TODAY'S PAPER

New York Jets can enter bye at .500 with win at Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Time for a little self-reflection: Who thought the 2017 New York Jets would be staring at a very winnable road game ahead of their bye that could put them at .500 through 10 weeks?

Nobody, that’s who.

That’s the scenario for Gang Green entering Sunday’s game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, a favorite to win the NFC South whose season looks to be lost.

advertisement

The Jets (4-5) cannot take the Bucs (2-6) lightly, but here are three reasons to feel good ahead of the weekend matchup in West Florida.

Remember him?

Muhammad Wilkerson went without a sack in 2017 before registering one in each of his past two games.

The Bucs’ offense is in dire straits right now.

Franchise quarterback Jameis Winston has underperformed this year, but he won’t even be in the huddle Sunday due to shoulder issues. Instead, Ryan Fitzpatrick gets the start against the same Jets team he quarterbacked for most of the previous two seasons. If he’s anything like he was by the end of 2016, that’s great news for the Jets.

Fitzpatrick won’t have Tampa Bay’s top receiver, Mike Evans, as an option. The standout wideout is serving a one-game suspension. Tight end Cameron Brate and receiver DeSean Jackson are no slouches, but the Bucs won’t intimidate the Jets’ secondary one bit.

Aerial assault

Jets quarterback Josh McCown must be licking his chops knowing he gets to face Tampa Bay’s secondary, which is among the most vulnerable in the league.

advertisement

McCown already has posted a completion percentage of 70 or better five times, and a sixth is viable against Bucs team that surrenders completions on 69 percent of throws — third-worst in the NFL. Their defense also is tied for fourth-worst yards per pass attempt.

Factor in Tampa’s league-worst sack total (eight) and there’s reason to think McCown could be in for a big day against one of his many former teams.

Wilkerson’s awakening

Don’t look now, but defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson may finally be coming out of 1 1⁄2-year funk.

The well-paid D-lineman has registered sacks in consecutive games, his first two of the season. He’s been in on eight tackles overall, with a season-best four solo tackles in Week 8.

While the Bucs’ offensive line is solid, the thought of Wilkerson and his broken toe — according to general manager Mike Maccagnan — doing damage in the backfield isn’t as absurd as it seemed just three weeks ago.