The Center Of The Football Universe Is … New York? (Is That Right?)
maya (Maya Sweedler, copy editor): I have a confession: I’ve been checking every spinning top I’ve come across these last few weeks, just to make sure we’re not in some sort of “Inception” situation, because guys: All of New York’s football teams might be … good?
Coming into the season, FiveThirtyEight’s model had the Buffalo Bills as our Super Bowl favorites, but neither of their downstate neighbors had higher than a 28 percent chance of making the playoffs.
Well, that’s changed. Through six weeks of play, New York’s Bills, Giants and Jets are a combined 14-4. Our forecast has the Giants more likely than not to make the playoffs, and while the Jets still have fairly low odds at just 37 percent, I have a feeling there are some folks here today who might take issue with that. We’re going to talk about the other upsets from Sunday’s action, but let’s start with the Jets and Giants. After putting a lid on Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers in a 27-10 win at Lambeau Field, how are we feeling about the Jets as a potential wild-card team?
neil (Neil Paine, acting sports editor): As exciting as this is for the Jets, I think they still have a ways to go. Their passing offense still does not scream “playoff contender” to me — Zach Wilson just sort of stayed out of the way of screwing things up (10-for-18, 110 yards, 0 TDs and 0 INTs) against the Packers. And they play the fourth-toughest remaining schedule by Elo.
Salfino (Michael Salfino, FiveThirtyEight contributor): Wilson was very bad yesterday IMO, except for that first TD drive and maybe a couple of other plays. So they’re not ready. Well, the team is ready. Wilson is not. I think this is an 8-to-9 win team. But there is a chance the Jets figure out how to generate a passing game suddenly and dramatically, like they figured out how to play defense in the past three weeks (second-lowest expected points added allowed per play) after being TERRIBLE the first three weeks.
joshua.hermsmeyer (Josh Hermsmeyer, NFL analyst): I agree with both Neil and Mike. (Weird!) The Jets are on the wrong side of average in passing performance to be taken seriously as a playoff team.
maya: Fascinating to see the team closest to the Jets in that scatter. 👀
joshua.hermsmeyer: Look at the Atlanta Falcons, too.
Salfino: The Jets are also top 10 in both pass block win rate and run block win rate the past three weeks. I’m sort of throwing out the Joe Flacco games, which were also accompanied by multiple offensive line injuries.
Plus Breece Hall, PFF’s No. 33 RB, is somehow the alpha now.
maya: The Jets clearly have lots of faith in him, and to my eyes, he’s been improving every week. This week, he was tied for second in rushes for a first down (six) and ranked third in yards before contact per rush (4.2).
neil: Yeah, PFF grades aside, Hall has been awesome. But is relying on him to carry the offense really sustainable?
He has 57.6 percent of the Jets’ scrimmage yards when on the field, which ranks second in the league behind Khalil Herbert of the Bears (61.5 percent). And comparisons to the Bears’ offense are not what you want right now.
Salfino: No, it is not.
maya: This is a total Jets move, though — remember those Shonn Greene teams with Mark Sanchez under center?
They’ve been trying to recreate that for the past decade.
Salfino: I definitely got a Rex Ryan vibe with this team yesterday. Rex also didn’t rush more than four much.
joshua.hermsmeyer: I was told the Jets have something called a Garrett Wilson. It would be useful to observe his habits with a football in his hands.
Salfino: The Jets have a lot of really good players. Their team speed on defense is great. They are generating enormous pressure the past three weeks (seventh-most pressures) without blitzing (fewest blitzes). There are no gimmicks.
maya: I mean, why would you have to rush more than four when the opposing quarterback’s deep throws aren’t on target?
Aaron Rodgers is seriously struggling to throw downfield this season. He’s 8-for-27 on throws with at least 20 air yards, including 2-for-6 yesterday — a completion rate of 29.6. To put that into perspective, his career regular-season average is 39 percent.
neil: It’s time for our yearly “Rodgers is washed” convo.
We’ll also get to the yearly “Tom Brady is washed” convo in a bit.
joshua.hermsmeyer: I’m just over here sipping psychoactive tea.
