COMMENTARY | With the release of the 2013 NFL schedule, teams -- and fans -- get their first look at how their season begins to take shape. Granted, we knew the opponents, but actually seeing them on the calendar provides a whole new perspective on what can be possible.
Overall, the Jets' opponents had a record of under .500 (102-106, to be exact) in 2012. Only five teams had winning records. And they don't face a single one of those teams after Week 12. Four of the final five games will be played at home, and I'm sure the team would rather play at New England in September than, say, December.
Overall, it's a fairly decent schedule. With end-of-season opponents like Oakland, Carolina and Cleveland, there's a glimmer of hope that this year's Jets can even push for a playoff spot. If they can manage "The Gauntlet."
The Gauntlet -- games against the Atlanta Falcons, Pittsburgh Steelers, New England Patriots, Cincinnati Bengals and New Orleans Saints in Week 5 through Week 9 -- will be the test for this team. Survive, and it sets up for a pretty interesting stretch run. Fall, and we might be looking at one of the most disappointing collapses in recent memory.
Let's take a closer look at The Gauntlet:
Week 5 at Atlanta. It's "Monday Night Football" in Hotlanta, so the Jets get an extra day to prep for Matt Ryan and the Falcons. And now, with Steven Jackson in the backfield and Tony Gonzalez giving it one more season, this team is looking at Super Bowl or bust.
Week 6 vs. Pittsburgh. Don't let last year fool you: The Steelers are still the Steelers. Plus, the team will be coming off its bye week, meaning it'll have more time to prepare for whatever the Jets have shown them through the first five weeks of the season.
Week 7 vs. New England. At least they get both games against the Patriots out of the way early. The Patriots have swept the Jets the last two seasons, and this game could make it three in a row.
Week 8 at Cincinnati. This team was 10-6 last season, and there's a real possibility they can make a run at the AFC North crown. Andy Dalton is solid, and his supporting cast -- including wide receiver A.J. Green -- might give fits to a (possibly) rebuilt Jets secondary.
Week 9 vs. New Orleans. After facing Ryan, Ben Roethlisberger, Tom Brady and Dalton for four consecutive weeks, the Jets' secondary gets its biggest test with Drew Brees coming to town. If they're not up for the challenge, they could put 40 on the board -- easy.
Five weeks, five Pro Bowl quarterbacks. The good news is the NFL schedule makers gave the Jets three of them at home. Make no mistake: This is the stretch that will make or break the season.
Coming out of The Gauntlet with a winning record, or even a 2-3 record, can provide momentum heading into the bye week and the second half of the season. Otherwise, it could completely deflate the team, leaving the bye week filled with questions about leadership, coaching changes, quarterback controversies or worse.
The powers that be in the NFL's scheduling office have given the New York Jets a pretty clear ultimatum: Survive The Gauntlet and you may have a place in the playoff discussion.
James Moffat has 10-plus years of journalism expertise, writing for daily print and online publications.
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