The Jets needed five things to happen last weekend and they all did. Most significant, of course, was their victory over Indianapolis. Or, perhaps more accurately, over the Colts’ second-string when coach Jim Caldwell removed Peyton Manning and most of the starters in the third quarter of a five-point game.
Now, the Jets host the Bengals in the football finale for Giants Stadium, a place that has not been all that kind to a franchise whose only Super Bowl appearance came in 1969. The Jets are 102-104-1 as a home team in the Meadowlands since moving there in 1984.
But, lo and behold, Cincinnati has very little to play for Sunday night, and its regulars might be on the sideline for much of the action, too. The Bengals could move up to the third seed in the AFC with a win if the Patriots lose to the Texans, but is that enough incentive to keep Carson Palmer, Cedric Benson and Leon Hall on the field all game? A 16-0 season wasn’t enough for the Colts to stick with their stars on Sunday.
“Wow, I didn’t even consider that,” said wide receiver Brad Smith, whose 106-yard kickoff return at Indy was the longest play in Jets history. “That’s an interesting dynamic, and I guess we, as professionals, have to go out there and do our jobs no matter who’s out there.”
Added linebacker Bart Scott: “They might not want to show their hand, but we have no choice. We’re not in. We have to show everything we’ve got to try to get a victory and play next week, or it doesn’t matter.”
The Patriots are a prime candidate to rest people, too, which obviously would be of great benefit to the Texans. New England is the AFC’s third overall seed and will be playing in a wild-card game regardless of what it does at Houston.
So might Tom Brady, Randy Moss and Co. have something in common with Manning, Reggie Wayne and the guys? Like sitting out a large portion of a do-or-don’t game for the opposition?
“That would surprise me,” Texans coach Gary Kubiak said. “I think the team I saw (in a rout of Jacksonville on Sunday) is getting ready to make a big run. They’re a great football team and I don’t see them coming in here any different.”
Of course, the Texans aren’t in control the way the Jets are, and also need losses by two of the following three: New York, Baltimore (at Oakland), or Denver (at home against Kansas City).
If this is confusing, consider that the Broncos have 10 permutations by which they can get in, not all of them predicated on them winning.
Also still alive in the AFC are defending Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh, Jacksonville and Miami. Indianapolis and San Diego own the first-round byes.
With all that tumult in the AFC, the NFC is like a calm lake. In are division champs New Orleans, Minnesota and Arizona. The winner of Sunday’s Philadelphia at Dallas game takes the NFC East; the loser gets a wild card. Green Bay owns the other wild card.
Perhaps the biggest oddity of all is this: four potential rematches from Week 17 in the wild-card round. The Jets and Bengals, Patriots and Texans, Packers and Cardinals, and Eagles and Cowboys all could meet again on the first weekend of the playoffs.
Kubiak doesn’t want to think that far ahead.
“We’re trying to stay focused right here. We hope we have that problem,” he said. “We hope Sunday night that we’re having to scramble and get going in another direction...”
AP Sports Writers Dennis Waszak Jr. in Florham Park, N.J., and Kristie Rieken in Houston contributed to this report.