Salfino: Well, the Jets were dominating the Packers offensive line with their defensive line. That was just pure physical domination. And I get that the Jets’ front four is good and deep and Quinnen Williams might be the best player on the field, sacking Aaron Rodgers with his own guard for cryin’ out loud. But still, this cannot happen for the Packers. The OL was supposed to be a strength for Green Bay.
But it was a team effort because the Jets were playing mostly man. Sauce Gardner takes out whomever he’s covering. If you’re Rodgers, that means you’re hunting for something on every play, and there’s just no time.
joshua.hermsmeyer: So Mike, you’re saying Sauce plays Green Bay so tight you can’t tell him from a Packer?
Salfino: That was some T.O. dancing on the logo-level disrespect. But he backs it up.
maya: Speaking of dominating with the DL, let’s flip over to the Giants. They beat the Baltimore Ravens, 24-20, snatching a victory from the jaws of defeat in the final minutes (the third time this has happened to Baltimore this season … yikes!). What impressed folks most about this New York team?
Salfino: I’m going to say something I am assuming will get pushback: Daniel Jones is having a very good year, adjusting for his supporting cast. He’s 14th in QBR with NOTHING except Saquon Barkley, who is obviously great but still a running back.
neil: No pushback from me, Mike. I’m impressed that the Giants are winning with efficient passing from Jones. It might make me have to admit this team is actually good.
joshua.hermsmeyer: This win meant a lot for first-year Giants coach Brian Daboll and his defensive coordinator Wink Martindale. Beating the Ravens makes the Giants a legit playoff team and puts Daboll in the coach of the year discussion, and Wink just got to beat his old team.
maya: My new favorite Monday morning activity is to look up Daniel Jones’s rushing speeds in Next Gen Stats. Did you know he has the third-highest average MPH at line of scrimmage this season, behind Kyler Murray and Marcus Mariota? Some of the guys he leads are Justin Fields, Lamar Jackson and Josh Allen (to say nothing of the running backs).
joshua.hermsmeyer: Yeah, Maya, Jones is “sneaky athletic” in the most defensible way. You just don’t view him that way, and yet he’s a top runner at the position. I think it’s done a lot to help the Giants get where they are. But Jones being average this season is not THAT big a surprise. And it’s not like he’s actually been a reason the team wins — more a reason they don’t lose. He’s the product of smart coaching and lots of easy button presses.
Salfino: The thing about Jones is that we know his WRs are comically bad. But his OL is 22nd or worse in both pass block and run block win rates. So his performance is phenomenal considering the lack of help he’s getting. The Giants have a functioning offense, miraculously, and it’s all Jones.
neil: Also, when is it OK to give up on the Ravens being as good as I thought they were in my head? I get losing to Buffalo, but Baltimore has been decently favored by Elo in all of its other games — yet it is 3-3 and, as always, finds ways to lose. I’m sick of picking the Ravens and losing with them.
joshua.hermsmeyer: This is why I don’t do game picks, Neil!
neil: Haha. Yeah it’s a good way to turn you against certain teams!
Salfino: Watching the Ravens, I know that Jackson made an almost unforgivable play with that late pick. Just gave the game away. But he has not been properly supported, either. Look at what the Eagles have put around Jalen Hurts, by comparison. I know Rashod Bateman is hurt, but the Ravens are still a WR short.
joshua.hermsmeyer: I do put this one on Lamar. The Ravens got what many said they needed this week: a running game from someone other than Lamar. Kenyan Drake was excellent rushing the ball, Lamar just played his worst when it mattered most. And I agree they miss Bateman — I just don’t see how offensive coordinator Greg Roman does much with a WR-heavy attack. It’s never been his thing.
neil: Mark Andrews has almost twice as many yards as any other Raven target. He’s an All-Pro tight end for sure, but that seems a little extreme to run an offense around.
Salfino: Yes, Neil. It’s great for fantasy, but the Ravens’ passing game is like the L.A. Rams’ in being a one-trick pony.
I know that it’s minus expected value, bad analytics to trade for an A.J. Brown, but sometimes you need to overpay with all you’ve saved elsewhere to get a critical piece. You need to be open to that, and I’m not sure the Ravens are.
maya: Let’s go back to the Jets and Giants. How unusual is it that both teams are winning at this clip?
