With six teams standing between the Jets and a Wild Card spot, there's little question that the team will be playing out the string over the next six weeks. You might think that this means your Sunday afternoons can be spent Christmas shopping or catching up on holiday films without missing anything important on the gridiron. You wouldn't be wrong in that assessment, but there's still enough going on with the Jets to warrant keeping an eye on what happens.
And, as an added bonus, none of the following three reasons have anything to do with Mark Sanchez. Obviously, the development of the rookie quarterback is important business. It's also proven to be painful and well-chronicled business, so we'll cast our gaze elsewhere.
1. See How They Run - Lost amid the disappointment of another dismal season has been the continued success of running back Thomas Jones. He's on pace for career highs in rushing yardage and touchdowns and has often been the one reliable player on a team fraught with inconsistency. That's laudable and it creates an interesting call for the Jets in the offseason. Jones has agitated for a new contract more than once, something that seemed impossible before this season and he wasn't even thought to have much chance of returning for 2010, the last year of his current deal.
With Leon Washington's injury requiring a long rehab, though, Jones's status may have changed. There's also rookie Shonn Greene, who has had one big game in an otherwise quiet season and can't yet be counted on to take the lion's share of the carries. The Jets will need to have a strong running game next season, and they can't count on Washington being a part of it. If Jones plays six more games like his first 10, he'll have a much better chance of returning next season.
2. The Future of Braylon Edwards - Edwards is going to be a restricted free agent after the season and will surely want a long-term deal with the Jets. Should he get one? On the positive side, Edwards has made several big plays since coming over from the Browns and he's clearly added a dimension to the offense that didn't exist before he came to town.
That said, he hasn't made the Jets a radically different offense than they were before the trade. That's not all on him, of course, but investing a ton of money into Edwards doesn't make much sense if he isn't good enough to make the rest of the offense better. And then there are his lingering issures with dropped passes and fumbles, two things which mitigate a lot of the pluses he brings to table.
3. The Ryan's Roar - Rex Ryan came in like a lion, but how will he leave his first season as Jets coach? There have been some good signs in recent weeks that Ryan's figured out it is more important to show other teams how good you are before you spend any time telling them how good you are, but there's no doubt that Ryan's early bravado has added to the pain of the last eight weeks. If the next six weeks don't provide any relief, there will be some discussion about Ryan's fitness for the job.
That's why it is crucial that Ryan shows he has more depth to him down the stretch. He needs to show that he can adjust his defense to fit the personnel available, he needs to show that he can recognize things that aren't working on both sides of the ball and, perhaps more than anything else, needs to show that getting involved with Sanchez's progress is a positive for the quarterback. If he can't do those things, there's a chance that there could be a bloodletting in the Jets front office that claims Ryan as well.