The Jets and the Patriots provide one of the NFL's best rivalries every time they step on the field. But rarely does this rivalry have the significance of the game next Monday night in Foxboro.
With both teams at 9-2 with just 4 games to go after this game, whoever wins the game will be in the AFC East driver's seat. If it's the Jets, they would essentially have a two game lead on the Patriots. A Patriots win would give them the lead with a slightly easier schedule to come, so it would be very difficult for the Jets to make up the ground necessary.
Jets' remaining schedule: MIA, @PIT, @CHI, BUF (24-20)
Patriots' remaining schedule: @CHI, GB, @BUF, MIA (23-21)
The winner of this game would move to 10-2 and have the inside track on the division AND the conference. The winner of the AFC East and the winner of the AFC North will fight it out for the no. 1 seed in the AFC. Pittsburgh and Baltimore, both 8-3, battle this week, so that division will have a lot more clarity after this week as well. If Baltimore wins, they would own the tiebreaker over New York. The Steelers-Jets tiebreaker will be determined on December 19 when the two teams meet in Pittsburgh.
But none of that matters if the Jets can't win this week. If the Jets don't win the division, they would be the no. 5 or no. 6 seed in the playoffs, looking at a likely trip to Indianapolis or San Diego (unless Jacksonville and Kansas City can really hang onto their division titles).
If the Jets lose, all hope is not lost for the division, but with the schedules listed above, it won't be easy. The best case scenario for the Jets, assuming they ran the table in their last four (no easy assumption) would be if the Patriots dropped either the game against Buffalo or Miami. That way, the Jets would win the division through the divisional record tiebreaker. The next tiebreaker after that, common games, is irrelevant because the only two non-common games the two teams played had the same result (wins). After that comes conference record, which the Jets would win right now, since one of their two losses is against an NFC opponent (Green Bay).
But all that assumes the Jets can sweep two remaining divisional games, as well as beat two tough teams in Pittsburgh and Chicago on the road. The Jets need to treat this Patriots game as their Super Bowl for the time being. Jets fans haven't had a chance to see a home playoff game since the 41-0 destruction of Peyton Manning and the Colts in January, 2003. Beat the Patriots, and chances are, the Jets will be hosting the divisional round at the New Meadowlands Stadium after enjoying a week off.