Two weeks ago everyone left the New York Jets (8–7) for dead. Even head coach Rex Ryan thought his team’s playoff hopes were shattered after a disheartening 10–7 loss to the Atlanta Falcons.
But the Jets’ fortunes have changed and four words summarize the importance of Sunday night’s game against the Cincinnati Bengals (10–5)—Win and you’re in.
It’s that simple for the New York Jets. And it will become even easier as they’ll be playing a team that will be resting their starters for part of the game for the second week in a row.
By winning the AFC North, the Bengals will likely end up as the fourth seed. With a New England Patriots win, Cincinnati is the fourth seed win or lose. If New England loses, the Bengals can secure the third seed with a win.
Cincinnati will know the outcome of New England’s 1:00 p.m. game against the Houston Texans before their 8:20 p.m. kickoff, but either way the Bengals likely won’t play their starters too long.
Instead, they’ll rest them and keep them healthy, as they don’t get a bye with either third or fourth seed. And if the Jets win, Cincinnati will play them again in the first round of the playoffs.
“Those guys earned the right to do what they think is the best interest in their organization,” Jets head coach Rex Ryan said in his Thursday press conference.
While it appears the Jets will be able to back into the playoffs with a win against the bottom of the Bengals roster on Sunday night, they can’t take whoever they face for granted in what is virtually their second playoff game in a row.
Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis, will look to shut down the Bengals wide receiver Chad Ochocinco.
As usual, Ochocinco has had a lot to say this week regarding the matchup. Ochocinco doesn’t fear the league’s premiere shutdown corner.
“My friend Darrelle, I call him ‘Master Lock’, has put a lock on a lot of great receivers this season. That will not happen this week,” Ochocinco said in a conference call with reporters Wednesday.
“Darrelle Revis couldn’t cover me in a brown paper bag on a corner of a Manhattan street inside a phone booth. It’s impossible.”
Ochocinco, who has 72 catches for 1,047 yards and nine touchdowns, went on to say how this was a premier matchup and all football fans should be tuning in Sunday night.
“Look here: Me and Revis is better than [Manny] Pacquiao and [Floyd] Mayweather, period, case closed,” Ochocinco said.
“I don’t care what anybody is doing Sunday night. If you don’t tune into the game Sunday, you have no life. You have no life. You [have] never seen a matchup like this ever before.”
For the Jets offense the main matchup is how their run game—ranked No. 1 in the league—will fair against the league’s No. 2 ranked run defense in Cincinnati.
Running backs Thomas Jones, who was snubbed from the Pro Bowl earlier this week with 1,324 yards and 12 touchdowns, and rookie Shonn Greene—478 yards and two touchdowns—need to carry the Jets to victory.
Cincinnati also runs the ball much more effectively than it has in recent years behind Cedric Benson’s 1,251 yards and six touchdowns.
“I think this game is going to be won on the ground. Who can run it the best, who can defend it the best has a huge advantage in this game,” Ryan said.
Behind a strong run game, rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez has to take care of the football. New York is 7–0 when they win the turnover battle and that starts with Sanchez not throwing interceptions or fumbling.
The Bengals starters won’t be playing the entire game and could be out before halftime. Even if the Jets trail in this game they’ll be able to come back against the backups like they did last week against the Colts.
New York wins 27–17 and makes the playoffs.
Matt Sugam also writes for The Daily Targum at Rutgers University.