FLORHAM PARK, NJ - The Jets have won two straight and currently sit in the sixth, and final, AFC playoff spot, but they do not control their own destiny.
The Jets are currently tied with the same record as the Chiefs and the Steelers but, right now, the Chiefs would get the fifth spot (first Wildcard spot) because of their 6-2 conference record and the Jets would get the sixth spot because their conference record is 5-4 and the Steelers is just 4-4. However, both the Chiefs and the Steelers only have AFC opponents left on their schedule, while the Jets only have three AFC games left, which means if all three teams were to win the rest of their games the Chiefs would stay in that first Wildcard spot and the Steelers would get the second Wildcard spot due to having a better record against common opponents (the Jets and Steelers both played the Patriots, Raiders, Browns and Colts, both lost to the Patriots but only the Jets lost to the Raiders. The Steelers beat the other teams and still get to play the Browns for a second time while the Jets have to play the Patriots again).
Even the most optimistic of Jets fans (there's not a lot of them but they are out there) would have a hard time expecting the Jets to win their last four games of the season (most would think they'll likely lose to the Patriots or the Bills). Meanwhile the Chiefs could very easily run the table as they play at home versus the Chargers, at the Ravens and close out with the Browns and Raiders at home, but the good news is the Steelers have two very tough matchups left that they could very easily lose. This week the Steelers play at the Bengals and they have to play the Broncos in Pittsburgh, they close the season out at the Ravens then at the Browns, so Jets fans have to hope for the Steelers to lose their next two games and the Jets to only lose one, at most, of their final four games.
Which brings us to Sunday afternoon. With games against the Patriots, Cowboys and Bills still to come the Jets can not expect to have a realistic chance of making, or deserving, the playoffs if they can't beat rookie quarterback Marcus Mariota and the 3-9 Titans in MetLife Stadium.
WHEN: Sunday Dec. 13, 2015 1 pm EST
WHERE: MetLife Stadium East Rutherford, NJ
KEYS TO THE GAME:
Keep Mariota in the pocket - The Titans offense ranks 18th in the league in rushing yards gaining 102.9 yards per game on the ground. As a team they have run for 1,235 yards this season but Mariota has accounted for 20 percent of those yards (and he missed two games with an injury) with 249 yards (24.9 yards per game). In 12 games Titans, not named Mariota, have only rushed for 986 yards (82.2 yards per game) which would have them ranked as the 30th ranked rushing attack in the NFL. The Titans running backs scare no one, let alone the Jets first ranked rushing defense in the league (allowing 83.5 yards per game), but what the Jets need to watch out for is making sure they don't allow Mariota any room to run.
Mariota has had a typical rookie season for a talented quarterback, he's had some great games where his talent was on full display but he's also had games where he was overwhelmed and just couldn't get anything going. He has a supremely talented rookie receiver in Dorial Green-Beckham to throw to but Beckham is still raw and has a long way to go before he can be counted on as a consistent threat. The Titans best receiver is still Kendall Wright but he will miss Sunday's game because of a rib injury, and their tight end Delanie Walker. Walker has to be the focus for the Jets defense, more on that below, but the Jets simply can not allow Mariota to break a big run or three or constantly pick up first downs.
For more on keeping Mariota inside the pocket read here.
Cover Delanie Walker - As mentioned above Green-Beckham has the talent to one day be a consistent difference maker but he is still such a limited route-runner that he can only offer Mariota so much support. Harry Douglas is just Harry Douglas which leaves the Titans with two players that the Jets have to be wary of as receivers and that's Dexter McCluster and Walker.
McCluster is a running back, who is dangerous as a receiver out of the backfield but is also a threat when he lines up as a receiver. The problem Walker and McCluster present the Jets is while their secondary is good, and gets Darrelle Revis and possibly Marcus Williams back, they lack coverage ability with their linebackers. Fortunately for Todd Bowles this is no big deal as it will allow him to go with his nickel and dime packages to get more cornerbacks and safeties, and less linebackers, out of the field. When Bowles goes to those packages, which will likely be the majority of the games since the Titans rushing attack is meh at best, those extra defenders have to key in on Walker and McCluster because aside from the Jets offense committing multiple turnovers the only way the Titans can win this game is with Walker and/or McCluster having big days.
Protect Fitzpatrick - The biggest reason why the Jets offense struggled so much for three quarters last week was because the Giants pass rush was going right through the Jets offensive line. The Jets were eventually able to counter the pass rush by relying on the screen game, and they will need to do more of that this week as well, but the offensive line simply must do a better job of protecting Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Fitzpatrick has found a real connection and trust with Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker and it has been those three guys in the passing game that has led the Jets to their past two victories and until the running game gets back on track the Jets will need the passing attack to continue to lead the way. If they need to use the pass to set up the run so so be it, but in order to do that they need to give the receivers enough time to run their routes and Fitzpatrick to find them. It won't get any easier this week as the Titans big defensive front has 16 sacks in the past five weeks (second only to the Jets 17 sacks) and are tied for fifth in sacks on the season with 34. If the offensive line can give Fitzpatrick enough time he should be able to continue his hot streak against an underwhelming secondary, minus Jason McCourty.
Utilize the screen game - The Jets have been an effective screen offense when they have used it but as I spent most season pointing out they haven't utilized that part of their game enough. Last week they did exactly that and it perfectly neutralized the Giants pass rush. If the Titans defense has even close to the same success as the Giants did at creating pressure the Jets will need to, once again, look to Bilal Powell and Chris Ivory on screens. I'm not talking about making screens the focal point of the offense but a few sprinkled in here or there and an option for a quick dump off on almost all passing plays to negate any pressure.
No mental mistakes or special teams breakdowns - This one is simple, no fumbles, especially because you're trying to fight for an extra yard or two, no drops, no picks, no last second laterals to teammates not expecting a lateral and absolutely no breakdowns on special teams. Mistakes on special teams is a common theme that runs through all of the Jets losses, they are a much better team than the Titans but they can't afford to close the gap by making mistakes on special teams.
Bilal Powell - I expect both Marshall and Decker to continue playing at a high level, Fitzpatrick should be able to continue playing well but once again the running game could struggle, especially early. Can Powell's one-cut running style make an impact if Ivory can't get going? And with the Jets still searching for a third-option in the passing game, will Powell be looked at as that option? We saw it work well last week and there's no reason to think it can't work again this Sunday.
PREDICTION: Jets 27-14
The Jets are simply the better team. Mariota has shown a lot of promise at times but he has also struggled a lot this season. Going up against this defense, coached by Bowles, I expect Mariota to make a few plays but mostly struggle. On the other side of the ball the Titans have a solid defense and no one should be surprised to see the Jets struggle at first but the Jets passing attack has been far too good lately. The Jets should win this one rather easily, if they don't I expect to be writing about all the turnovers and mistakes they made.
Chris Nimbley is the Editor-in-Chief of JetsInsider.com/NYJScout.com. He can be reached on Twitter (@cnimbley), or via email (email@example.com(