Next season, if Mark Sanchez has made great strides, and the Jets finish the season 11–5 but miss the playoffs thanks to a complex set of arcane tiebreakers — like, say, the Patriots did last year — you can curse the football deities and gnash your teeth at the injustice of it all. Or, you can see it for the karma-equalizing that it would be. The Jets just caught every break in the book.
Think about all of what had to happen for the Jets to be playing for the playoffs next Sunday, against the Cincinnati Bengals, in the final game at Giants Stadium.
1. Pittsburgh had to beat Baltimore, sending the Ravens back into the pack of teams that, oddly, the Jets hold multiple tiebreakers over.
2. Denver had to lose to the Eagles, virtually ensuring that the Broncos will become the third team in NFL history to start the season 6–0 and miss the playoffs.
3. Jim Caldwell had to permanently antagonize his faithful Colts fanbase.
Up to this point of the season, Caldwell has been a calm, respected torch-carrier for former coach Tony Dungy: capable, smart, and lightly steering the Colts into an undefeated season and second Super Bowl title. Caldwell made sure the trains ran on time, and Peyton Manning did the heavy lifting. That’s the way it worked all season. That’s the way it worked until the second half yesterday, when, agree with his reasoning or not, Caldwell took his foot off the gas. By the time the human being named Curtis Painter had fumbled away the Colts’ lead, the Indianapolis fans were screaming and booing, and the Colts had lost their first game. Caldwell may still be a fine coach, but he — and Painter — will forever be known as the reasons the Colts didn’t make history. He better win the Super Bowl now. Fans don’t like it when you openly don’t try to win.
The beneficiaries of all this largesse were the Jets, who simply had to be standing across the field while the Painter implosion happened. The Jets are a team that wins by running the ball, avoiding mistakes, and hoping the opponent screws up. Painter’s feeble fobble was enough, and the Jets pounced. It might not make them the most inspiring playoff team, but it just might get them in.
In an odd twist, it’s possible that three different playoff matchups will echo week-seventeen games: Packers at Cardinals, Eagles at Cowboys, and Bengals at Jets. (Though, flip the locales on that last one.) The Jets, amazingly, need just one win to make the playoffs. If they don’t get it, their last game at Giants Stadium might be even more depressing than the Giants’ was. But the fact that it even matters at all … well, as we said, it’s raining doughnuts in the land of Rex Ryan right now.