It's not a brand-new road for the New York Jets, but it sure seems different.
Because the 2009 season ended with the team and its then-rookie head coach on the brink of a Super Bowl trip, many forget that successful stretch began with the Jets at 8-7 and needing a final-week victory to even reach the postseason tournament.
So while this year's scenario of "need a win, need some help" isn't a complete novelty, the interim flood of guarantees from third-year boss Rex Ryan somehow frames the club's current Week 17 situation -- which comes on the heels of two straight losses -- as a trifle more desperate.
In spite of Ryan's Super Bowl guarantee for this season, the Jets are only 8-7 heading into Sunday's finale against the Miami at Sun Life Stadium and need a defeat of the Dolphins along with outside help for a third consecutive playoff berth on his watch.
To secure the AFC's No. 6 slot, a winning New York needs Cincinnati to lose to visiting Baltimore, Tennessee to lose to hosting Houston and either Denver to lose to visiting Kansas City or Oakland to lose to visiting San Diego.
"Have we had the results we were hoping for? No, but again, the season is not over," Ryan said. "Maybe we'll look at everything, obviously, at the end of the season, but right now we are competing for [the playoffs]. We've got a chance and we need to find a way to get it done this week."
In Ryan's favor, the Jets' supplemental needs aren't exactly David vs. Goliath. But based on the last two weeks, his own team might be the problem.
The Jets have looked more like a team playing for the No. 1 overall draft choice in their two most recent games, losing to Philadelphia by a 45-19 score on Dec. 18 and to the New York Giants, 29-14, this past Saturday.
New York beat Miami by a 24-6 count on Oct. 17, but hasn't swept a season series against the Dolphins since 2007.
Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez was 30-of-59 with two fourth-quarter interceptions against the Giants. He also lost a fumble near the goal line and was sacked in the end zone for a safety.
"It wasn't Mark's best day by any stretch of the imagination," Ryan said. "But we know he's done it and he's been doing it, and we have great confidence in him. And I have great confidence in him."
Sanchez also threw two interceptions and fumbled once against the Eagles.
"Have we played our best? No," Sanchez said. "We just have to keep pressing, be smart, win the game and see what happens."
The Dolphins, after an 0-7 start, have ridden the other side of the momentum roller coaster.
Miami is 5-3 since the inglorious beginning and has both a 1,000-yard rusher (Reggie Bush) and a 1,000-yard receiver (Brandon Marshall) for the first time in franchise history. Bush had 71 yards on 10 carries against the Jets in October, while Marshall caught six passes for 109 yards in that loss.
The Jets have a 48-42-1 lead in this long-played series in which the visitor has had plenty of success in recent years. The road team has prevailed in six of the last eight bouts between the teams, with New York coming through with a 31-23 victory in last season's stop at Sun Life Stadium behind three Sanchez touchdown passes and the Dolphins returning the favor via a 10-6 upset at the Meadowlands later in the year. The Jets are 4-1 in Miami since the 2006 campaign, with the Dolphins' lone triumph over that span a 31-27 verdict in 2009, but as previously stated, haven't swept a home-and-home set from their longtime rival since 2007.
In addition to their regular-season history, the Jets and Dolphins also faced off in the 1982 AFC Championship, which went to Miami by a 14-0 score.
Ryan owns a 2-3 record against the Dolphins during his time in charge of the Jets', while Miami interim head coach Todd Bowles will be opposing both Ryan and New York for the first time in his present capacity.
WHEN THE JETS HAVE THE BALL
Sanchez (3,267 passing yards) needs 233 passing yards to join Ken O'Brien, Joe Namath and Vinny Testaverde as the only Jets quarterbacks to reach 3,500 yards passing in a season. In five career games against Miami, he has thrown for seven touchdowns against just one interception and produced an 85.7 rating. Sanchez also has the second-most rushing touchdowns in a season for a signal- caller in franchise history, trailing only Al Dorow's seven in 1960. Running back Shonn Greene (999 rushing yards) needs one yard to reach 1,000 for the first time in his career, while backfield mate LaDainian Tomlinson needs only 35 rushing yards to surpass Jerome Bettis (13,662) for the fifth-most all-time in the NFL. Wide receiver Santonio Holmes has averaged 24 yards per catch in two games against the Dolphins (five catches, 120 yards) with the Jets and has eight touchdown catches in 2011, tied for a career-high initially set with Pittsburgh in 2007. Holmes and fellow wideout Plaxico Burress are the only AFC wide receiver duo with at least eight scoring receptions apiece in 2011. Tight end Dustin Keller has career-bests in catches (58) and receiving yards (770) this season.
