Playoff Watch: Jets Are Cookin', Jags Are Cooked

<p>Now that the NFL season has reached the winter months, more teams have fallen out of the potential playoff hunt. The NFL has a wider variety of teams competing for a post season slot, but the AFC is becoming more clearly defined as teams eliminate themselves with another loss.</p> <p>John MacKenna, provides this look around the league and who might be competing with the Patriots for post-season honors.</p>

PHOTO: Curtis Martin #28 of the New York Jets is stopped by Rodney Harrison #37 of the New England Patriots on October 24, 2004 at Gillette Stadium (AP Photo)

Playoff Watch: Jets Are Cookin', Jags Are Cooked
By John MacKenna,

Two weeks ago, the New York Jets' were on the ropes. QB Chad Pennington was injured, and the Jets had lost three of four. But following back-to-back road wins, the Jets not only are back but have the best record among wild card contenders at 8-3.

The Jets still face a tough schedule, but now they could lose two games and still make the playoffs. The Jets might get Pennington back this week.

Meanwhile, the Jacksonville Jaguars lost to the Vikings in Minnesota, 27-16, and fell to 6-5. They are now two games behind the Indianapolis Colts, who look unstoppable , and are the only wild card contender with five losses. The Baltimore Ravens and Denver Broncos both fell to 7-4 this week.

At the high end, the Pittsburgh Steelers and New England Patriots both won at home to run their records to 10-1. The Patriots looked as impressive as ever in a 24-3 trouncing of the Ravens, but the Steelers looked mortal for the second week in a row in a 16-7 win over the Washington Redskins.

In this week's marquee game, the Broncos' season is on the line when they travel to San Diego in an AFC West showdown. A loss would leave the Broncos two games behind the Chargers, who last week won in Kansas City, 34-31, to raise their record to 8-3.

Here's a look at this week and beyond.

Them: Pittsburgh Steelers (10-1) visit Jacksonville Jaguars (6-5)
The Steelers had a surprisingly hard time with the Redskins, who held Roethlisberger to 131 yards on 9-for-20 passing and sacked him four times. That makes two weeks in a row that Roethlisberger has been harassed and unproductive.

The Jaguars, meanwhile, lost at Minnesota, 27-16, but the game was close until the Vikings ran back a fumble recovery for a touchdown in the fourth quarter. The Jaguars got QB Byron Leftwich back, and he completed 19 of 34 passes for 235 yards. Jacksonville RB Fred Taylor gained 147 yards on 22 carries.

Jacksonville is a strong defensive team, holding opponents to 322.7 yards and 18.9 points a game. With Leftwich back and Taylor healthy, the Jaguars should give the Steelers a good game. The Jaguars' playoff hopes are fading, and they need this game to stay alive. They still have a road game in Green Bay in Week 16.

Meanwhile, the Steelers face some tough challenges in the weeks ahead. They host the 8-3 Jets and the 7-4 Ravens and visit the 5-6 Giants and the 5-6 Bills.

Steelers remaining games: NY Jets, at NY Giants, Baltimore, at Buffalo.
Jaguars remaining schedule: Chicago, at Green Bay, Houston, at Oakland

Us: New England Patriots (10-1) visit Cleveland Browns (3-7)
The Patriots meet every challenge, it seems, and they ought to handle a 3-8 team riding a five-game losing streak. The Browns are 3-3 at home, however, including a 20-3 win over the Ravens in Week 1.

If the Browns play tough defense as they did in a 10-7 loss to the Jets on Nov. 21, they could threaten New England. On the other hand, they surrendered 58 points last week in Cincinatti while allowing 504 yards and committing 12 penalties for 87 yards.

New England's run defense has become superb, holding the last four opponents to an average of 68 points a game. DE Ty Warren had a career game two weeks ago in Kansas City, and DT Vincent Wilfork was magnificent last week against Baltimore. LB Rosevelt Colvin also sparkled against the Ravens.

Meanwhile, the Browns have not had a 100-yard runner since William Green on Oct. 17. Quarterback Kelly Holcomb, who has replaced the struggling Jeff Garcia, was ineffective until last Sunday when he threw for 413 yards and five touchdowns in a 58-48 loss to the Bengals.

The Patriots have it easy down the stretch. They will visit the Jets, who are now 8-3, in Week 16, but their other remaining opponents have a combined record of 8-25. The Patriots have a better shot at 15-1 than the Steelers do.

