On July 31, I made what will surely be the single most entertaining bet of my NFL season, a down-to-the-wire nail-biter that this Sunday is manifested in either total glory or unspeakable defeat:
Who on Earth would be the starting quarterbacks for Jets at Browns in Week 5?
The teams, which have been the poster children for “problems behind center” in recent seasons (OK, recent decades), will each presumably field a passer during the Sunday game. The identity of those individuals was a mystery in late July. For the Browns — historically, the kind of quarterback trash fire that other trash fires look at and say, “Oh, God, the smell” — there were five possibilities in July: Brock Osweiler, Kevin Hogan, Cody Kessler, rookie DeShone Kizer and “other.” For the Jets, who had parted ways with Ryan Fitzpatrick earlier that year, the options were considerably slimmer: Josh McCown, Bryce Petty, second-year clipboard holder Christian Hackenberg and, of course, “other.”
So here was the bet between me and internet friend Red Scott of Bunker Politics. He gave himself even-money odds that he could guess the starting quarterback combo for New York at Cleveland in four tries. I would take the rest of the field. Here’s what he ended up picking:
The logic was sound for Scott: Kessler/McCown as the most obvious case, the Browns starter last year up against the least bad Jets passer; Kessler/Hackenberg if the Jets were aggressively tanking; Kizer/McCown if the Jets had back-tracked on tanking and the Browns were attempting to invest in their future; and Kizer/Hackenberg if both teams were racing to the bottom for Southern Cal’s Sam Darnold, the presumed No. 1 pick at the time.
To the untrained eye, Brock Osweiler going into the season could be the guy: He started the first two preseason games, had been a starting quarterback in two cities and even signed a baffling $72 million contract. To the trained — by which I mean open — eye, Osweiler is an awful quarterback, now riding the bench behind Trevor Siemian in Denver after failing to make the 53-man roster in Cleveland. Hogan, meanwhile, emerged as the sleeper candidate by earning the backup role ahead of incumbent Kessler, giving me some brief hope. But the Browns have fully committed to their rookie Kizer in the past four weeks — undeterred by the lowest QBR in the NFL.
For the Jets, it’s been a far weirder ride. They are a team that cannot choose between tanking for Darnold (or Josh Rosen … or Mason Rudolph) and winning enough games to ensure that they do not obtain him. Bryce Petty remains inexplicably in the mix. Hackenberg obtained the No. 2 spot and then promptly lost it. For those questioning the logic of the “other” column, the Jets kicked Jay Cutler’s tires when he was a free agent. And yet, the mediocrity of McCown has helped the Jets win two whole games, all but ensuring that the Jets will not be able to draft a reliable replacement for him next year.
All good teams are good for the same reasons, but all bad teams fail for different ones. It’s looking increasingly likely that I’ll owe Red [checks book] several beers. But good God, was the roller coaster worth it: Nothing quite like skin in the game to make the Jet’s inability to tank correctly entertaining.