New York Jets: Cam Newton

W2W4: New York Jets at Carolina Panthers

December, 13, 2013
It's Week 15 for the NFL. It's Elimination Week 1 for the New York Jets.

Holding the ninth position in the AFC playoff standings, the Jets (6-7) could be eliminated by the time they go to bed Monday night. A loss to the Carolina Panthers (9-4), coupled with a Baltimore Ravens victory over the Detroit Lions on Monday Night Football, means the Jets are done for 2013.

Who are we kidding? If they lose to the Panthers, it's pretty much over.

The Jets are capable of pulling a major upset -- see New England Patriots and New Orleans Saints -- but the difference with this game is that it's on the road. And the Jets stink on the road, which might be putting it kindly. They're 1-5 with a minus-14 turnover margin, the worst in the league and tied for the worst in franchise history. That encompasses a lot of bad football, so ponder that stat for a moment. Hey, maybe they can set a new mark with a shovel-pass interception. That would be fitting, considering the locale.

Kickoff is 4:05 p.m. ET at Bank of America Stadium. The top storylines:

1. Statement game for Rex: If Woody Johnson and John Idzik are undecided on coach Rex Ryan's future, they'd have to be impressed by a win over one of the best teams in the league, especially on the road. The Jets are an 11-point underdog (not that we pay attention to that sort of thing), and you don't see too many double-digit point spreads in the NFL. They received a confidence boost last week, beating the Oakland Raiders, but questions remain about the team's mental toughness on the road. The Jets tend to shrink at the first sign of adversity, which explains why they've been outscored in their last three road games, 105-26. For the sake of his own job security, Ryan needs a spirited effort.

[+] EnlargeGeno Smith
Jeff Zelevansky/Getty ImagesGeno Smith will face one of the toughest defenses in the NFL when the Jets play the Panthers.
2. I, Geno: Geno Smith offered a rather candid evaluation of his recent slump, saying he was playing like a robot. He played well last week, but this will be an entirely different, and tougher, challenge.

Unlike the Raiders, the Panthers (No. 2 in total defense) don't blitz much at all. They send five or more rushers on only 26 percent of the dropbacks, 27th in the league, per ESPN Stats. They create havoc with a four-man rush, dropping seven into coverage. It's a fast-flow, high-energy defense, led by MLB Luke Kuechly. Those play-action rollouts that worked against the Raiders probably won't succeed against the Panthers. Coordinator Marty Mornhinweg needs to come up with a new wrinkle, perhaps some misdirection to exploit the Panthers' aggressiveness. This is Smith's most daunting assignment of the year.

3. Loose lips: The Jets unwittingly provided bulletin-board for the Panthers -- as if they needed it. Santonio Holmes' "weakest link" comment about the Panthers' secondary was accurate, but ill-advised. All he did was make things harder for his rookie quarterback, who could bear the brunt of the consequences.

Rookie defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson didn't take any shots at the Panthers, but his remark about how he'd be the No. 1 overall pick in a re-draft is sure to raise eyebrowns in the Panthers' locker room. They, too, have a promising rookie defensive tackle, Star Lotulelei, who is battling Richardson and Buffalo Bills linebacker Kiko Alonso for NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year. Richardson and Lotulelei were drafted 13th and 14th, respectively. Richardson has been more productive, but Lotulelei could have a bigger game, especially if he's facing struggling rookie left guard Brian Winters.

4. Ivory tower: The Jets' best player on offense is running back Chris Ivory, who has rushed for 524 yards since Week 7 -- fourth in the AFC over that span. To pull off an upset, Ivory needs a big game. Unlike the Jets, who haven't faced the Panthers since 2009, Ivory is familiar with them from his NFC South days as a member of the Saints. His career average in four games is 5.7 yards per carry, including a 127-yard performance in the 2011 finale. But the Panthers' defense has improved a lot since then. They own the league's top-ranked run defense. In fact, they've allowed only one 100-yard rush and four rushing touchdowns since Week 14 of 2012. Starting running backs are averaging only 44 yards per game in that span. Good luck, Mr. Ivory.

5. Where's the D?: The Jets have allowed 836 total yards in the last two games, the highest back-to-back total in the Ryan era. This is no time for Ryan's defense to fade, but it looks like they're running out of gas. They've been vulnerable against the run, and they can expect a heavy dose from the rush-oriented Panthers. They have a well-balanced, if not explosive offense. The key is containing quarterback Cam Newton, who is making better decisions than in previous years. The Jets should be able to get plenty of licks; Newton has been hit (throwing, running, sacked) more than any quarterback in the league -- 122 times, per ESPN Stats. Obviously, it hasn't affected him too much. The Jets' beleaguered secondary will take a hit if Antonio Cromartie (concussion) can't play.

Green Day: Cam Newton is 'scary'

December, 13, 2013
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Rex Ryan once said Cam Newton can throw a strawberry through a battleship. He made that comment in 2011, shortly before Newton was drafted No. 1 overall by the Carolina Panthers. His opinion of the quarterback hasn't changed.

"This guy's a scary athlete," the New York Jets' coach said Thursday. "And when you meet him, he's scary because it's like, 'Oh, my gosh.' I just remember that when we were in the preseason. I'm like, 'Who's going to tackle that guy?' He's about as good looking an athlete at quarterback as I've ever seen, and he can throw. He's got a bazooka for an arm. The kid's just ridiculous. It's Calvin Pace back there."

In terms of size, he meant. Newton is 6-foot-5, 245 pounds. Pace is 6-foot-4, 265 pounds. But he's a linebacker.

If Ryan's gushing seems a bit excessive, it's probably because he's coming off a game in which his defense struggled at times against Matt McGloin of the Oakland Raiders. Matt McGloin! The undrafted rookie passed for 245 yards and made linebacker David Harris look silly with an open-field move on a long scramble. Now Ryan's defense has to deal with Newton, a more athletic version of Ben Roethlisberger.

Ryan has a right to be worried. Newton has the ability to sink the Jets' battleship.

ICYMI: For a change, Santonio Holmes was in a good mood Thursday, making an effort to give more than the usual short answers in his weekly Q & A with reporters. Then, out of the blue, he created a headline, saying the Panthers' secondary is the "weakest link" on their defense. He's right, but you shouldn't say that about your opponent, especially when all secondaries seem to cause problems for your team. ... CB Antonio Cromartie (concussion) said he's feeling better and hopes to play Sunday, but he still hasn't been cleared. If he can't play, he will be replaced by Ellis Lankster -- a surprising choice. Cromartie also admitted that he played last Sunday while feeling the effects of the concussion. ... Check out the Week 15 edition of "Gang Green Report."