The Jets are not going to make the playoffs, even if they're not ready to accept that. Their denial is understandable, though. The math says they're still in it. They're only two games back with five to go.
But they're also trending in the wrong direction - badly - having lost five of their last six games. They are 4-7, which currently seeds them 12th in the AFC. They'd have to win out and get help from the six teams in front of them.
They're not good enough or lucky enough for all that.
So it's on to 2018. And really, wasn't that the whole point of this rebuilding season to begin with? This was all about starting from scratch, about building a future contender -- not necessarily a current one. It was a reboot from their old, bloated team of 2016 to a younger, fresher, more talented model. Their hope has always been to be a playoff contender either next year or in 2019.
With that in mind -- and it absolutely will be on the minds of the Jets' decision-makers -- here's a look at what to watch over the final five games of this season. No matter how many games they win the rest of this season, a lot of things can still happen to shape what kind of team they'll be next year:
Will it ever be time for Christian Hackenberg?
This question figures to loom large in December, and will be asked of Todd Bowles many, many times. So far, according to team sources, there is no plan to play anyone other than 38-year-old Josh McCown at quarterback. They believe having a veteran, capable quarterback running the show is in the best interests of the development of everyone else on the team.
Sure, that can change, but barring injury it definitely won't until the Jets are mathematically eliminated. The players won't respond well to the plug essentially being pulled on their season if there's any glimmer of hope. But what happens if the Jets are out of it with a couple of games to go? Would it be worth taking at least a partial look at last year's second-round pick before the Jets head into the quarterback-rich 2018 draft?
Maybe it would, but it still doesn't sound likely. If Hackenberg doesn't get into a game, though, that would be a pretty clear statement that the Jets have already decided he's not their guy in 2018. Because if he was, he'd probably be playing right now.
How safe is Todd Bowles' job for 2018?
As of right now, it's pretty safe. Sources throughout the organization have raved about the job he's done with the younger players, how he's gotten them to respond and fight and stay competitive even in the wake of five losses in the last six games. Sure, they have some questions about some of his in-game decisions, but those might have looked better if he had a better team.
So the odds are pretty good he'll be back next year, either in the last year of his contract or with a short-term extension. But it appears that won't be officially decided until after the season. That makes these final five games important because the Jets seemed as angry, frustrated and upset with their losing ways on Sunday as they have been all season.
If Bowles can keep them competitive, if they continue to respond to him, it will make his case to stay. But if things fall apart and the Jets end up on the wrong end of a bunch of season-ending blowouts, they might be inclined to make a change.
Can QB Josh McCown convince the Jets to re-sign him for next season?
This is interesting because the Jets are interested, but obviously not as a long-term starter. They know they need to have their Quarterback of the Future in place by next spring, and that the kid will probably have to play at some point next season. They love McCown, though, for his intangibles -- his professionalism, his ability to mentor young quarterbacks, the stability and energy he brings to the team.
This really isn't about his play, though, so it's likely the Jets will try to bring him back as a backup or very temporary placeholder. If things really go awry, though, and he throws away a few more games with bad fumbles or interceptions maybe they'd rethink it. It's also always possible he'll choose to go somewhere where there's a better shot at him holding onto a starting job.
Can CB Morris Claiborne, C Wesley Johnson, LB Demario Davis or TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins convince the Jets to sign them for next year?
The Jets will have a ton of cap room this offseason and they will not be afraid to use it. These four players figure to be their highest-profile (and most expensive) non-quarterback unrestricted free agents. All but Johnson were brought here essentially for one-year tryouts to see if they were worthy of longer-term deals.
Johnson will almost certainly be offered one. The Jets seem generally pleased with him and consider him their center of the future. As for the other three, the results this season have been mostly good, but it will depend on the asking price. Claiborne has battled injuries, which have always been his issue. Seferian-Jenkins has had some problems holding onto the football. And Davis was a guy the Jets first thought they'd cut at the end of training camp after they acquired him from the Browns for Calvin Pryor.
They are all solid but probably replaceable players. The Jets probably could be convinced to keep any or all of them, though it likely would have to be on the team's terms.
And what about Mo Wilkerson? Can he convince the Jets to bring him back?
Almost certainly not. He has gamely battled through shoulder and toe injuries this season, but he can't hide from his ugly numbers. The 28-year-old has 6 ½ sacks in his last 26 games and has had a generally low-to-middling impact on the defense, and he's due $17 million next season with a salary cap hit of $20 million. If they cut him before March 16 (the third day of the league year) they could save $17 million in salary cap space.
No sane GM of a rebuilding team can pass up that kind of savings. They could easily use that money to replace Wilkerson and add help someplace else, too.