FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- It's Nov. 10, and the New York Jets are two days away from playing an important football game. How many people expected that in August, when they were being called the worst outfit in the NFL?
That was then. Expectations have grown, and now the Jets -- a surprising 4-5 -- are in position to jump back into the wild-card race. They've taken their skeptical fan base on a little joy ride, raising hopes while destroying the "Suck for Sam" campaign.
If they beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday, the Jets will be .500 at their bye week, staring at two straight home games.
"I think it’s huge because it leaves everything out in front of us," said quarterback Josh McCown, describing what a win would mean.
You're about to find out if the Jets are legitimate contenders or just a rebuilding team not quite ready for the big stage. They should beat the dysfunctional Bucs (2-6), losers of five straight, but this screams "Trap game!" If Bill Parcells were the coach, he'd have mouse traps hanging in the locker room. Yeah, he did that on at least one occasion.
Everything seems to be in the Jets' favor, precisely the reason why it's a dangerous spot. That's how the NFL works these days, in case you haven't noticed.
Think about the state of the two teams:
McCown is playing the best ball of his career. The Bucs? With Jameis Winston (shoulder) sidelined, they will dust off Ryan Fitzpatrick, who hasn't started a game since last Jan. 1 ... when he led the Jets to a forgettable and meaningless win over the Buffalo Bills.
"This guy is very crafty," said Jets defensive coordinator Kacy Rodgers, who sounded like he was talking about the proverbial blind date with the great personality.
The Jets are coming off a mini-bye, which means they're well-rested. The Bucs are coming off a beatdown in New Orleans.
The Bucs won't have their top weapon, Pro Bowl wide receiver Mike Evans, who must serve a one-game suspension for a cheap shot.
The Bucs are dealing with different forms of adversity, ranging from Evans' behavior to Winston's leadership to the overall underachievement of the team. The biggest controversy surrounding the Jets is whether the offense is jealous of the dancing defense -- unless you count Jeremy Kerley's suspension for performance-enhancing drugs, but that's just a blip on the radar.
The Jets have been soaking up the adulation in the aftermath of last week's prime-time rout of the Buffalo Bills, but as general manager Mike Maccagnan noted a few times this week in his sitdown with reporters, "We're still only 4-5."
It's the theme at One Jets Drive. They're in no position to celebrate, yet they still have a chance to stay in the race. By 4 p.m. Sunday, they should be 5-5.
Which is why there's reason to worry.