Broncos, Jets seem destined to collide Parcells lifts N.Y. into position to take serious run at champs

December 18, 1998|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

It took 15 weeks to prove the Denver Broncos were vulnerable.

It took 30 games for Bill Parcells to prove the New York Jets have shaken their mediocre past.

Plot these two points on a graph and they intersect in Week 15. On the same day the Broncos discovered they could be beaten, the Jets arrived as one of the NFL's elite teams.

Last Sunday was a day to remember, both for Denver's 20-16 loss to the New York Giants and the Jets' 21-16 win over the Miami Dolphins.

Because if there is a team in the AFC capable of knocking off the defending Super Bowl-champion Broncos in the coming playoffs, appears to be the Jets, warts and all.

Warts?

The Jets have lost to the Ravens, St. Louis Rams and Indianapolis Colts this season -- three teams with a combined 12-30 record.

If the Jets had handled those underdogs, they'd be 13-1 -- the same record as the Broncos.

Elite team?

Since New York lost to the Rams in Week 6, it has won eight of nine games to climb steadily in the AFC East. Sunday's win in Miami gave the Jets sole possession of first place at 10-4 and assured them of a playoff berth.

If they beat the Buffalo Bills tomorrow on the road, they will win their first division title since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970 and secure a first-round bye in the postseason.

Two years after the Jets went 1-15 under Rich Kotite, they are on the verge of locking up the No. 2 seed in the AFC playoffs.

That perch previously belonged to the Jacksonville Jaguars, now working on their third quarterback in as many weeks.

The Jets have beaten six teams that currently have a winning record, best in the league. Only Buffalo (four), and Denver, New England and Minnesota (three apiece) come close.

Parcells, the fix-it man who constructed Super Bowl teams with the Giants and New England Patriots, has followed a precise, predictable pattern in the two years he's directed the Jets in their turnaround.

Cleaning house was the first phase. Only 17 players from the pre-Parcells era remain on the active roster. Twenty-four players are new to the team this season. But not all of them are new to Parcells.

When former Towson University standout Dave Meggett joined the Jets this week to return kicks, it raised to nine the number of players on the team who had played at previous stops under Parcells.

Perhaps more remarkably, though, Parcells struck the mother lode in the free-agent market.

He committed big money ($36 million over six years) and two draft picks to entice running back Curtis Martin to leave the Patriots.

He also stabilized a leaky offensive line with center Kevin Mawae and guard Todd Burger. And he brought in linebacker Pepper Johnson and fullback Keith Byars for leadership and locker room chemistry.

And he plucked former Ravens quarterback Vinny Testaverde off the discard pile as insurance that unproven Glenn Foley could do the job. Foley couldn't, but Testaverde did.

On top of all that, Parcells and his staff have done an excellent job covering up deficiencies.

Now, the Jets are going to the playoffs -- and maybe Denver for the AFC championship game -- because Parcells was able to prove his point. Again.

This is how the final two weeks of the regular season look for those teams still trying to sew up a playoff spot.

AFC

Jacksonville (10-4)

Momentum: The Jaguars are 2-2 in their last four games.

Critical loss: Last week's 16-13 loss at home to Tennessee kept the Jaguars from clinching the division title.

Games left: At Minnesota, vs. Pittsburgh.

Skinny: Playing with third-string quarterback Jonathan Quinn, the Jaguars are at a severe disadvantage until Mark Brunell returns.

Buffalo (9-5)

Momentum: Won four of its last five, 9 of 11.

Critical loss: The Bills would share the East lead if not for the controversial, 25-21 loss in New England in Week 13.

Games left: Vs. Jets, at New Orleans.

Skinny: Tomorrow's game can make or break the Bills.

Miami (9-5)

Momentum: The Dolphins are 2-2 in their last four games.

Critical loss: Sunday's 21-16 loss to the Jets at home cost them a share of first place.

Games left: Vs. Denver, at Atlanta.

Skinny: Their defense is good enough, but the offense is wanting.

New England (8-6)

Momentum: Won three of their last four.

Critical loss: Starting with a 24-14 loss at home to the Jets in Week 7, the Patriots dropped 4 of 5.

Games left: Vs. San Francisco, at the Jets.

Skinny: Backup quarterback Scott Zolak faces a must-win start this week.

Tennessee (8-6)

Momentum: Won five of the last seven.

Critical loss: A 23-20 loss to Chicago at home in Week 8.

Games left: At Green Bay, vs. Minnesota.

Skinny: If the Oilers win the last two, they deserve to go.

Pittsburgh (7-7)

Momentum: Lost three in a row.

Critical loss: The Steelers had a 14-13 lead over Tennessee with : 03 left in Week 11 and lost, 23-14.

Games left: Vs. Cincinnati, at Jacksonville.

Skinny: They get the reeling Bengals and a rookie quarterback the next two weeks.

Oakland (7-7)

Momentum: Lost four in a row.

Critical loss: A 13-10 setback in Baltimore in Week 10 started a slide.

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