By Ernie Palladino
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The Jets just aren’t ready to beat the big boys yet, but that doesn’t mean they can’t have a winning season.
Even better, a playoff spot lies well within reach. And they can all but grab it over the next few weeks.
From what Todd Bowles’ rookie season has shown us so far, the Jets have enough for at least a wildcard spot. They most certainly won’t beat out the Patriots in the AFC East, but they undoubtedly have the makings of a nine- or 10-win squad. And in a conference where their 4-2 record stands among only five scattered winners in a field filled with mediocrities, they should at least find themselves in the No. 6 spot come the postseason.
That’s if everything goes right, of course. They can’t afford any injuries to key offensive players like Chris Ivory or Nick Mangold, both of whom spilled a little blood up in Foxborough last week.
They will also pray hard for Brandon Marshall’s continued health after the slight scare he gave them with a sore calf during the practice week. Losing him would be as damaging as losing the powerful Ivory, given Marshall‘s receiving production the first five games and his willingness to wash the windows, too — blocking downfield and pursuing on-side kicks.
But let’s be optimistic and say they remain whole for the next seven games. Other than the Giants on Dec. 6, the schedule sets up quite nicely for the Jets to build up a stack of wins before they hit the Cowboys and Patriots in Games 14 and 15. By then, they could theoretically have amassed nine, even 10 wins, and that’s even if they lose to the Giants.
That’s because the Todd Bowles Jets are no longer a laughingstock. They may be far from perfect, what with the game-managing journeyman Fitzpatrick leading the offense, but they are still better than most teams remaining on the schedule.
They get the 3-3 Raiders Sunday. The record says Oakland is on an upswing, and they indeed have a nice passing combination with Derek Carr and Amari Cooper, a rookie who has already drawn comparisons to Randy Moss and Anquan Boldin. Thing is, though, Cooper hasn’t spent any time on Revis Island yet. The perception may change slightly after that.
The Jaguars come next. They’re 2-5, and Blake Bortles should by then have increased his eight-interception total to equal or exceed that of the only four who have thrown more — Sam Bradford, Peyton Manning, Andrew Luck, and Matthew Stafford. The Jags could be quite accommodating when it comes to getting turnovers and easy, advantageous field position.
Former coach Rex Ryan is up to his old tricks in 3-4 Buffalo, which means its defense is generally decent and the offense has no clue. He’s already on his second quarterback, 2014 flop E.J. Manuel. Ryan blamed much of last week’s 34-31 London loss to Jacksonville on faulty headsets, conveniently overlooking Manuel’s three first-half turnovers that put the Bills in a 27-3 hole.
In essence, the Bills are going nowhere.
Neither, apparently, is Houston. The Texans just released their backup quarterback, Ryan Mallett, because he couldn’t find his way to the team charter Saturday. Never a good sign. Arian Foster’s done for the season, too, which indicates that even JJ Watt at his most ferocious won’t be able to dig the Texans out of their current 2-5 hole.
Fired Joe Philbin’s old-school, hard-core successor, Dan Campbell, has rejuvenated the Dolphins partly through his revival of the physically brutal “Oklahoma Drill.” The Dolphins have beaten Tennessee and Houston consecutively, and they could give the Jets a run for it Dec. 29 at MetLife if Campbell doesn’t kill them all in practice.
Facing the Giants should be fun. Both teams could be positioned for a playoff spot by that Game 12 matchup. After that, it’s the Titans, led by rookie quarterback Marcus Mariota and currently struggling at 1-5.
A strong but failed showing against the Patriots showed the Jets are not quite in New England’s class yet. But given the state of the AFC, they stand a notch above most of their conference counterparts.
The Jets need only take care of business against a beatable mid-schedule cluster to bring their fans a sense of success and a return to the postseason.
Bowles couldn’t have ordered it up any better.
Follow Ernie on Twitter at @ErniePalladino