By Ernie Palladino
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In another year not so far in the past, in another situation, Jets fans would have no reason to smile about the prospects of a visit this holiday season from old Saint Bill.
The chances of making a postseason would by now have been relegated to the garbage bag, to sit among the wrapping paper the kiddies laid waste to on Christmas morning.
At this point in the schedule, only the hopes for a respectable finish remained.
It’s different now. The faithful can smile, even as Belichick’s big, bad, and yeah, conniving and cheating Patriots bring their bag of tricks into MetLife Stadium with every intention of wrecking the 9-5 Jets’ four-game winning streak and probably their postseason shot along with it.
But just remember, in another year, those fans wouldn’t have had that much to ponder. So there is much reason for happiness even if a win over the 12-2 Pats and one over the Bills next week won’t guarantee them a tournament spot.
If nothing else, the Jets are in much better shape than the team down the hall.
For one thing, at least nobody is threatening them with a wooden club. While it’s true that a loss to New England would probably knock those postseason hopes right out of the park, Belichick’s guys don’t really go in for the Carolina-style baseball-bat act Odell Beckham got so close a look at Sunday.
The Pats favor subtlety — football deflation, the Cecil B. DeMille video treatment, etc. Just as effective, only nobody gets hurt.
Besides, Belichick might just give the Jets a fighting chance by resting some starters. Then again, he’s a win away from clinching home field throughout the playoffs, so he might have to play this one straight. With whom is the question, now that Danny Amendola, Dont’a Hightower, and Patrick Chung have joined an ever-expanding sick list. The absences alone should give the Jets an advantage.
The Jets have offered plenty beyond current circumstances, however. They’ve been fun to watch. Considering recent seasons, that’s a gift. And they haven’t tied their fans’ stomachs up in knots like their blue-clad neighbors with all the last-second foolishness.
They’ve had a running back in Chris Ivory who not only gets to the line of scrimmage, but gets yards after his arrival. Dallas managed to handle him Saturday night, but he had three 100-yard rushing games before that. The Giants made their fans wait until Sunday for a 100-yard job. And when Rashad Jennings broke one for 38 yards and a touchdown, it marked the first time since Kickoff Weekend that he found the end zone.
Want another reason? They’ll go into the Pats’ game with their top two receivers intact. Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker, one of the most productive pass-catching tandems in the league with 21 touchdowns between them, will both be in action.
The 6-8 Giants don’t even have two quality receivers. And Odell Beckham won’t be with them in Minnesota unless he convinces former receiver James Thrash at his suspension appeal hearing Wednesday that he really wasn’t trying to knock Josh Norman’s head into the fifth row.
Good luck with that.
The Jets have a coach who is firmly in place, a quarterback who has gotten the job done more often than not, and a defense that hasn’t fallen apart in the last seconds.
Win or lose Sunday, wildcard or no wildcard come Jan. 3 around 4:30 p.m., the Jets have been fun to watch this year. They will remain so regardless of what happens against the Pats.
If nothing else, they’ll leave a sturdy foundation for the future.
That’s a lot to smile about.
Follow Ernie on Twitter at @ErniePalladino