We’ve seen the Giants and Jets on different trajectories in any given season, with one team up, the other down . . . with both teams up, both teams down . . . and even with both teams in a position where the delectable possibility of the first New York-New York Super Bowl is not all that far-fetched.
We’ve never seen anything like this.
Oh, it’s a case of Giants up, Jets down, but the disparity has never been this great, the gulf never as wide between the two teams. Never.
The Giants are a legitimate Super Bowl contender, with a defense that might end up being the best in the NFL, with a quarterback who has two championship runs on his resume and some new and important skill position players around him, and with a genuine sense of optimism that only a handful of teams truly deserve.
The Jets? They are a stripped-down version of an NFL team, a roster filled with mostly inexperienced players after a stunning offseason purge that claimed just about every high-priced veteran — and even some young ones. Darrelle Revis, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Brandon Marshall, Sheldon Richardson, Breno Giacomini, Eric Decker, David Harris, Calvin Pryor, Marcus Gilchrist. All of them gone in a sweeping overhaul the likes of which we have never seen.
What’s left is a team that, as currently constituted, might not win four games. Which is precisely the point.
With the focus placed squarely on the future, less is more when it comes to 2017.
The less-often they win, the more enhanced their chances to gain a huge tactical advantage in next year’s draft. And if the bottom truly falls out? Well, the Jets get their wish and get in position to select one of the handful of potential franchise quarterbacks in 2018.
That includes USC star Sam Darnold and UCLA’s Josh Rosen, who is fresh off an epic comeback over Texas A&M in which he rallied the Bruins from 34-point third-quarter deficit to a 45-44 win. In a twisted sort of way, Rosen’s 35-for-59, 491-yard, four-touchdown performance was a Super Bowl for Jets fans anticipating the second coming of Joe Namath. After all, if the expected nightmare of 2017 is to have an eventual payoff, it will be in the form of a future franchise quarterback.
But getting from here to there would be a torturous exercise that will strain the patience of even the most loyal Jets fans. It’s one thing to dream of drafting a quarterback savior, it’s another thing trudging through a season of losing — a potentially epic losing season — to be positioned at the top of next year’s draft.
It is thus the most ambitious rebuilding project in franchise history, with team owner Woody Johnson and GM Mike Maccagnan tearing down almost every last vestige of last year’s 5-11 team and building from the ground up. With one notable exception: 38-year-old quarterback Josh McCown will be the bridge to the future, a placeholder for whoever takes over the position down the road. It likely won’t be Christian Hackenberg, last year’s second-round pick who didn’t make a serious challenge for the starting job during the preseason.
Despite the rebuild, there is some promising talent around which to work. Defensive end Leonard Williams is a rising star, and veteran defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson seems poised for a big year. Rookie safeties Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye are already starters, and linebacker Darron Lee is ready to take an important step forward in Year 2. They are all part of the solution — a solution that nevertheless will take several more years to fully construct.
The Giants, meanwhile, are in as much of a win-now situation as ever. Even when they won their two most recent Super Bowl titles after the 2007 and 2011 seasons, they didn’t go into those years with as much optimism as this season.
Eli Manning is 36 and coming off a down year, but GM Jerry Reese helped his veteran quarterback by signing Marshall and tight end Rhett Ellison, and drafting tight end Evan Engram. Odell Beckham Jr. hopes his fourth season is his best — especially if it means a massive contract down the road.
But it’s the defense that might be the biggest collective star of this year’s team. With bookend pass rushers Jason Pierre-Paul and Olivier Vernon, with star defensive tackle Damon Harrison and potential Defensive Player of the Year Landon Collins coming off a dominating season and with terrific veteran cornerbacks Janoris Jenkins and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, this can be a truly special group for defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo.
Maybe as special as the defense that Spagnuolo oversaw in Super Bowl XLII.
Welcome to New York football dichotomy of 2017, where it’s one team up and the other down.