Eliminated from playoff contention for a third straight season, the New York Jets enter their final two games with nothing of value at stake.
Coach Rex Ryan, though, may have his job on the line.
With Ryan nearing the end of his contract, the Jets attempt to conclude their home schedule with a sixth victory by sending the Cleveland Browns to a sixth straight loss Sunday.
New York (6-8) is officially out of the playoff race for a third consecutive season under Ryan after reaching the AFC championship in his first two.
The Jets lost for the fourth time in five games, 30-20 at Carolina last weekend, and their postseason fate was sealed with Baltimore's 18-16 win over Detroit on Monday.
Now, Ryan's job may be the most significant thing at stake, and that was once considered a foregone conclusion. Prior to the start of the season, the Jets were widely expected to be gift-wrapping a high draft pick for fans by this time.
"Look, I'm a competent guy, even though I know that will be questioned a zillion times forward and backward, whatever, that's fine," he said. "But I know I'm a good football coach. I believe in this team. I believe in this organization and I'm determined to bring a winner to this team, there's no question about it.
"I know and I believe that I'm the right guy for it. Now again, I'm not the guy making that decision."
That decision will likely be made between owner Woody Johnson and general manager John Idzik, who haven't spoken publicly about Ryan's fate.
Ryan's case for a new contract, however, could be reinforced if New York can win its final two games against Cleveland (4-10) and at Miami and finish .500 after last season's 6-10 record.
"We're going out there and playing for Rex because he's our head coach and we want to play hard for him and we want to win games for him," quarterback Geno Smith said. "He coaches us hard, he puts the time and effort in and he deserves for our team to go out and that's what we do every single week.
"I love Rex. And despite what decision is made, my feelings toward him will never change."
Smith will be looking to improve his chances for returning as New York's starter in 2014. The rookie has completed 58.5 percent of his passes for 386 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions over the last two games, while adding 94 yards on 11 rushes with another score.
He had a 30.6 rating over the previous five games, throwing eight picks with no TDs and a dismal 47.1 completion rate.
Smith, though, could be poised for a better effort with the Browns having allowed an average of 33.0 points during their five-game losing streak, surrendering a total of 924 yards - 658 passing - over the past two contests.
Despite Smith's struggles, the defense - Ryan's calling card - may have been the biggest reason the Jets were in the playoff discussion at all. The unit ranks third in the league against the run, yielding an average of 86.1 yards while its 38 sacks are already more than the 30 it had last season.
The defense, though, has allowed an average of 409.3 total yards - 135.3 rushing -in the past three games.
The Browns will try to capitalize on the Jets' recent defensive issues and record their first victory since beating the Ravens on Nov. 3.
They blew a fourth-quarter lead for the third straight game Sunday, falling 38-31 to Chicago. Cleveland has lost at least 10 games in six straight seasons.
"It's very disappointing, very disappointing," said cornerback Joe Haden, "especially when you have a team that you know that can win. It's frustrating, but you always try to stay positive, you always try to look ahead and we still got two more games left."
The Browns may be without Haden for at least one of those games, as he's nursing a hip pointer.
Jordan Cameron's status is also unclear after he suffered a concussion against the Bears. The tight end leads the Browns with 75 receptions in a breakout season that includes career highs of 848 yards and seven touchdowns.
"As bad as we want him to be out there with us playing on the field, I care more for his health and his safety," said quarterback Jason Campbell, who completed 23 of 39 passes for 273 yards with one touchdown and two INTs last week.
The Associated Press News Service
The Associated Press
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