- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 23, 2008

The New York Jets showed the nation last Thursday night that the acquisitions of Kris Jenkins, Alan Faneca and Brett Favre, among others, have made them legitimate playoff contenders.

Their game Sunday in Tennessee may determine if they can be more than that.

The Titans enter the contest 10-0, the NFL’s only unbeaten team. The Jets, who lead the AFC East at 7-3, are the most formidable opponent they will face until the final two games of the regular season, when they host Pittsburgh and then finish at Indianapolis.

Tennessee can clinch a playoff spot with a victory. As their run has continued, they’ve played down the unbeaten aspect, a good idea because New England’s unbeaten season last season was spoiled by a Super Bowl loss.

“We’ve got 10 wins,” guard Jake Scott said. “That’s a lot. To go undefeated, we’d have to win nine more. We’re just a little over halfway. You’re not even in that ballpark yet.”

The Jets look at it differently.

“You always want your guys to have the mentality that they can’t lose,” coach Eric Mangini said. “I think that’s a great spirit to have in any locker room, so I’m sure they’re really happy that they have that right now. We go into every game with the assumption that we’re going to win, as well.”

New York had its biggest win last week, beating the Patriots 34-31 in overtime after losing a 24-6 first-half lead. That gave the Jets a one-game lead over New England and Miami in the division, with Buffalo a game behind them.

In that sense, their focus has to be on the division race.

Yes, it would be great to knock off an unbeaten team. But staying in first is a higher priority.

In other games Sunday:

New York (9-1) at Arizona (7-3): The Cardinals can clinch the NFC West with a win and a loss by San Francisco at Dallas, a fact that says more about the division than the Cardinals. The Giants, after all, are two games better but aren’t within a sniff of a division title yet because the NFC East is much better.

This game may be more important though because it gives Arizona a chance to prove its legitimacy against the defending Super Bowl champion and a team that many folks regard as the NFL’s best.

Indianapolis (6-4) at San Diego (4-6): In this matchup last season, Peyton Manning threw six interceptions, and still the Colts barely lost, 23-21. Sunday night’s game is between two AFC powers heading in opposite directions.

The Colts, all but out of the race for an AFC South title, have won three straight to put themselves in the thick of the wild card race. But they again could be without oft-injured safety Bob Sanders, last season’s NFL defensive player of the year.

Carolina (8-2) at Atlanta (6-4): Their record says the Panthers are the second-best team in the NFC, but they haven’t really looked the part in shaky wins over two of the NFL’s worst, the Raiders and Lions. Jake Delhomme, one of the reasons for Carolina’s NFC South-leading status, is only 17-for-46 for 174 yards with two touchdowns and four interceptions against two teams with a combined 2-18 record.

The Falcons lost 24-9 to the Panthers in Charlotte, N.C., a game in which Carolina held Michael Turner to 56 yards. Take away one 28-yard run last week in the 24-20 loss to Denver and Turner has just 53 yards rushing on 24 carries, an indication he’s just as important to Atlanta’s resurgence as rookie quarterback Matt Ryan.

New England (6-4) at Miami (6-4): This might be an elimination game for two teams a game behind the Jets in the AFC East. How quickly can a year (and a major injury) change things? A year ago, when New England finished 16-0 and Miami 1-15, the Patriots were 17-point favorites in this game. This week, the Patriots are two-point underdogs to lose both ends of a season series to a division opponent for the first time since 2000.

In Week 3 in Foxborough, Mass., the Dolphins unveiled the “Wildcat” formation and won 38-13 with Ronnie Brown rushing for four touchdowns and throwing for a fifth.

Philadelphia (5-4-1) at Baltimore (6-4): The Philadelphia media, notably the broadcast segment, are in overdrive because of Donovan McNabb’s comment after last week’s tie in Cincinnati that he didn’t know NFL games could end that way. McNabb’s dismal performance - 28-for-58 with three interceptions - might merit criticism, but his ignorance was apparently shared by many of his teammates.

McNabb will probably have to throw often against a riled-up Baltimore defense. It was leading the NFL allowing just 65 yards rushing per game until it went to the Meadowlands last week and the Giants ran for 207.

San Francisco (3-7) at Dallas (6-4): The Cowboys should continue to get well against the 49ers, bolstering the suggestions by Jerry Jones, Terrell Owens and others that they will make the playoffs and then make a decent run when they get there.

The 49ers look like a more motivated team under Mike Singletary, although Singletary hasn’t yet passed Game Management 101. Offensive coordinator Mike Martz, who should know better, hasn’t helped either.

Minnesota (5-5) at Jacksonville (4-6): The Jaguars know their playoff chances are just about shot. “It’s absolutely as dismal an outlook as you can have and not be out,” coach Jack Del Rio said. “We’d have to win every one to have a chance to qualify. It’s a very remote possibility.”

Oakland (2-8) at Denver (6-4): The Broncos‘ win in Atlanta last week is one of only two they have over a team with a winning record, and it gave them a two-game lead in the AFC West over San Diego, which shows few signs of living up to its potential. Jay Cutler has been carrying Denver, throwing the winning touchdown pass against the Falcons last week for a team whose running backs are now Peyton Hillis, P.J. Pope and the recently re-signed Tatum Bell.

Houston (3-7) at Cleveland (4-6): The Browns might be able to start a run here - probably not at the playoffs but perhaps to save coach Romeo Crennel’s job. Brady Quinn hasn’t been great yet, but he’s 1-1 as a starter, hasn’t thrown an interception and hasn’t made any glaringly bad decisions.

Tampa Bay (7-3) at Detroit (0-10): Lions coach Rod Marinelli used to be the defensive line coach in Tampa, so maybe he knows things about the Bucs that others don’t. In any case, the Lions are likely to be 0-11 when they play host to Tennessee on Thanksgiving, when the Titans could be 11-0.

Chicago (5-5) at St. Louis (2-8): Kyle Orton had a miserable return last week as Bears quarterback in the 37-3 loss to the Packers, losing a fumble that was returned for a touchdown and passing for just 133 yards. But he should be healthier this week against a team that has been outscored 82-19 in the last two weeks, reverting back to its early-season form under Scott Linehan.

Buffalo (5-5) at Kansas City (1-9): The Bills have now lost four straight after being one of the pleasant early-season surprises.

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