Dolphins outside linebacker Jason Taylor, who's announced his retirement following this game, has 16 1/2 career sacks against the Jets and inside linebacker Karlos Dansby has two sacks in his past two outings against New York. Outside linebacker Cameron Wake, meanwhile, aims for a third consecutive game with a sack this week. Up front, end Randy Starks has 32 tackles and 3 1/2 sacks on the season, while in the backfield, cornerback Sean Smith has amassed 56 tackles and two interceptions.
Statistically speaking, the Jets on offense are ninth in scoring (24.0 ppg), 27th in total yards (307.7 ypg), 21st in passing (203.5 ypg) and 22nd in rushing (104.2 ypg). On defense, the Dolphins are eighth in points allowed (19.7 ppg), 16th in total yards allowed (343.2 ypg), 26th against the pass (249.8 ypg) and third against the run (93.4 ypg).
WHEN THE DOLPHINS HAVE THE BALL
In three wins at home in 2011, the Dolphins are averaging 29.7 points per game, while quarterback Matt Moore has five touchdown throws with just one interception and a 98.2 passer rating in his last three games at Sun Life Stadium. Moore has also recorded eight touchdowns against three interceptions and a 93.8 rating against the AFC East in 2011. Bush (1086 rushing yards) leads the NFL with 519 rushing yards since Week 13 and reached the 1,000-yard mark for the first time in his career in last week's 27-24 loss at New England, He'll be aiming for a fifth consecutive game with 100-plus rushing yards after gaining 113 against the Patriots, and averaged 7.1 yards per carry in Miami's Week 6 loss to the Jets. Marshall (1177 receiving yards) needs 10 catches to reach 500 for his career and has reached 1,000 receiving yards in five consecutive seasons. In three games against the Jets while with Miami, he's averaged 97 receiving yards per game and has compiled 240 yards in his past two games.
Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis has four career interceptions against Miami, tied for his most against any opponent, while linebacker David Harris has two picks in his past two games. Outside linebacker Calvin Pace had two sacks in New York's earlier meeting against Miami, and nose tackle Sione Pouha leads the front line with 32 tackles, one sack and two fumble recoveries.
By the numbers, Miami is 21st in scoring (20.7 ppg), 19th in total offense (324.5 ypg), 22nd in passing (197.5 ypg) and 10th in rushing (127.0 ypg). On defense, New York is 22nd in points allowed (22.9 ppg), seventh in yards allowed (318.9 ypg), fifth against the pass (205.9 ypg) and 15th against the run (113.0 ypg).
KEYS TO THE GAME
Mark down. Sanchez has completed 60 percent of his passes just six times in 15 games this season, and just once since mid-November. His 59 pass attempts against the Giants were a career-high, leaving many to insist the Jets need to give him less responsibility and not more. Either way, he'll have to be on point for New York to keep its fading hopes alive.
U.S. Marshall. The former Denver wideout's seven catches against New England were his most since Week 8, while his 156 yards totaled in that game marked his first triple-digit effort since Week 11. Unless he catches nine passes, his total for the season will be his lowest as a full-time NFL starter, and his one-on-one matchup with the All-Pro Revis will be one to watch in this game.
Coaching up. Bowles, a New Jersey native, gets his third try at leading the Dolphins in a game situation. Though he's not considered a candidate for the full-time position, a win here would make him 2-1 with a strong performance against New England in a losing cause, and the Dolphins' performance hasn't dropped off since he took over.
The pendulum on Ryan has swung precipitously to the negative in the last two weeks as what appeared to be a locked-down playoff spot has turned into a last- weekend long shot. It's hard to fathom how the outspoken coach might reinvent himself if the slump continues, but it's also worth noting that each time he and his team have been pushed to the brink, they've rallied. Benefit of the doubt gives he and the Jets the nod again here.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Jets 17, Dolphins 16