Jeff Cumberland celebrates his touchdown with Clyde Gates and Jeremy...

Jeff Cumberland celebrates his touchdown with Clyde Gates and Jeremy Kerley during the first half of a game against the Atlanta Falcons. (Oct. 7, 2013) Credit: AP

For one team, the prognosis was gloom-and-doom: a long and painful season ahead with very few wins, plenty of disappointments, a struggling quarterback and the coach's future looking grim.

For the other, the future looked remarkably bright: a potential division championship, a solid roster with a big-time quarterback, the coach's fate secure -- and realistic talk about being the first team to play a Super Bowl in its home stadium.

As it turns out, that's exactly the scenario that has materialized.

With one notable -- OK, we'll call it massive -- exception: We got the teams mixed up.

The Jets were the ones coming into the season with zero expectations -- at least positive expectations -- and the Giants, winners of two Super Bowls in a five-year span, appeared ready for another run if the circumstances fell right.

Hasn't quite turned out that way, has it?

The 3-2 Jets are the team whose future looks brightest -- and Tom Coughlin's 0-6 Giants are the ones with all the problems everyone expected Rex Ryan to have.

In a league that routinely produces surprise teams every year, the two biggest ones play here.

No one outside the Jets' locker room could have expected this kind of start, especially after all the drama of the offseason and preseason, capped by what turned out to be Mark Sanchez's season-ending shoulder injury against the Giants in the third preseason game.

The chaos that ensued, and the well-deserved criticism Ryan and the Jets absorbed for putting Sanchez in harm's way, looked as if it would be another sad chapter in the book of failure the Jets have written since winning Super Bowl III after the 1968 season.

Ryan seemed finished, for sure, and with rookie Geno Smith not looking ready to handle the starter's role, the Jets appeared headed for a long year.

Funny how reality changes perception. The Jets started off with a dramatic comeback win over the Bucs, nearly pulled off a road win in New England and then got to 3-2 with Monday's brilliant performance by Smith in a comeback win over the Falcons in Atlanta.

And here they are, at home on Sunday against the winless Steelers with a chance to set up a return engagement against the Patriots in which first place in the AFC East is on the line. If the Jets beat the Steelers and New England loses at home to the 5-0 Saints, then next week's Jets-Pats game at MetLife Stadium will be for the divisional lead just before the halfway mark.

I'm not sure anyone expected the Jets to get to four wins for the entire season, much less the first six games. But with Smith playing this well -- he won AFC Offensive Player of the Week honors for his efforts against the Falcons -- with a solid running game featuring three capable backs in Bilal Powell, Chris Ivory and Mike Goodson, and with a defense that has been nothing short of terrific, the Jets are in extraordinarily good shape right now.

And that's without former All-Pro cornerback Darrelle Revis, whose trade led to the Jets drafting rookie sensation Sheldon Richardson.

Yes, things can and do change in the NFL, and there are no assurances moving forward. Certainly not with a rookie quarterback. But 3-2 with high hopes for the immediate future certainly beats the alternative.

It certainly beats 0-6, a nightmare record no one could have foreseen. Especially for a team that seemed to have a solid nucleus of quality players, starting with quarterback Eli Manning and including defensive linemen Jason Pierre-Paul and Justin Tuck and wide receivers Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks.

But Manning is having by far the worst season of his career. He already has 15 interceptions and is on pace to finish with 40, two short of the NFL record for most picks in a season.

And the Giants' defense has been an embarrassment so far, allowing at least 31 points in each of the first five games and routinely allowing teams to roll up huge yardage and big plays week after week.

Coughlin, who might end up in the Hall of Fame for his brilliant work with the Giants, is at his wit's end trying to figure things out. And already there are murmurs about what lies ahead for the 67-year-old coach.

The only sliver of hope is the fact that the Cowboys and Eagles lead the division with only two wins apiece, so there is at least mathematical hope ahead. But there will be realistic hope only if the Giants start playing better and if Manning stops throwing interceptions.

Two teams, one stadium and two gigantic surprises between them.

For once, the Jets are on the right side of that scenario.


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