NFL head coaches often say they just want to make it to Week 17 with something to play for. But in the Jets’ final game of 2013, it’s only their opponent who has something on the line.
The Dolphins are still battling for a playoff spot, while it’s up to the Jets to play spoiler. It’s a role that has become disappointingly familiar to the Jets and their fans as they have now missed the playoffs in three straight seasons.
There are still lots of story lines on display Sunday (1 p.m., CBS), even if few have anything to do with the Jets’ specific game plan against Miami.
Three things to watch for …
1. Rex’s future
It’s entirely possible first-year general manager John Idzik has already decided the offseason fate of head coach Rex Ryan. But if not, the coach is doing all he can the last few weeks to make his case to stay in green and white. The Jets played an inspired game last week against Cleveland, but the Browns were also out of it. This week will be different. If Ryan is going to make a better case to save his job he’ll have to beat the 8-7 Dolphins in Miami.
It seems like most of the fans, and certainly players, are already on Ryan’s side. Players, such as Calvin Pace, who is on a one-year deal and having a tremendous bounceback season with 10 sacks, have said they only want to return in Ryan is brought back.
“I always feel great when I get— like anybody would— anytime you get something positive said about you, you’re going to feel great about it,” Ryan said Friday when asked about players supporting his return. “Like I said, the thing about the opportunity in front of us with Miami is really the focus, but I certainly appreciate positive remarks, as anybody would.”
A big win over Miami may force Idzik’s hand whether he wants to bring Ryan back or not. He certainly doesn’t want fans and players revolting against him already.
2. Can’t go home again?
Quarterback Geno Smith probably doesn’t have much Bon Jovi on his iPod, but he’s about to test out whether he can go home again. Smith was born and raised in Miami, Fla. and attended Miramar High School in nearby Miramar, Fla. He was the top player in Broward County, according to the Miami Herald, as a senior.
It’s taken 17 weeks, but Smith will finally get to play back in his home city as an NFL starting quarterback. And you know he’ll want to impress in front of friends and family. Smith said he grew up “right around the corner” from SunLife Stadium.
“It’s always good to go back home and play in front of a home crowd per se,” Smith said Thursday. “It’s where I grew up at, we’ll have a lot family and friends in the stands, but it’s more important for us to go out and play well for this team and this organization.”
Smith has a history of performing well in his home city in big games. He never played against Miami (or Florida International for that matter), but he did have a tremendous performance in the Orange Bowl on Jan. 4, 2012. In fact, the MVP performance may have been the best game of his college career against a favored Clemson team. West Virginia won 70-33 and Smith finished 32-of-43 for 407 yards, six touchdowns and zero interceptions. He also added another touchdown and 26 yards rushing. The performance launched him into Heisman contention the following season and is one of the reasons he was a top-40 pick in the NFL draft a year and a half later.
3. Warning: spoilers ahead
All that’s left for the Jets is to ruin the rival Dolphins’ season. Frankly, that’s not a bad thing to play for. Certainly a playoff bid of their own was the objective, but the Jets overachieved this season and a parting shot to an old rival would please many fans enough to consider the 2013 season a success.
The Dolphins are tangled up with the Chargers (8-7), Ravens (8-7) and Steelers (7-8) for the final AFC wild-card spot. Oddly enough, the only reason the Jets aren’t involved in the same race at 7-8 is their head-to-head losses to the Steelers in Week 6 and Ravens in Week 12. The Steelers can only make it if all three teams lose. The Dolphins have the best shot, thanks to a 7-4 record in conference games as tiebreaker over San Diego, but they need Baltimore to lose if San Diego wins or it would revert to head-to-head (and the Ravens beat them in Week 5). San Diego makes it if Miami and Baltimore lose and Baltimore holds the tiebreaker over San Diego if the Chargers win.
Got that? Don’t worry, the Jets are only worried about ruing the Dolphins’ afternoon.
“The satisfaction is going to come from us competing against them and knowing ourselves, proving to ourselves how much we’ve improved,” Ryan said on Friday, passing on directly saying he wanted to end the Dolphins’ season. “I think that’s what we’re looking forward to the most, getting back out there [against] a team that totally whipped us in every phase [in a 23-3 loss on Dec. 1] and having the opportunity to go out there and prove it.”
Follow Metro New York Sports Editor Mark Osborne on Twitter @MetroNYSports.