NFL Preview - N.Y. Jets (2-11) at Tennessee (2-11)
By Lyle Fitzsimmons, Contributing NFL Editor
(SportsNetwork.com) - At last, the New York Jets can be picked on someone sharing a similarly mediocre win-loss size.
The Tennessee Titans will host the visiting Jets this weekend in the NFL's lone Week 15 battle of 2-11 teams, and, as unlikely as it may sound, matchups actually dictate that Rex Ryan and Co. could be in for a rare bout with success.
New York is second in the league with an average per-week rate of 149.7 rushing yards, which presumably would mean prosperity against the Titans, whose average of 141.5 rush yards allowed is worst among the league's 32 teams. That number rises to 173.0 when only counting Tennessee's six home games, which goes a long way toward explaining the team's lowly 1-5 home record.
Tennessee, in fact, has lost seven games in a row by an average of 15 points, which is the franchise's longest drought since the Houston Oilers dropped 11 consecutive games in 1994. Last week, the Titans were brutalized, 36-7, by the Jets' fellow northern New Jersey swamp-dwellers, the New York Giants.
The Giants racked up 402 total yards to Tennessee's 207, and the Titans converted two of 13 third downs, to the predictable post-game chagrin of their players and coaches.
"It's disappointing," tight end Delanie Walker said. "We've only won two games, and we're still playing the same way. We always say we're going to change, and nothing changes."
Well, almost nothing.
The arrival of the Jets will also signal the return of former starting quarterback Jake Locker, who's all but guaranteed that role this weekend thanks to the doubtful status of recent incumbent Zach Mettenberger - who re- dinged a sprained shoulder when he was sacked for a fifth time last week.
Mettenberger had an 86.7 passer rating in six starts, and while Tennessee coach Ken Whisenhunt insisted he wouldn't rule the youngster out until "I know for sure he can't go," he did assess the scenario for Locker, whose 71.1 passer rating is better than just one NFL starter - New York's Geno Smith.
Locker was 9-of-11 for 81 yards and an interception as a reliever against the Giants.
"It's an opportunity to play. Jake wants that," Whisenhunt said.
"(He just needs to) prepare the best he can and do the best job he can. I think that's the way he'll look at it. He's a good pro. He's been in a tough situation, coming in like that. He did some good things (Sunday). He moved around in the pocket well, ran with the ball a couple of times. On the one interception, he was trying to make a play at the end of the game."
Meanwhile, the Jets have lost nine straight games in which the aforementioned Smith has started, including a 30-24 overtime decision last week in Minnesota, in which Smith's first pass was intercepted and returned for a touchdown. He finished with 18 completions in 29 attempts for 254 yards.
In his second year as a pro, his touchdown-to-interception ratio of 0.67 remains second-worst in the
NFL, but that didn't stop him this week from telling New York's Newsday publication that he'd "shown flashes of being a Pro Bowl quarterback."
"I feel like I have the tools and I have what it takes to be that, but, obviously, it takes some consistency and I've been very inconsistent in my two years here. With that being said, I'll be more of the guy you see doing well than the guy who struggles at times."
It may not help his cause this week that his favorite new target - in-season trade acquisition Percy Harvin - is doubtful with an ankle injury suffered against the Vikings. On the other side, defensive tackle Muhammad Wilkerson is questionable after he missed last week's game with a toe injury.
Among the Jets who do figure to play, the game marks a return to old stomping grounds for running back Chris Johnson, who signed with New York as a free agent after spending his first six NFL years with the Titans. He ran for 7,965 yards and 50 touchdowns with Tennessee, placing him third in franchise history in both categories.
In 13 games with New York, he's run for 558 yards and is averaging 4.5 yards per rush.
"Going to the visitor's locking room, it's going to be kind of weird," he said. "It's definitely harder than what I expected, but it's a situation where a lot of times stuff is out of your hands that you can't control, so I just try to take advantage of every opportunity I get."
Johnson's lone 100-yard game of the season came in Week 13 against Miami, when he went for 105 on 17 carries. Last week against Minnesota, he had 16 carries for 53 yards.
"If you give him an opportunity to hit the home run, he can do it," Tennessee defensive back Michael Griffin said. "We have our work cut out for us. He's going to be geared up and ready to play and looking to prove to us and the organization it was mistake to let him go."
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
A Day in McCourty
Take Smith's lingering tendency to throw the ball to the wrong team and add in the fact that he'll probably be without his favorite receiving option - Harvin - and it could spell trouble. Tennessee cornerback Jason McCourty has three interceptions, two forced fumbles and 10 pass deflections through 13 games, often while blanketing the opposing team's best receiver.
Return to Glory?
Conversely, the presumed return of Locker to the Titans' starting quarterback position gives the fourth-year pro - a No. 8 overall draft selection in 2011 - a chance to be the latest passer to victimize the Jets' faulty secondary. New York has allowed 29 passing touchdowns in 14 games (second-worst in the league) and is 29th in the league when it comes to interceptions.
The Jets haven't gotten to 2-11 without finding ways to lose games that they presumably ought to win.
And while they may have indeed found their counterpart in mediocrity against the Titans, the reality remains that they're a road team with a 0-6 record on the road. Though it would hardly be a surprise to see them piece together a victory, instead expect a battle of field goals that goes late to the home side.
Sports Network predicted outcome: Titans 13, Jets 9
12/14 09:34:50 ET