbreak.
8.MIAMI DOLPHINS (4-6)
Losers of four straight, they've got quarterback issues with Jay Cutler being generally bad, and now suffering a concussion. Matt Moore is a nice backup, but he's not leading them to the playoffs. They also traded away RB Jay Ajayi, one of their most dangerous weapons. Their fourth-quarter comeback against the Jets on Oct. 22 looks like it was their last stand, especially with two games vs. the Patriots in the next three weeks.
Outlook: If the Jets had held on to their 14-point, fourth-quarter lead in Miami, the Dolphins wouldn't even be in the playoff conversation. And they shouldn't be.
Yes, they have exceeded expectations, but in typically agonizing fashion. They've lost four of five, but none by more than a touchdown and they probably should've won at least three of those four. It's a tease, really, how close they've been. The question now is: Can they stop throwing away games and put everything together against a really tough schedule the rest of the way?
Outlook: The Panthers, Chiefs, and surging Chargers remain on their home schedule, and they have to travel to Denver, New Orleans and New England. Brutal. It will be a dangerous tightrope walk just to stay afloat in this race.
10.CINCINNATI BENGALS (4-6)
A narrow win in Denver against the awful Broncos won't inspire much confidence in a Bengals team that has lost four of six, and has the NFL's worst offense (Yes, worse than the Giants). They also have the NFL's worst run game and the third-worst passing attack. That's kind of shocking considering they still have a weapon like WR A.J Green.
Outlook: They're home four of the next five weeks, including games against the Browns and Bears, so if they're going to make a run, the time is now.
11.HOUSTON TEXANS (4-6)
The loss of J.J. Watt was bad enough, but then to lose dynamic rookie QB Deshaun Watson too? It's not really a shock that they've lost three of their last four. They stopped the bleeding by beating Arizona on Sunday, but the Cards QB was Blaine Gabbert, so take that for what it's worth. Coming up: Tough games at Baltimore, Tennessee and Jacksonville the next four weeks.
Outlook: They can run the ball, but if you expect them to sustain any success with Tom Savage at QB, you're crazy. For them, this season is all about what might have been.
12.SAN DIEGO CHARGERS (4-6)
They are the hottest team in this sad group, having fully recovered from their 0-4 start. Their only losses since then were narrow ones at New England and at Jacksonville. They're not great at running or stopping the run, which could hurt them, but they have plenty of weapons and a capable QB in Philip Rivers. Their Thanksgiving Day game in Dallas could be a statement game for them.
Outlook: They're on a roll, but they're missing a win vs. a quality (or even an over-.500) opponent. Watch out for them, though, because other than trips to Dallas and Kansas City, their schedule isn't bad.
13.OAKLAND RAIDERS (4-6)
They survived in early four-game losing streak, but they are wildly inconsistent. They had an impressive win against the Chiefs, then get blown out by the Bills, barely beat the Dolphins and get crushed by the Patriots. They are a disappointment considering they were a hot pick to win the AFC West. Good news for them: They're home the next two weeks against the reeling Broncos and struggling Giants.
Outlook: After their cushy next two games, they land hard with games at Kansas City, at home vs. Dallas, and at Philadelphia and at the Chargers. That's a painful final stretch that will keep them home in January.