Salfino: Either winning is unusual!
neil: Haha. Yes! I looked at this, and right now we are tied for the second-best combined start to a season (by winning percentage) for both
New York East Rutherford teams through six games:
The Giants and Jets are rarely this good at the same time
Best combined winning percentage for the New York Giants and New York Jets through six games of a season, 1960-2022
Only 1986, when both teams started 5-1, was better.
maya: The last time the Giants and Jets had lost a combined three games through Week 6 was 2010, when the Giants started 4-2 (they went 6-4 the rest of the year and failed to make the playoffs) and the Jets made a surprise second consecutive run to the AFC Championship game. Since then, they’ve averaged a combined 7.5 losses through Week 6, peaking at 11 in 2020. (Yes, that means that in the first month and a half of the 2020 season, the Jets and Giants combined for one — one! — win.)
joshua.hermsmeyer: Sort of like MLB in 1989 in the Bay Area. Enjoy, New York.
maya: A family member from New York — who is old enough to know better — texted me yesterday “Subway Super Bowl. Can’t wait.”
neil: Start spreading the news.
Salfino: Thinking of 1986 brings back so many memories. But I also wanted to note that both teams made the playoffs in 1981. The Jets demolished the Packers in Week 16, putting both teams in the postseason. (The Giants needed a Packers loss). For the Jets, it was the first time since 1969; for the Giants, since 1963. Both of those teams were up and coming, like these teams appear to be, and both had big questions at quarterback.
neil: Yeah, the Jets cooled off some after their hot start in 1986. The Giants, however, stayed great. (And I think they are likelier to do the same this year as well.)
Salfino: I would still be surprised if the Jets made the playoffs this year. Shocked, actually. The Giants play in a bad NFC at least.
neil: Can’t wait for those Eagles-Giants games later in the season.
Salfino: When the Jets were 10-1 that year, Paul Maguire said they would not win another game and was basically right. They had the Browns beat to go to the AFC Championship game, but Mark Gastineau roughed Bernie Kosar, and I punched my attic door.
What did that door do to you?
maya: Are there any similarities you guys see between these current teams? Is there reason to expect one will fade out later in the season?
Salfino: I really see these teams as being like the 1981 teams. The Jets had all kinds of talent on both sides of the ball, but Richard Todd was a major question at QB. The Giants did it with mirrors, but Lawrence Taylor was probably the best player in football. Bill Parcells was not yet the coach, though. Daboll is a GREAT coach so far, IMO. Just shockingly good for a first-year guy.
Also similar is that the Jets had way more talent than the Giants. I think that’s the case now, too. People just can’t accept how many good players the Jets suddenly have.
joshua.hermsmeyer: Yes, I actively work at not accepting this fact, Mike.
neil: They’re similar in the sense that both have almost identical point differentials (+2.5 for the Jets, +2.3 for the Giants). But where they diverge is why I like the Giants more than the Jets. The Giants have gotten their point differential with an above average passing offense (+2.0 EPA vs average per game), while the Jets have done it with defense (+2.5) and rushing offense (+1.6) but not passing (-3.2). Even if we think defenses have made pure passing efficiency less relevant to winning this season, that doesn’t seem as sustainable a formula.
Salfino: Totally agree, Neil. But there are components for a good passing game like there were for the defense when it played like hot garbage for the first three weeks. It’s going to take some time, perhaps. It’s not shocking given that Wilson missed most of training camp with a knee injury and that these pieces were not there last year.
Obviously, the Jets have vastly better passing pieces than the Giants. (Not talking about QB.)
neil: If you have better weapons to throw to but a worse QB, do you really have better weapons?
Salfino: Fair, but let’s see what happens. Given these unique circumstances, past performance may not predict future results. It probably will but not to the degree we’d typically expect.
maya: Let’s touch on the final (or perhaps only?) New York team — the Buffalo Bills, who avenged an all-timer in the divisional round last season with a win over the Kansas City Chiefs yesterday. What’s impressed you most about this Bills team?
