The New York Jets' Surprising Playoff Position

Yahoo Contributor Network

COMMENTARY | The Jets were never supposed to be here.

Coming into the season with a new general manager, offensive coordinator and a headline-grabbing quarterback controversy until the loud-mouthed, lame-duck head coach played his four-year starter into what would become a season-ending shoulder injury, even the most die-hard Jets fan would concede that 6-10 would be close to the high-water mark for this team.

Yet despite all of those issues, heading into Week 11, Rex Ryan's team sits in the second Wild Card spot with a one-game lead over four other AFC teams hoping to have a shot to play for the Lombardi Trophy come February.

Considering that Geno Smith has a Mark Sanchez-esque 16 turnovers to go with 11 touchdowns, how exactly did this happen?

A little bit of luck

Twice this season the Jets have been the beneficiaries of late-game penalties resulting in game-winning field goals.

The first such instance came during Week 1. With the Jets trailing 17-15 late in the fourth quarter, Smith scampered up the right sideline, attempting to get out of bounds and move his team into field goal range. Smith's 10-yard run turned into a 25-yard gain after Tampa Bay linebacker LaVonte David shoved the rookie quarterback after he was out of bounds, drawing a 15-yard unnecessary roughness penalty and setting Nick Folk up for the game-winning 48-yard kick.

Seven weeks later, in overtime against the Patriots, the referees would once again come to the Jets' rescue. With Folk again lined up for a game-winning opportunity, this time from 56 yards out, New England was whistled for a never-before-called unsportsmanlike conduct penalty when Chris Jones shoved a teammate in the back during the kick.

Jones' penalty gave the Jets a new set of downs and turned a 56-yard kick that sailed wide left into a 42-yard, game-winning field goal to improve the Jets to 4-3.

Stout defense

Known throughout his short head coaching career as defensive-minded, Ryan's team is operating similarly to the units that helped the Jets reach back-to-back AFC Championship games in 2009 and 2010.

The Jets' defensive line boasts three former first round picks in Muhammad Wilkerson, Quinton Coples and Sheldon Richardson, all of whom serve as the foundation for the league's top rushing defense (73.8 YPG).

Furthermore, Wilkerson, the Jets' first-round selection in 2011, leads the team with eight sacks in nine games, matching his total from his first two seasons combined. The third-year lineman out of Temple is a serious contender for Defensive Player of the Year and likely the Jets' most valuable player to this point in the season.

Help from unlikely sources

It seems as if Tampa Bay has a rooting interest at MetLife Stadium. After the Buccaneers gift-wrapped the Jets their first win of the season, Greg Schiano's team helped Gang Green out even more this past Monday night, beating Miami 22-19 for its first win of the season and to bump the Dolphins to 4-5, one game behind the Jets.

In addition to Tampa Bay picking up its first victory, Jacksonville managed to help the Jets' playoff position in the very same week by grabbing its first win of the season with a surprising 29-27 road win over division rival Tennessee (4-5) this past Sunday.

Will it hold up?

Looking at the remaining seven games on the schedule, the Jets have six games against teams with losing records (Baltimore, Buffalo, Cleveland, Miami and Oakland). New York's only opponent with a winning record is Carolina in Week 15, but considering the Jets' 3-0 record against NFC South teams this season, even that game seems winnable at this juncture.

The unlikely team with the unlikely coach and unlikely quarterback now looks likely to make the postseason for the first time in three years.

Anthony Sulla-Heffinger has covered the Jets and the NFL previously for the New York Post before joining Yahoo in 2013. Follow him on Twitter @AntSulla.

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