Patriots remaining games: Cincinnati, at Miami, at NY Jets, San Francisco

Marquee Game: Denver Broncos (7-4) visit San Diego Chargers (8-3)
The Broncos gave the Chargers an opening last Sunday by losing a home game to the Raiders, 25-24, while the Chargers were winning on the road in Kansas City, 34-31.

The Broncos had their offense going on Sunday, gaining 367 yards including 102 on the ground from RB Reuben Droughns. But they failed to contain Oakland QB Kerry Collins, who busted loose for 339 yards and 4 TD passes. The Broncos must have been looking ahead to this one, because they had won their previous two games by a combined 90-24.

The Chargers, meanwhile, were more dominant last Sunday in Kansas City than the final score suggests. They outgained the Chiefs, 498-310, and held the ball for 36:46. San Diego is riding a five-game win streak in which the average margin of victory has been 15 points. The Chargers have averaged 32 points a game during the streak.

When these teams played Sept. 26 in Denver, the Broncos won, 23-13, but the Chargers limited the Broncos to 37 yards rushing on 21 attempts.

If the Broncos lose, they will need a miracle to overtake the Chargers in the AFC West race. Denver still faces road games in Kansas City and Tennessee and a home game against the Colts.

Chargers remaining schedule: Tampa Bay, at Cleveland, at Indianapolis, Kansas City
Broncos remaining games: Miami, at Kansas City, at Tennessee, Indianapolis

Must-Win game: Baltimore Ravens (7-4) host Cincinnati Bengals (5-6)
Coming off a 58-point performance against Cleveland, the Bengals should come crashing to earth when they visit the Ravens this Sunday. Cincinnati will struggle to move the ball against a Ravens team that has its back against the wall after a 24-3 loss to the Patriots.

With road games upcoming against the Colts and Steelers, the Ravens cannot afford another loss. The Ravens' defense should be able to get the Bengals in check the way the Steelers did when they beat the Bengals, 19-14, on Nov. 21.

The Ravens might be without RB Jamal Lewis again, but they should still be able to move the ball. Cincinnati surrenders 137.4 rushing yards a game, third worst in the NFL, and Ravens replacement RB Chester Taylor ran decently against the Patriots' tough front seven, picking up 61 yards and averaging 3.8 yards per carry. QB Kyle Boller had been on a nice roll before he got to New England. The Bengals are 1-4 on the road.

Ravens remaining games: NY Giants, at Indianapolis, at Pittsburgh, Miami

New York Jets (8-3) host Houston Texans (5-6)
The Jets have gone from the back of the wild card pack to the front with consecutive road wins in Cleveland and Arizona. An 11-5 record is possible, even though the Jets have games remaining against both the Steelers and the Patriots.

Pennington might return this week after missing three games with a strained rotator cuff in his throwing shoulder. During Pennington's absence, the Jets have surrendered only 30 points. Their defense is ranked 7th in the NFL, allowing only 296.4 yards per game.

The Texans broke a three-game losing streak last week when they beat the Titans in Houston, 31-21. Houston has been awful lately on the road, losing 31-13 in Denver and 49-14 in Indianapolis.

Jets remaining schedule: at Pittsburgh, Seattle, New England, at St. Louis

Indianapolis Colts (8-3) at Tennessee Titans (4-6)
With QB Steve McNair back, the Titans might be able to trade touchdown passes with Colts QB Peyton Manning for a while. But the Colts should get the better of this one because the Titans are missing too many defenders, including safeties Lance Schulters and Tank Williams and LB Peter Sirmon.

The Colts have are on a four-game win streak, averaging 41 points a game during that stretch. With a two-game lead over the Jaguars, they look like a lock to win the AFC South. They will be tested down the stretch, however, facing AFC playoff contenders in each of their last three games. They could lose two of those games and still finish at 11-5.

No one, not even the Patriots or Steelers, will want to play Indianapolis in the playoffs. Manning has 41 TDs and 7 interceptions. Reggie Wayne, Marvin Harrison and Brandon Stokley each have over 700 receiving yards. And while the passing attack gets all the publicity, RB Edgerrin James is averaging 4.9 yards per carry and has 65 more rushing yards than Patriots RB Corey Dillon.

Colts remaining games: at Houston, Baltimore, San Diego, at Denver

John is a regular contributor to the Patriots Insider. You can find him in the forums under the name: oldnslow. You can also find archives of his columns on the Insiders by searching for "John MacKenna"

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