In his first season as a head coach, Todd Bowles isn't playing games with three games to play.
His rookie coaching campaign with the New York Jets has been a wild one. Early on in training camp, Bowles saw his starting quarterback break his jaw via an in-house dispute and his two best defensive linemen hold out and get suspended. But the Jets veered at the fork and have put together a successful, if not wildly inconsistent season, led by backup-turned-starting quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick's electric connection with Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker.
Maybe he's just using coach-speak to stir his team's confidence going into the home stretch, but it also appears that Bowles is scoreboard-watching. While the Jets sit in the sixth seed now, a perfect finish to the season wouldn't even guarantee them a seat in the postseason.
New York is flanked by the 8-5 Chiefs and the 8-5 Steelers, both of whom just so happen to be the hottest teams in the AFC. Kansas City has won its last seven contests and its last three games come against teams with combined records of 13-26. The Steelers' toughest test comes this week in a home bout with the Broncos; they play the Ravens and Browns away in consecutive weeks to close out the season.
The kicker for Bowles and the Jets is that if the Chiefs and, more importantly, the Steelers win out, New York will fall back out of the playoffs due to their record against common opponents. Even if they take care of Dallas and then finish with division wins over New England and Buffalo, their destiny is out of their control.
If veteran Gang Green members know anything, it's that teams nearly written out of the picture can catch fire and turn the tables quickly. The '09 Jets were cast off following a Week 15 loss to the Falcons -- after which Rex Ryan famously declared, "We're obviously out of the playoffs" -- before a perfect finish and good fortune launched a AFC Championship game run.
"You can win one any year," cornerback Darrelle Revis said. "Once you get in the Big Dance, anything can happen. We went to AFC Championship games by barely getting in. Anything can happen. We clicked at the right time later in the season when made those runs to the AFC Championship game, so anything can happen."