(SportsNetwork.com) - The mantra of many NFL teams these days might be, "OK,
things might be bad, but at least we're not the New York Jets."
You'll forgive the Oakland Raiders, however, if they're not quite buying in.
The Raiders visit the Jets at MetLife Stadium this weekend after squandering a
golden opportunity to get themselves back in the thick of a muddled AFC
Oakland led Dallas by 14 points on Thanksgiving before dropping a 31-24
decision - marking the fifth time it's lost a game in which it had led in the
second half. The Raiders now trail the Baltimore Ravens by two games for the
final playoff spot, with five teams - Miami (6-6), Tennessee (5-7), Pittsburgh
(5-7), San Diego (5-7) and the Jets (5-7) - standing between them.
"We haven't made enough plays at the end of football games to be able to win
those games," Oakland coach Dennis Allen said. "(If) we keep giving ourselves
opportunities, we keep putting ourselves in those positions, eventually we'll
make those plays at the end of the games and we'll win those games."
New York has slumped badly since starting at 5-4, but its rush defense is
still tops in the league with a per-game average of 77 yards and a per-carry
clip of 2.9 yards.
The Raiders would seem in good stead with recently red-hot starter Rashad
Jennings (448 yards in five November games), but he's questionable this week
after suffering a concussion against the Cowboys. Also hurting is backup
Darren McFadden, who'd missed three games with a hamstring problem before
carrying five times against Dallas.
The less-than-optimum status heaps more responsibility onto the shoulders of
novice quarterback Matt McGloin, who's made three straight starts - winning
once - in place of Terrelle Pryor. The Penn State product threw 15 passes,
completing seven, in Week 8 in relief of Pryor.
He's completed 18, 19 and 18 passes in the three starts.
"Matt has gone in and handled himself pretty well," Allen said. "Really, in
every game that he's been the starting quarterback, we've had an opportunity
to win those football games."
The Jets should be so lucky to have a quarterback that recently prolific.
Instead, New York has fallen off the radar courtesy of rookie passer Geno
Smith, who retains his starting job even after being benched in favor of Matt
Simms for the second half of a 23-3 home loss to Miami last week. Smith
completed 20 passes in a Week 8 loss to Cincinnati, but has connected on only
eight, eight, nine and four passes in his last four appearances against New
Orleans, Buffalo, Baltimore and the Dolphins.
He's not thrown a touchdown pass in five games, leads the league with 19
interceptions and has thrown six balls to the wrong team in the last three
losses. Not to mention, his completion percentage in the last four games is
Simms was 9-for-18 for 79 yards and an interception in the second half against
Miami, which didn't give Ryan a great option if his inclination were to bench
Instead, he was left to defend the recently indefensible.
"(Smith) has the tools to be a good quarterback in this league," Jets coach
Rex Ryan said. "Obviously, he's going through some rough times. These last
three games haven't been good for him. Quite honestly, it hasn't been good for
a lot of us."
The Jets' average of 4.82 yards per play is 29th in the league and their
three-and-outs in 32.3 percent of possessions are worst overall. Also, New
York's total offense rate of 295.5 yards per game since Week 5 makes it the
only team in the NFL averaging less than 300 yards.
"It seems like I say this every week, but there's always a way to get better
and I've got plenty of room to improve," Smith said. "So I've just got to
continue to plug at it and got to keep working."
All that said, though, New York is just a game shy of the final playoff spot
and will face three teams now at .500 or below - Oakland (4-8), Cleveland
(4-8) and Miami (6-6) - in its final four games. The Jets' other opponent, the
9-3 Carolina Panthers.
"There's definitely a sense of urgency now," offensive tackle D'Brickashaw
Ferguson said. "You recognize there are four games left and we recognize the
challenge that's before us, but all we can do is just keep our heads down and
grind right now and focus on our work."
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Prolong the plummet.
If Smith's recent trajectory has Ryan considering handing over the reins to a
guy like Simms, it's clear that things aren't going so well. The Raiders can
add to that conundrum with quality play in the secondary, which has been
fleeting through 13 weeks. They were hoping to get cornerback Tyvon Branch
back in the fold after he'd missed 10 games with a knee injury, but he's again
been ruled out.
Run to health.
It's simple football. If the quarterback is struggling, try to run the ball to
take the game out of his hands. It's a logical formula for the Jets, who are
10th in the league with 124.7 yards per game on the ground. Oakland is 10th-
best in the league at stopping the run, allowing 102.8 yards per game.
It's barometer time for G-G-G Geno and the Jets. If they're the team that
everyone expected at the beginning of the season, they'll lose here and fall
irretrievably out of the AFC playoff race. But if they're the team that
defeated division leaders New England and New Orleans while starting 5-4,
they'll overcome a team on a long road trip and another rookie QB. If Ryan has
a legit chance to be the coach next season, it had better be the latter.
Sports Network predicted outcome: Jets 17, Raiders 14
The Sports Network