National Football League
                  === Panthers try to bounce back vs. Jets ===
 ( - The Era of Good Feeling has returned to the swamps of
 OK, perhaps it's not quite that good. But the New York Jets are certainly more
 buoyant heading into a Week 15 visit to the Carolina Panthers than they'd been
 at any point prior to last weeks 10-point defeat of the Oakland Raiders, which
 snapped an untimely three-game skid.
 Though they'd been expected to be among the NFL's bottom feeders at the
 season's outset, the Jets were 5-4 and coming off a stunning defeat of New
 Orleans when they headed into the bye in Week 10 - visions of playoff
 positioning dancing in their heads.
 The three weeks following the break were more Grinch than glory, however -
 yielding double-digit losses at Buffalo, at Baltimore and home with Miami -
 and left New York is serious catch-up mode if a postseason berth is still
 anywhere on the holiday wish list.
 "Every game's a playoff game for us," defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson
 said. "That's how we have to look at it."
 At 6-7, the Jets are tied with San Diego and sit a game behind both Baltimore
 (which currently holds the final wild card spot) and Miami at 7-6. New York is
 essentially in ninth place in the conference at this point because it would
 lose a tiebreaker to the Chargers based on conference record - San Diego is
 3-5 against AFC foes, the Jets are 3-7.
 Not to mention, the offense has been middling at best. New York is 31st in the
 league in scoring - 17.4 points per game - and has managed just 13.2 points
 per week in six road games.
 None of that was enough to dissuade rookie QB Geno Smith, however.
 "The spirits are higher, but for me it's the same work week," Smith said.
 "Throughout the game (against Oakland), I was just playing freely.It goes back
 to not thinking about all my past mistakes. I think I kind of got into this
 zone where I just tried to be way too perfect and that's almost impossible to
 do at any level, especially as a rookie.
 "There were times where I was so caught up in running the play and executing
 it to perfection that I didn't allow my natural ability to take over at
 The West Virginia product completed 16-of-25 passes for a touchdown and 219
 yards against the Raiders and ran for a TD while compiling 50 yards in five
 runs. In the previous five games, he'd had no TD passes, eight interceptions
 and a 47.1 percent completion rate.
 His legs, coach Rex Ryan said, could be weapons against the Panthers, who
 possess a dynamic quarterback of their own in Cam Newton.
 "Anytime you talk about putting a defense on their heels, when you're throwing
 it and now all of a sudden you take off with it, it presents a lot to a
 defense," Ryan said. "Obviously, with this kid we're getting ready to play,
 Cam Newton is a big, fast kid back there. He's got a great arm too. That's
 going to present problems."
 The Jets allowed 150 yards on the ground last week, not exactly a recipe for
 success with Newton and Co.
 "Normally, a big strength of ours is our gap integrity in the run," Ryan said.
 "Obviously, we had a couple of issues in that, so clearly moving forward that
 has to be a strength, not a weakness."
 While New York will try to work on optimism, the Panthers are reeling from
 perhaps getting too giddy, too soon.
 Carolina saw an eight-game win streak snapped on Sunday night in New Orleans
 and has suddenly gone from league-wide flavor of the month to just another
 team battling to secure a playoff spot.
 The Panthers enter the week in possession of the NFC's fifth playoff position,
 though they're tied at 9-4 with existing sixth seed San Francisco and hold
 just a one-game lead over current No. 7 wannabe Arizona at 8-5. They're also a
 game behind New Orleans in the chase for the NFC South title and will host the
 Saints next weekend in Charlotte.
 "We did get a little ahead of ourselves as far as feeling good," defensive end
 Greg Hardy said.
 "It happens to the best of us. When you get something that you really deserve
 it gives you a great feeling and you get kind of comfortable in a sense - not
 really complacent or content, but kind of comfortable. I feel like that is
 where we were for a second and we learned our lesson. We got our hand burned."
 A playoff berth could be clinched with a victory, alongside losses by the
 49ers and Cardinals, along with ties or losses by either Dallas or
 Philadelphia. In terms of the division, the Saints are at St. Louis this week
 and will finish at Carolina and then home with Tampa Bay.
 Carolina faces the Jets, New Orleans and Atlanta to wrap up 2013.
 "There is a lot on the line this week," coach Ron Rivera said.
 Newton was 22-of-34 for 160 yards and was sacked five times at New Orleans. In
 five straight victories at home, he has a 100.2 passer rating with a 65.2
 completion percentage, 10 touchdowns and five interceptions. Not to mention
 223 rushing yards and three TDs.
 New York is just 24th in the league defending the pass - while second against
 the run - and could be without cornerback Antonio Cromartie, who's still
 bouncing back from a concussion suffered against the Raiders.
 "It's a great opportunity to go out and really prove to ourselves who we are,"
 Newton said.
 Good Geno or Bad Geno.
 Many teams rise or fall based on the quarterback's play, but the Jets are
 specifically illustrative of the concept.
 The Jets are unbeaten - 4-0, as a matter of fact - when their rookie passer
 turns in a QB rating of 80 or better. In the nine games in which it hasn't
 happened, they're 2-7.
 Matchup Malfunctions
 The Panthers have thrived - and, elsewhere, the Jets have struggled - when
 there is significant production from the tight end position.
 For Carolina's Greg Olsen is not only good at the nuts and bolts of the
 position, but he's athletic enough to create issues for linebackers who cover
 him. Olsen has scored a touchdown in four of his last seven games overall and
 has six TDs in his last seven games against AFC opposition.
 The Jets are coming in after a slump-ending win. The Panthers arrive following
 a streak-finishing loss.
 Given those differences in momentum, some would suggest New York has a real
 chance at an upset. Don't believe it. The Panthers' defense, among the very
 best in the league when it comes to limiting scoring, will be in its element
 against a QB who's taken inconsistency to a new level since a hot start. Throw
 in some Cam Newton on a home field and it's "uh oh, Rex."
 Sports Network predicted outcome: Panthers 20, Jets 6
 12/13 09:36:51 ET