Football purgatory. That's the only way to describe the state of the New York Jets as we head into Week 13 of the 2013 season.
On one hand, the Jets are on the brink playoff contention; on the other hand, they are on the brink of another stage in their rebuild—changes in the coaching staff and possibly at quarterback.
A 5-6 record gives the Jets a puncher's chance at the playoffs. If those punches aren't strong enough, though, the future of the franchise hangs in the balance.
|New York Jets remaining schedule|
|13||vs. Miami Dolphins||5-6|
|14||vs. Oakland Raiders||4-7|
|15||at Carolina Panthers||8-3|
|16||vs. Cleveland Browns||4-7|
|17||at Miami Dolphins||5-6|
With a pair of division games against the Miami Dolphins in the final five games, the Jets could still finish with a 4-2 record in their division, which would greatly help their chances of finishing with the AFC's final wild-card spot.
The Jets face just one team with a winning record from here on out, and three of their last five games are at home, where they are 4-1 on the season. That being said, they have lost two straight to teams with a losing record and are 1-5 on the road. Even if the Jets win all their home games and lose both their road games, they will finish 8-8 and likely miss the playoffs.
It's amazing to think that 8-8 would still exceed preseason expectations for this team. The Jets were considered a rebuilding team when they entered the season, and Geno Smith was considered a project at quarterback. No one thought he'd light the world on fire, but few anticipated he'd struggle to this extent.
|Worst rookie quarterback, by year (min. 10 starts)|
At present, Smith is on pace to be the worst rookie quarterback since Jimmy Clausen in 2010; Clausen is now a backup to Cam Newton. It may seem like a cruel fate to bench a rookie quarterback after just one season, but it wouldn't be the first time.
Smith's fate may be doomed to a greater degree, however, by the fate of his head coach.
It's tough to predict what will happen to Rex Ryan. Former Chicago Bears head coach Lovie Smith was fired after a 10-6 season under similar circumstances, with a new general manager brought in prior to the final year of Smith's contract. Even if the Jets finish 8-8 or better (barring a trip to the playoffs), it's safe to say there wouldn't be the same level of surprise around a Rex firing as their was around Lovie's ouster.
One important difference, however, is that the Jets have remained competitive despite what many labeled as the worst roster in the NFL prior to the season. There's also been a lot of turnover—both on the roster and the coaching staff—since new GM John Idzik arrived.
And Idzik has been publicly supportive of Ryan, saying earlier this month:
We've changed quite a number of faces on the coaching staff, three new coordinators...(We have) five new coaches, I believe, on offense, a couple new coaches on defense, special teams, every phase. Rex has pulled it all together. He's our leader. Then once you look at what we've done on our roster, same thing. You have seen it. We've had a lot of new faces, lot of new starters, lot of new guys coming in midstream during those nine weeks. And they're productive in a short period of time. That's a tribute to Rex, it's a tribute to our staff.
So, Idzik didn't stop short of giving Rex his due, but when asked about his long-term future, Idzik simply said that he's "living in the moment" as the team approaches the end of the regular season.
If Rex is not brought back, though, the Jets will have to start over again, and they may need a new quarterback to do so. In theory, Idzik could force Smith on the next head coach, but that may only prolong an already messy rebuild.
Keeping Rex wasn't the worst decision the Jets could have made, but they were sheepish about the rebuild last season, and now they're stuck somewhere between being playoff contenders and blowing up the whole operation once the season ends.
Erik Frenz is also a Patriots/AFC East writer for Boston.com. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand or via team news releases.