We haven't had a football Sunday like this in a long time.
Not only is first place on the line for both the Jets and Giants but they are playing their most-heated rivals on the same day.
With the Mets captivating the imagination of New York's baseball crowd, the Giants and Jets now have the chance to state their own cases for why this can turn into a meaningful season.
Jets-Patriots in Foxborough.
Giants-Cowboys at MetLife.
A chance for both to take a significant step and push the disappointments of the recent past into the more distant past.
The Jets appear more suited to conquering the Patriots than perhaps at any point since the early years of the Rex Ryan regime, when the coach took this city by storm and told us he didn't come here to kiss Bill Belichick's rings. Ryan's words became as hollow as his roster over the years, and his time had run its course with seven losses in his last eight games against Belichick.
The pendulum has swung in the opposite direction with Todd Bowles. He says nothing to antagonize the opponent, but coaches in a far more disciplined style than his predecessor and has gotten immediate results from his more demanding, more detail-oriented approach. It helps, too, that first-year general manager Mike Macccagnan did the smart thing by building a new and improved secondary in free agency, getting a big-time receiver in Brandon Marshall, and trading for a backup quarterback in Ryan Fitzpatrick who turned out to be a godsend after Geno Smith was punched out of the lineup.
The Giants are still struggling to find an identity early on, especially on a defense continuing to struggle in the absence of pass rusher Jason Pierre-Paul. But they still have Eli Manning, warts and all, and that still means they have a chance. Especially with the most talented receiver this franchise has ever known in Odell Beckham Jr.
By the early evening hours on Sunday, we'll know a lot more about where both teams stand. In the meantime, here's the blueprint for how they can both finish the day with at least a share of first place:
1. Get Tom Brady off his spot. Brady is off to a phenomenal start with 14 touchdown passes, one interception and a league-best 118.4 rating. He is the best pocket passer in today's game -- and in NFL history, for that matter - and he operates with the precision of a neurosurgeon when given adequate space and time behind center. But there is a way to disrupt his passing game, and that's by attacking him up the middle. It's how the Giants beat him twice in Super Bowls, and it's how the Jets need to approach their defensive mind-set. The interior of the Patriots' offensive line has been beset by injuries, and though the mostly inexperienced backups have done a credible job, the Jets can take advantage with stout players along the line that include Sheldon Richardson, Damon Harrison, Muhammad Wilkerson and rookie Leonard Williams. It's best not to have to blitz and thus take players away from coverage, but a smattering of extra-man rushes is fine, too.
2. Account for Gronk and Edelman. Brady's two favorite targets are All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski and plucky wide receiver Julian Edelman. Gronkowski is averaging exactly one touchdown catch for every career start (59) and has five in five games this season. He's going to get his catches. But if the Jets can limit the damage by providing "bracket coverage" (mostly a combination of a linebacker and defensive back to either side of him) and tight single coverage where necessary, they can at least contain Gronkowski's effectiveness. Darrelle Revis will likely be on Edelman in single coverage, and that should keep Edelman from burning the Jets. Remember, Revis knows plenty about Edelman after seeing him every day in practice last year when he was with New England. The real key in pass coverage is how Antonio Cromartie does against whoever he's covering, be it Edelman, Danny Amendola or Aaron Dobson. Brady will go after Cromartie because he's considered the weak link in the Jets' pass defense.
3. Pass to run: The offensive formula will be straightforward for the Jets, and that's to get the ball in the hands of bruising tailback Chris Ivory. But it's how the running game unfolds that will be of most interest. The suggestion here is for offensive coordinator Chan Gailey to come out throwing -- safe, medium-range passes to Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker, not "go routes" that run a greater risk of interception. If the pass game can click early, then it will prevent the Patriots from loading up against Ivory by placing an extra player in the tackle box if they know the run is coming. Ivory is the engine that makes the offense go, but it's how the Jets put that engine in motion that will be critical. Better to give Ivory some breathing room early by backing the defense off with some early passes from Fitzpatrick.
1. Get Beckham the ball. You and I had as many catches as Odell Beckham Jr. in the second half of Monday night's dreadful 27-7 loss to the Eagles: zero. He was targeted just once after being targeted seven times in the first half -- catching all seven passes. Offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo didn't really have a good explanation for why Beckham was virtually ignored in the second half, other than to say the team is constantly aware of how many targets each receiver gets in a given game. Well, it's time to throw the ball Beckham's way early and often . . . and late and often. Throw the ball his way, and chances are he's going to catch it. And even when he doesn't get there, the chance for a pass-interference call increases. He's the best offensive weapon the Giants have, and he needs to see the ball as often as possible, given the limitations his hamstring issues may create. Oh, and it would really help the offense if the other receivers and tight ends do their part; too often there have been disappointing stretches from players such as wide receiver Rueben Randle and tight end Larry Donnell. Consistency is a must from these guys.
2. Blitz Cassel. Matt Cassel makes the start for beleaguered Brandon Weeden, and team owner Jerry Jones says openly that he hopes Cassel can reinvigorate the long passing game. Well, if that's the case, then it means Cassel will need more time in the pocket to let the play develop. Which means the Giants need to get a pass rush on the quarterback to disrupt the passing game. Sacking the quarterback has been a major challenge for the Giants in the absence of Jason Pierre-Paul, so defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo will have to take some chances here. And if Damontre Moore wants to get himself back in the good graces of the coaches -- and Giants fans -- then he can do everyone a favor and rush Cassel without incurring a penalty along the way. Moore can actually be an effective weapon here, because the Cowboys' offensive line is so stout. Moore coming off the edge is actually a viable approach -- as long as he doesn't allow his sense of reckless abandon to turn into senseless penalties.
3. Take Witten out of the game. Giants fans are used to seeing ageless tight end Jason Witten dash their hopes; he scored the winning touchdown to put an end to the Giants' opening-game meltdown in Dallas, and he has sliced through the defense countless times before that. Covering Witten has always been a conundrum for the Giants' defense, and he always seems to take advantage of the seam route 20 or so yards up the field. But Spagnuolo is a clever coordinator, and he'll need to find ways to keep Witten under wraps. Linebacker J.T. Thomas might be a good alternative in some situations, and there's nothing wrong with double-covering Witten in some spots. Whatever the case, the Giants can't let him be the playmaker, especially on third downs and inside the red zone, for a quarterback who has viewed the tight end as a primary target throughout his career. Take that option away from Cassel, and you'll be ahead of the game.
Good luck, gentlemen. The fate of a special Sunday of New York football is in your hands.