The New York Jets almost turned their midseason report card into an obituary.
For the first month, they were one of the biggest underachievers in the NFL, starting 2-3 and coming perilously close to irrelevancy. But everything changed direction -- literally and figuratively -- with Darrelle Revis' 100-yard interception return in the Week 6 win over the Miami Dolphins.
It fueled a three-game winning streak, and here they are, in a three-way tie for first place in the AFC East, preparing for their yearly Armageddon with the New England Patriots.
The three-game losing streak is a faint memory. The locker-room sniping has quieted. The Jets (5-3) are relatively healthy and improving in key areas, positioned nicely for a second-half run. They have a favorable schedule, as only three of their remaining eight opponents own a winning record --and not one of those teams has a top-10 defense.
Let's face it, the watered-down AFC is wide open. If the Jets can go 6-2 in the second half, starting with a win over the Patriots, they probably will land that long-coveted home playoff game. Four weeks ago, it also looked like they'd be home for the playoffs.
Home on their couch.
Jets' midseason awards
Offensive MVP: C Nick Mangold. Yeah, a lineman. They're 5-1 with him, 0-2 without him.
Defensive MVP: CB Darrelle Revis. You could argue he belongs in the league-MVP conversation.
Special teams MVP: KR Joe McKnight. From barfing rookie to dynamic playmaker.
Most improved: CB Kyle Wilson. After a rough rookie year, the former No. 1 pick is playing like one.
Least improved: RT Vladimir Ducasse. We're still waiting for something good to happen.
Biggest surprise: LB Aaron Maybin. Fired twice, including once by the Jets. Now the co-leader in sacks.
Biggest disappointment: WR Derrick Mason. Ryan predicted 90 catches; swing and a miss.
Best rookie: WR/PR Jeremy Kerley. Emergence of fifth-round pick allowed them to dump Mason.
Best offseason acquisition: WR Plaxico Burress. Not much competition here, but give the man his props.
Worst offseason acquisition: Mason. The "winner" in two dubious categories, unprecedented.
Best-kept secret: LB Nick Bellore. Undrafted rookie leads in special-teams tackles.
Best coaching move: Realizing the team couldn't succeed with a passing mentality on offense.
Worst coaching move: Juggling the offensive line in the middle of the Baltimore debacle.
Biggest concern: Lack of depth. They're thin at wide receiver, O-line and linebacker.
Key to the second half: The running game. When Ground & Pound is working, everything is cool.
Game to watch: This Sunday night against the Patriots. It doesn't get bigger in November.
Jets will win the division if: The defense continues its recent play. Finally, shades of '09 and '10.
Only way they miss the playoffs: If they lose two of the next three, all AFC games, they're in trouble.
Player ready to emerge: McKnight. On offense, we mean. Coaches want to get him more touches.
Least likely to return in 2012: QB Mark Brunell. Retirement beckons -- and financial issues.