After six seasons and two AFC championship games, Rex Ryan's final appearance on the sidelines for the New York Jets could be Sunday.
The Jets are expected to make sweeping changes following their Week 17 matchup with the Miami Dolphins.
Ryan took over as the Jets coach in 2009 and immediately captured success, winning 20 regular season games and reaching two AFC title games in his first two seasons. The honeymoon ended suddenly, though, as New York (3-12) fell to 8-8 the following season and has failed to secure a winning record in any of the three seasons since.
"These last couple seasons have been pretty tough, there's no doubt," Ryan said. "So, I'd say this one's probably a 'dog-year' season. We've only got three wins. At the same time, it feels like yesterday. So it's like, man, I'm still here with my guys and I enjoy coming to work. Like, every day I'm excited about presenting a game plan and doing different things and watching players grow. So that part of it has been great."
Ryan may end up taking the fall for the Jets' struggles, but roster-wise, New York has dealt with shortcomings across the board. The team's most notable flaw is in the passing game, where it ranks at the bottom of the NFL with an average of 170.4 yards.
Geno Smith has started the last four games after ceding the starting quarterback position to Michael Vick for all of November, but despite the benching, his production has yet to improve. Smith's 70.9 passer rating sits ahead of only Jacksonville's Blake Bortles (70.8) and Tampa Bay's Josh McCown (70.5) among qualifying quarterbacks.
"I think the toughest part about it is not being able to continue to play for the same coach, the same guy that you learned to love, you invest so much in, and you believe (in) them,'' Smith said of Ryan's possible departure. "To reset and re-adjust is a tough thing to do, but we are professionals and we have to do it.
"A change could be good for us all, so if it happens, when it happens, then we'll see."
The Jets are sixth in total defense with an average of 323.2 yards, but their scoring defense (25.1 points allowed per game) ranks 24th.
Miami (8-7) compares with the Jets both defensively (22.4 points and 333.3 yards allowed per game) and in terms of coaching volatility, although the latter was cleared up following last Sunday's 37-35 win over Minnesota when owner Steve Ross confirmed coach Joe Philbin will return in 2015.
"It's important for a head coach of a NFL football team that the owner believes in him, what he is doing and the program he is instilling," Philbin said. "It's very important. If you don't have that type of belief and faith from the owner it's not going to work.
"I know if players don't believe in their coaches and coaches don't believe in their players, you have no chance. ... But again, I've been in this profession a long time, I wasn't worried about my own personal future."
Miami's slim playoff hopes were put to rest last week after Pittsburgh beat Kansas City, but the Dolphins can still head into the offseason on a high note. A victory Sunday would mark the Dolphins' first winning season since 2008.
Philbin's return only adds to that momentum.
''That's exciting news for me, and I think everyone on the team,'' quarterback Ryan Tannehill said. ''We believe in coach Philbin and the program he has and everything he has set in place.''
Tannehill has proven to be a more-than-capable starting QB, posting quality numbers in his third season. He sits near the top of the league in completion percentage (67.0 percent) and in the top 15 in passing yards (252.4), touchdowns (26) and passer rating (93.2).
Against the Vikings, Tannehill completed 35-of-47 passes for 396 yards and four touchdowns.
Miami won its Week 13 matchup with the Jets 16-13, holding Smith to 65 yards passing. The Dolphins have topped New York in four of the last six matchups, but fell in the last meeting in Miami 20-7 on Dec. 29, 2013.