Is Zach Wilson ready to start saving the Jets?
The Jets — whose league-leading 11-year playoff drought is nearly twice as long as its closest companion (Broncos) and ranks tied for ninth in NFL history — rarely offer excitement or intrigue. Optimism rarely stretches into October.
Despite a winnable game Sunday at Pittsburgh (1-2) that could bring the Jets (1-2) back to .500, they currently are projected to be an underdog in every game left on their schedule and have the third-lowest odds to make the playoffs (+1160, per FanDuel) of any team in the league.
But Zach Wilson’s first start of the season presents hope and possibility. No player will impact the trajectory of the team’s future more than the 23-year-old former No. 2 overall pick. If Wilson — playing behind an undermanned offensive line — can’t ignite an offense averaging just over 17 points per game, he can still spark the imagination of a fanbase consistently forced to look forward.
No one truly knows what the kid can do. We haven’t seen enough to make a proper evaluation. He’s spent 13 games under his helmet and a total of seven games on the sideline with right knee injuries. He threw an underwhelming nine touchdowns and 11 interceptions with a 55.6 completion percentage as a rookie, but he also displayed impressive scrambling ability and was victimized by the highest percentage of catchable balls dropped (12.7, per Pro Football Focus).
Multiple quarterbacks in NFL history — including Peyton Manning, Troy Aikman, Terry Bradshaw — endured miserable rookie seasons before becoming Hall of Famers. This year’s MVP front-runner (Josh Allen) began his career by throwing 10 touchdowns and 12 interceptions with a 52.8 completion percentage.
The paths of Mark Sanchez and Geno Smith and Sam Darnold tell different tales.
With Wilson, anything is still possible. It’s an intriguing place to be.
It could be worse. You already know that.
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Mets stack the deck
The Mets’ biggest regular-season series in years begins tonight in Atlanta at Truist Park, where either team could wrest away control of the National League East and inch closer to claiming the first-round bye awaiting the division winner.
The Mets (98-58), who once held a 10½-game lead, have a one-game lead over the defending champion Braves (97-59), and could lock up the head-to-head tiebreaker (they lead, 9-7) with at least one win in the three-game set. Top prospect Francisco Alvarez will join the Mets in Atlanta.
On the eve of October, Buck Showalter will treat the penultimate series of the regular season like the playoffs, reordering his rotation to use Jacob deGrom tonight, followed by Max Scherzer and Chris Bassitt. It is the correct decision, even if the Braves take the series and the division and put the Mets’ rotation in a suboptimal spot heading into a potential wild-card-round matchup.
You don’t plan around potential failure. You use your best players in the biggest spots. Showalter should know. In his most recent playoff appearance during the 2016 AL wild-card game, the then-Orioles manager infamously left shutdown closer Zack Britton unused in the bullpen in the extra-inning loss.
“He apologized to me, which I didn’t think he needed to do,” Britton told The Athletic last year. “I think there were some guys on the team that were frustrated by the move. He just said: ‘That’s my bad. I messed up.’”
After a well-timed day off, Aaron Judge returns to Yankee Stadium with a chance to become the first player in American League history to hit 62 home runs in a season. His first at-bat against Baltimore’s Austin Voth (5-3, 4.19 ERA) will be Judge’s first matchup against the 30-year-old righty, who has surrendered eight home runs in 78 innings this season.
Last year, I spoke with Roger Maris Jr. for a story on the 60th anniversary of his father’s chase of Babe Ruth. We both agreed that someone likely would hit 62 home runs one day, though neither of us believed it would happen anytime soon.
After hearing his father recount the venom spewed him by his own fans, Maris’ eldest son — a front-row spectator to the delirious celebration of Mark McGwire’s now-tainted 62nd home run in 1998 — spoke with envy on his father’s behalf in regards to the support the hypothetical slugger would receive.
Maris’ remarkable run with (at least a share of) the AL record — set 61 years ago Saturday — may end tonight, but we may never see any player match his greatest feat.
“It was against all odds for what he had to endure, and a lot of people think that’s why he’s in the grave, truthfully, because of the stress of what he had to go through in New York and the toll it took on his body,” Roger Maris Jr. said last year about his father, who died in 1985 at the age of 51. “…The more I look back at it and think about it, if you look at the greatest records in sports and think about what did that person have to do — the stress, what dad had to endure against the icon of baseball [Babe Ruth] and Mickey [Mantle] and New York and the press and the excruciating pressure — for him to pull it off is unbelievable.
“He would always say, it was the best and worst thing that ever happened to him.”
Weekend football watch list 🏈
A fun weekend of football is ahead. The college game features five matchups between two ranked teams — including three battles of undefeated teams — and the NFL has multiple games that may offer hints about how the rest of the season will unfold.
Here are the top matchups to watch:
No. 7 Kentucky (4-0) at No. 14 Ole Miss (4-0), Noon ET, ESPN: This battle of rising SEC challengers — the Wildcats hold their highest ranking since 1977, and the Rebels are coming off their first 10-win season — is the first matchup in this series since 1958 in which both teams are ranked.
No. 9 Oklahoma State (3-0) at No. 16 Baylor (3-1), 3:30 p.m. ET, Fox: The winner of this rematch of last season’s Big 12 Championship instantly becomes the favorite to take this year’s title. A last-minute goal-line stop kept Oklahoma State out of last year’s playoff.
No. 10 NC State (4-0) at No. 5 Clemson (4-0), 7:30 p.m. ET, ABC: The winner gets the inside track to an ACC title and potential playoff berth. The Wolfpack pulled the upset last year in double overtime.
Bills (2-1) at Ravens (2-1), 1 p.m. ET: A potential preview of the AFC Championship is headlined by a battle between MVP candidates (Buffalo’s Josh Allen, Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson).
Jaguars (2-1) at Eagles (3-0), 1 p.m. ET: Two of the most surprising starts this season belong to teams led by quarterbacks (Philadelphia’s Jalen Hurts and Jacksonville’s Trevor Lawrence) less than three years removed from college. Are the Eagles really a title contender? Are the Jaguars a playoff threat? Both questions could be answered.
Chiefs (2-1) at Buccaneers (2-1), 8:20 p.m. ET, NBC: This Super Bowl LV rematch is guaranteed to be more interesting than that lopsided affair. In four matchups between Tom Brady and Patrick Mahomes — each quarterback has won twice — the superstars have combined to average nearly 650 yards passing per game.
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