By Jason Keidel
You can see why the Big Apple bewilders the world. We boast about two local NFL clubs, yet both play in New Jersey. We also told you one of our teams would contend for a playoff spot, while the other could go 0-16.
We were right. We just had it backwards.
Indeed, Giants (0-5) are dead in the Hackensack River, while the Jets (3-2) are part of a three-team logjam atop the AFC East.
Many writers — including yours truly — not only wondered when the Jets would win one game, but also figured they’d challenge the 1992 Seahawks for the most inept offense in league history. (Seattle averaged fewer than 10 points per game in ’92.) After an 0-2 start, Gang Green has won three straight, flipping football orthodoxy on its head.
Sure, the Jets have a negative point differential, outscored 106 to 92. Their leading rusher, Bilal Powell, only has 240 yards. But the Jets are at least in the top half of the league in rushing, with 111.4 yards per game. And their modest, two-headed attack of Powell and Elijah McGuire averages 4.7 and 5.2 yards per carry, respectively.
It’s a shame the Jets can’t toss the pigskin, as the Pats trot out an astonishingly bad passing defense, yielding a league-worst 323 yards per game through the air. But the Jets should find some running room, as New England also surrenders an average of 124.4 yards on the ground, 24th in the NFL.
Speaking of the unexpected, who saw the Patriots losing twice in five games? Or losing both at home?
As always, their Tom Brady-led offense can move the ball at will. And they could feast on the Jets, who have yielded 143 yards per game on the ground, 30th in the league. Not surprisingly, Brady leads the NFL in passing, at 320.4 yards per game, and will surely find soft spots in the Jets 12th-ranked pass defense (211 YPG), especially if Rob Gronkowski plays.
Their gifted import, Brandin Cooks, hasn’t quite had the on-field mind-meld with Brady that we all expected. Yet even with the loss of Julian Edelman, the valued slot receiver and Wes Welker clone, the Pats will put up copious points and win them double-digit games. It’s their appalling defense that could sidetrack their standard run to the Super Bowl.
Not to wax too romantic on the Jets, but it’s impossible to overstate how historically bad most thought they would be. The summer was spent wondering not about their playoff push, but rather whom of the trinity of coveted college QBs would spend his pro career in NYC.
We also had coach Todd Bowles squirming on the hot seat. The NFL is renowned for its “Black Monday” after the regular season, the Corleone-style whacking of a handful of head coaches. And we were sure that Bowles, despite the dearth of talent at his disposal, would be a top candidate for the corporate bloodletting.
But as surreal as it sounds, Bowles is arguably a Coach of the Year candidate. No NFL coach entered this season with a roster more bereft of star power than Gang Green’s head coach. Not that we use video games as a main metric for judging NFL franchises, but it said something that the Jets didn’t have a single player who rated above an 86 on Madden NFL ’18. Yet here they are, at least at the moment, with a share of first place.
Sunday’s game is at the Meadowlands, which is technically a home game for the Jets, until you spend five minutes at Secaucus Junction — the portal through which all train passengers must pass to reach MetLife Stadium — and see all those Brady jerseys. As if the Jets don’t already have a crisis of confidence, they’ve never even had their own building.
But it hasn’t been all follies and Butt Fumbles. Even after a 45-3 Patriots drubbing in 2010, the Jets came back to Gillette Stadium that year and shocked the Pats in the playoffs, back when Rex Ryan was making his yearly Super Bowl assertions. Maybe the Jets are 2-5 over their last seven contests, but both wins came at MetLife, in overtime. And while the Pats won the Super Bowl last year, while the Jets were typically terrible, they did play the Pats tough at home, losing 22-17 on November 27.
In a young season of odd contours, we knew the Pats would be in first place, we just didn’t expect them to have two partners, or that one of them would be the New York Jets, or that the Jets would be the one entering the game with a three-game winning streak. A fourth straight Jets win would leave the Pats in a peculiar place — second place — and (Gang) Green with envy.
Jason writes a weekly column for CBS Local Sports. He is a native New Yorker, sans the elitist sensibilities, and believes there’s a world west of the Hudson River. A Yankees devotee and Steelers groupie, he has been scouring the forest of fertile NYC sports sections since the 1970s. He has written over 500 columns for WFAN/CBS NY, and also worked as a freelance writer for Sports Illustrated and Newsday subsidiary amNew York. He made his bones as a boxing writer, occasionally covering fights in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, but mostly inside Madison Square Garden. Follow him on Twitter @JasonKeidel.