At the start of week seventeen, there are three playoff spots available. The Jets and Giants are fighting for two of them.
At 8-5, the Jets looked like a lock to make a third consecutive post-season. They controlled their own destiny and were a game ahead of the Bengals, Titans and Raiders. Now after losses to the Eagles and the Giants, the Jets sit at 8-7 and need a new year’s miracle to clinch the AFC’s sixth playoff spot. They need the Bengals to lose at home against Baltimore, the Titans to lose against a Texan team with absolutely nothing to play for and a loss from either the Broncos (vs. the Chiefs) or the Raiders (vs. the Chargers). And they need to beat the Dolphins in Miami.
The Dolphins started out the season with seven straight losses, but since then, replacement quarterback Matt Moore has led the Dolphins to a 5-3 record and is looking to assure himself a starter’s role for next year by beating their long-time rivals the Jets at home on Sunday. The Dolphins have no playoff hopes and with a loss would clinch a pretty high draft pick, but none of the Dolphins are thinking about that. They want nothing more than to end the Jets’ season themselves. Future hall-of-famer Jason Taylor announced that he will retire after Sunday’s game. Taylor played last year with the Jets and he will likely motivate the Dolphins to win his final game.
The Jets beat the Dolphins 24-6 in October, but Jets fans can never be sure which team will show up on Sunday. Will it be the team that buried the Chiefs by 27 points or will the team that lost to the Eagles by 26 show up to fight for their playoff lives? Either way, with heavy criticism on Rex Ryan and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, look for the Jets to run the ball a lot. Mark Sanchez threw the ball 59 times against the Giants, and after a strong first drive, could not move the ball at all for the rest of the game. Ryan needs an effective ground-and-pound victory to assure Jets fans that he is their best option at Head Coach.
The more interesting game will take place on Sunday night as the Giants face the Cowboys with the winner making the playoffs and the loser going home for the year. The Giants beat the Cowboys on a last-second blocked field goal in early December to keep their playoff hopes alive. Now they need another win, at home, to win the NFC East.
Cowboys’ quarterback Tony Romo bruised his hand last week against the Eagles, but will start on Sunday night against the Giants. Romo threw for 321 yards and 4 touchdowns in the first matchup and with a possible return by pro-bowl defensive end Osi Umenyiora, the Giants will try to put consistent pressure on the Cowboys’ quarterback. The Cowboys will likely have the same strategy to stop Eli Manning who threw for 400 yards last game. Manning was not sacked in their first match-up and if their offensive line can keep Demarcus Ware (18.0 sacks on the season) away from Manning, then the Cowboys will have another tough game stopping the pass. Receivers Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks combined for over 200 receiving yards and with Mario Manningham likely to return, the Giants have a fully healthy offense to face the NFL’s 23rd ranked pass defense.
The Cowboys will also have their receiving corps fully healthy and the Giants secondary will have their hands full covering Miles Austin, Dez Bryant, Laurent Robinson and Jason Witten. The Giats held Witten, Romo’s favorite target, to 3 catches for 12 yards and with Romo not fully healthy, he will likely look to Witten a lot when he is under pressure. The Giants need to shut down Witten to win the game.
Jets 13, Dolphins 24
Giants 28, Cowboys 21