NFL Preview - Oakland (4-8) at N.Y. Jets (5-7)
By Lyle Fitzsimmons, Contributing NFL Editor
(SportsNetwork.com) - The mantra of many NFL teams these days might be, "OK, things might be bad, but at least we're not the New York Jets."
You'll forgive the Oakland Raiders, however, if they're not quite buying in.
The Raiders visit the Jets at MetLife Stadium this weekend after squandering a golden opportunity to get themselves back in the thick of a muddled AFC postseason chase.
Oakland led Dallas by 14 points on Thanksgiving before dropping a 31-24 decision - marking the fifth time it's lost a game in which it had led in the second half. The Raiders now trail the Baltimore Ravens by two games for the final playoff spot, with five teams - Miami (6-6), Tennessee (5-7), Pittsburgh (5-7), San Diego (5-7) and the Jets (5-7) - standing between them.
"We haven't made enough plays at the end of football games to be able to win those games," Oakland coach Dennis Allen said. "(If) we keep giving ourselves opportunities, we keep putting ourselves in those positions, eventually we'll make those plays at the end of the games and we'll win those games."
New York has slumped badly since starting at 5-4, but its rush defense is still tops in the league with a per-game average of 77 yards and a per-carry clip of 2.9 yards.
The Raiders would seem in good stead with recently red-hot starter Rashad Jennings (448 yards in five November games), but he's questionable this week after suffering a concussion against the Cowboys. Also hurting is backup Darren McFadden, who'd missed three games with a hamstring problem before carrying five times against Dallas.
The less-than-optimum status heaps more responsibility onto the shoulders of novice quarterback Matt McGloin, who's made three straight starts - winning once - in place of Terrelle Pryor. The Penn State product threw 15 passes, completing seven, in Week 8 in relief of Pryor.
He's completed 18, 19 and 18 passes in the three starts.
"Matt has gone in and handled himself pretty well," Allen said. "Really, in every game that he's been the starting quarterback, we've had an opportunity to win those football games."
The Jets should be so lucky to have a quarterback that recently prolific.
Instead, New York has fallen off the radar courtesy of rookie passer Geno Smith, who retains his starting job even after being benched in favor of Matt Simms for the second half of a 23-3 home loss to Miami last week. Smith completed 20 passes in a Week 8 loss to Cincinnati, but has connected on only eight, eight, nine and four passes in his last four appearances against New Orleans, Buffalo, Baltimore and the Dolphins.
He's not thrown a touchdown pass in five games, leads the league with 19 interceptions and has thrown six balls to the wrong team in the last three losses. Not to mention, his completion percentage in the last four games is just 39.2.
Simms was 9-for-18 for 79 yards and an interception in the second half against Miami, which didn't give Ryan a great option if his inclination were to bench the starter.
Instead, he was left to defend the recently indefensible.
"(Smith) has the tools to be a good quarterback in this league," Jets coach Rex Ryan said. "Obviously, he's going through some rough times. These last three games haven't been good for him. Quite honestly, it hasn't been good for a lot of us."
The Jets' average of 4.82 yards per play is 29th in the league and their three-and-outs in 32.3 percent of possessions are worst overall. Also, New York's total offense rate of 295.5 yards per game since Week 5 makes it the only team in the NFL averaging less than 300 yards.
"It seems like I say this every week, but there's always a way to get better and I've got plenty of room to improve," Smith said. "So I've just got to continue to plug at it and got to keep working."
All that said, though, New York is just a game shy of the final playoff spot and will face three teams now at .500 or below - Oakland (4-8), Cleveland (4-8) and Miami (6-6) - in its final four games. The Jets' other opponent, the 9-3 Carolina Panthers.
"There's definitely a sense of urgency now," offensive tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson said. "You recognize there are four games left and we recognize the challenge that's before us, but all we can do is just keep our heads down and grind right now and focus on our work."
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Prolong the plummet.
If Smith's recent trajectory has Ryan considering handing over the reins to a guy like Simms, it's clear that things aren't going so well. The Raiders can add to that conundrum with quality play in the secondary, which has been fleeting through 13 weeks. They were hoping to get cornerback Tyvon Branch back in the fold after he'd missed 10 games with a knee injury, but he's again been ruled out.
Run to health.
It's simple football. If the quarterback is struggling, try to run the ball to take the game out of his hands. It's a logical formula for the Jets, who are 10th in the league with 124.7 yards per game on the ground. Oakland is 10th- best in the league at stopping the run, allowing 102.8 yards per game.
It's barometer time for G-G-G Geno and the Jets. If they're the team that everyone expected at the beginning of the season, they'll lose here and fall irretrievably out of the AFC playoff race. But if they're the team that defeated division leaders New England and New Orleans while starting 5-4, they'll overcome a team on a long road trip and another rookie QB. If Ryan has a legit chance to be the coach next season, it had better be the latter.
Sports Network predicted outcome: Jets 17, Raiders 14
12/05 10:45:57 ET