Salfino: They found some balance with Devin Singletary, who they save for the big games they are worried about losing (probably smart), without losing their passing identity.
neil: I was impressed that they were actually able to prevent Patrick Mahomes from stabbing them in the heart with a game-winning drive at the end.
The inability to do that was literally the only thing standing between them and a title last year. No offense to the Rams, but I strongly believe that.
Salfino: Well, they can thank the Tyreek Hill trade for that. It’s just hard to strike lightning when you have no lightning among your receivers.
joshua.hermsmeyer: Daboll left the Bills to go to the Giants, and he took the play action game with him. The Bills are 23rd in play-action rate so far this season (Giants are second), and Allen is still winning games for them. That’s pretty impressive, and abandoning play action is surprising to me.
maya: Allen got a lot more comfortable against the blitz as the game progressed. In the first half, he went 3-for-11 when blitzed, with a completion percentage 18.2 percentage points below expected. In the second half, he was 2-for-3 with a touchdown.
Salfino: Yes, Maya. And what did they do? Throw quick passes? Nope. They max protected and threw deep. The Bills had seven blockers on the Gabe Davis TD. Old school. LOVE IT.
maya: Speaking of old-school — how about the Atlanta Falcons attempting all of 14 passes in a two-score win over the San Francisco 49ers? I know San Francisco’s got some horrendous injury luck, but which upset did you guys find more eyebrow-raising, Atlanta over San Francisco or Pittsburgh over Tampa Bay?
Salfino: Atlanta’s Arthur Smith coaches like a guy named Arthur Smith.. But it’s working — this team is overachieving. Talk about something that’s not sustainable though, Neil. The Falcons were lucky the Niners were decimated by injuries. But that’s football.
joshua.hermsmeyer: Well, when the QB of the defense (or so I’m told) Fred Warner plays terribly (PFF coverage grade of 43, total defensive grade of 51.6, both season lows) I guess the Niners are cooked. So I’m more surprised by the sudden mediocrity of Brady against a pretty poor Pittsburgh team.
neil: I personally was more shocked by Tampa Bay in the context of their entire season. Pittsburgh was a big underdog and down to Mitch Trubisky at QB, but the Buccaneers couldn’t capitalize and didn’t score a TD till their last drive of the game. Brady came out of retirement and sacrificed his marriage for this mediocre Bucs team???
maya: But the mediocrity of this team is partially because of Brady. Brady had seven off-target throws Sunday, four of them targeting Chris Godwin. If he’s missing one of his top receivers, how is this team going to do down the stretch?
Salfino: How about Trubisky running the clock on them with third-and-15 and third-and-11 completions? How does that happen? I have to blame the defense. But tip your cap to Mitch?
Brady’s looking elsewhere for the cause of the trouble.
neil: LOL. But actually.
The Bucs are really dysfunctional. Their defense remains good overall, but gave up those back-breaking plays to Trubiscuit, as you said Mike. Brady is just 15th in QBR and they have far and away the worst yards per carry in the league (3.1).
Between Tampa Bay and Baltimore, IDK who I’ve been more consistently mad at for picking so far this season.
Salfino: I don’t think it had to do with Brady going to Robert Kraft’s wedding, honestly. But does anyone know if Bailey Zappe was at the wedding?
maya: Speaking of Zappe (or Mac Jones lite) — he threw for more than 300 yards yesterday and has notched QB ratings of 100 or better in his first two starts. Is he evidence that Bill Belichick’s system works? Is he another diamond in the rough? Or are the Pats just lucky to have had the Lions and the Browns on the schedule (with the Bears up next week)?
neil: Is he Mac Jones Lite? Or Mac Jones Deluxe?
Salfino: Who’s Mac Jones? Troy Aikman lost his job to Steve Beuerlein one year. Phil Simms stayed benched for Jeff Hostetler. I bet Bill Belichick remembers what happened!
Can’t zap Zappe back to the bench. I’m serious.
neil: This is the QB controversy we never saw coming.
Salfino: The Browns defense is a travesty of a mockery of a sham though, if we’re being real. Still.
neil: A “traveshamockery,” one might say.
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