As the weather gets colder, and the leaves start to fall, the third month of the NFL season is here.
November football is no joke, and for the New York Jets, it’s an opportunity to show the football world exactly what they’re made of.
The schedule has not been too kind to the Jets, what with the back-to-back-to-back road games against playoff contending teams a few weeks ago, but there are no excuses for who you play week to week.
The four games the Jets will play in November are as crucial a four-week stretch as any team in the NFL will play this season, and maybe beyond any month-long stretch I can ever remember in an NFL regular season.
The good news for the Jets is, should they go (for example) 3-1 in November, they could very well be sitting atop the AFC East when the calendar turns to December.
The bad news, however, is that 1-3 is a real possibility if they’re not careful, and that could all but end their hopes of returning to the postseason for a third straight season.
During the bye week last week, I briefly touched on how the Jets can climb right back into the AFC East race this month when they face both of the two teams ahead of them back-to-back the next two games.
As we’re all aware of by now, the Jets clash with the Buffalo Bills up at Ralph Wilson Stadium will be the biggest game between these two teams in recent memory.
Buffalo (5-2) is ahead of the New England Patriots (5-2) in the AFC East by virtue of a head-to-head tiebreaker, with Buffalo beating New England back in Week 3.
The Jets (4-3) can tie Buffalo with a victory on Sunday, and should the New York Giants find that Super Bowl XLII magic and beat New England in Foxboro, all three AFC East contenders will have identical 5-3 records.
Regardless of the outcome of Sunday’s games, the Jets host the Patriots on November 13 in a Sunday night game that will either make or break the Jets’ chances of having a realistic look at the division championship.
With New England winning the first matchup between the two teams, a Jets loss in Week 10 would pretty much put the division race out of reach, meaning a wild card bid would be the Jets’ last hope for playoff contention.
Then, in one of the strangest schedule quirks perhaps in NFL history, the Jets will turn around from a Sunday night game and fly to Denver to face the Broncos on the following Thursday, November 17.
Since the NFL began playing Thursday night games on a regular basis, no team has ever had to play a Sunday night game and then play again on Thursday. Most teams play Sunday afternoon in the early time slot.
So essentially, the Jets will be an experiment of sorts, as the first team to play two games in a 96-hour span.
Not only that, but they have to play the second game in the thin air of Denver without extra time to prepare mentally and physically for the unique challenges of that climate.
The positive side of that trip to Denver is that the Broncos are not a very good football team, but anything can happen with the Jets on short rest after a grueling game against the Patriots just days earlier.
After the Denver game on November 17, the Jets get some extra time off before they head back home on November 27 to host the Bills for the second time in four weeks.
Incredibly, that may be the easiest of the four November games, all things considered. Being at home has its advantages, after all. The Jets are 4-0 at MetLife Stadium thus far.
So the Jets will be at Buffalo, vs New England, at Denver and vs Buffalo in November of 2011. By December 1, we should have a pretty good read on what this team is made of.
Are the Jets a serious contender, capable of the postseason success they’ve had the past two years? Or are they a pretender, a weakened version of themselves that can’t cut it in an extremely competitive AFC?
These next four weeks will give us a better feel. But the five games in December/January aren’t a cake walk either. For the New York Jets to reach the postseason here in 2011, they will have to earn it. Big time.