In this instance, it isn't about the Jets turning it around, or getting their act together for the stretch run. No, with Buffalo looming Sunday and a chance for the Jets to post a 7-1 midseason mark for only the second time, it is about this: How good can the Jets be this season?
"I've told them this week, when you get to 7-1, you've got one of the best records in football, and you're pulling away from the pack," coach Herman Edwards said Friday. "You're up there with very few teams."
In fact, if the Jets do win in upstate New York, they will have a 4-1 division record, compared with New England's 3-0 mark. The Jets have only one division game in the second half of the season: against New England, at home, in the next-to-last game. The Patriots have three division games to play in the second half.
This season, with the youngest Jets team he has coached, Edwards has stressed the significance of divisional play. The simple fact is, many of the new players do not understand the extra importance of winning division games.
Even linebacker Jonathan Vilma, the club's top draft choice out of Miami, where he majored in finance and was an academic all-American, admitted Friday that he had never realized the role the division played in determining a team's standing. If clubs are tied at the end of the season, the first tiebreaker is the head-to-head result. Then come the division records.
"Herm made me aware that it was important to win in your division," Vilma said. "He said it in training camp, then before the opening game and then before our first divisional game against Miami. I had no idea it worked like that. When you're in college, you don't think of those things."
But Edwards said that he went beyond Sunday's game in talking to his team about the 2-5 Bills. Most coaches do not talk publicly about the following game. Edwards, however, said he had spoken about the fact that "if we win this, we're 4-1 in the division, 7-1 overall, and how it can set us up for the next week."
"I always try to do that," Edwards added. "I explain what a victory can do for us, and where it puts us in the bigger picture."
Edwards is aware that broadcaster John Madden told the "Monday Night Football" audience last week that the Jets were just a shade below the elite teams.
"Now," said Edwards, "how many teams do you think ever started 7-1? Not many."
He knows that only one Jets team, the 1986 squad, started 7-1. That club made it to 10-1 before losing their final five games of the regular season and falling to the Cleveland Browns in the second round of the playoffs. If the Jets get to 10-1 this year, Edwards is sure to talk about coming up with a different ending than the one 18 years ago.
New England (6-1) at St. Louis (4-3)
The Patriots took their loss to the Steelers badly. As tight end Christian Fouria said, "There's winning and then there's complete misery." Now comes another potential trap. Marc Bulger of the Rams leads the league with 1,985 yards passing and 161 completions, and he has clever targets in Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce. They catch the Patriots with injured starting cornerbacks: Ty Law is out four to six weeks with a broken foot and Tyrone Poole is nursing a bad knee.
Minnesota (5-2) at
Randy Moss wins games with his pass-catching heroics, so his strained right hamstring takes the zip out of the Vikings' offense. The Vikings wonder if Moss' sitting out one game now will prevent him from missing several later. Last week, Peyton Manning of the Colts passed for 472 yards and five touchdowns against the Kansas City Chiefs, only to see the Colts' defense, the worst in the league, yield 590 yards. The Colts lost. "We can play a lot better," coach Tony Dungy said, "and we're not doing it."