Baseball’s winter meetings get underway next week, meaning we are getting closer to finding out whether Aaron Judge and Jacob deGrom will continue playing in New York — and what the Yankees and the Mets might do if those stars don’t re-sign for 2023 and beyond.
In the meantime, the NFL, NBA and NHL are well into their seasons. Checking out the latest projections by FiveThirtyEight, six of the seven area teams are listed at 50 percent or better to reach their respective postseasons.
Only the middling Knicks — who are 10-12 after Wednesday’s loss to the Bucks — are below that threshold, though the Giants and Rangers also have trended downward after recent losing streaks.
What is your current playoff-qualification confidence meter for the NY/NJ area’s teams in those sports? Let’s take a look at each of them, along with their current 538 percentages to reach postseason play:
Few would have predicted Lindy Ruff’s breakout team to be atop this list as the calendar flips to December, especially following nine playoff misses in the past 10 seasons. But all of those top-five draft picks had to translate into an eventual turnaround for the area franchise with the second-most championships (three) since 1995 behind the Yankees’ five. Led by former No.1 overall draft picks Jack Hughes and Nico Hischier, plus winger Jesper Bratt and defenseman Dougie Hamilton, the Devils (19-4-0) are tied with the Bruins (19-3-0) for the most points in the NHL.
Pete’s prediction: The Devils might not hold off the Islanders, the Hurricanes or another slow-starting team in the Metro Division, but it would take a massive regression at this point for them to miss the playoffs for the fifth straight year.
A disastrous playoff whiff last season — on the heels of successive trips to the Eastern Conference Finals — appears to have been righted by Lou Lamoriello’s Islanders (15-9-0) under first-year coach Lane Lambert. They still probably need to land another legitimate goal scorer to complement an offense fronted by $73 million setup man Mathew Barzal, whose 2-24-26 stat line means he again isn’t likely to reach 20-goal mark he hasn’t crossed since he won the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s top rookie in 2017-18.
Pete’s prediction: As long as the goaltending tandem of Ilya Sorokin (2.18 goals against average in 17 games) and Semyon Varlamov doesn’t disintegrate, the Isles should have enough for a playoff return after a one-year absence.
Brooklyn has gotten past the Kyrie Irving suspension fiasco and the Steve Nash firing, winning for the sixth time in eight games with Wednesday’s home victory over the Wizards to climb above .500 (12-11) for the first time this season. Kevin Durant is averaging at least 30 points per game (30.4) for the first time since 2013-14 with the Thunder, and Irving has netted at least 20 in six straight.
Pete’s prediction: Ben Simmons, who sat out Wednesday’s game due to a sore knee, absolutely remains the X-factor. But new coach Jacque Vaughn should have enough talent here to continue to climb in the standings, perhaps even above the play-in cutoff line into the top six in the East.
The Blueshirts have been the most disappointing team of this group, especially after last spring’s run to the Stanley Cup semifinals. But Wednesday’s slump-busting win in Ottawa after three straight losses could be the start of a turnaround.
Pete’s prediction: Igor Shesterkin and the Rangers (11-9-4) have plenty of time to get on a roll, and I believe they will, though the Devils’ emergence and the Islanders’ improvement has changed the divisional and local hockey hierarchy.
Jets fans certainly would have signed up for a better than 50-50 chance in December to end the NFL’s longest postseason futility stretch and for a decent crack at their first berth since 2010. Obviously, the quarterback switch from Zach Wilson to Mike White needs to continue to produce results in a tough road matchup Sunday against the Vikings ahead of next week’s divisional showdown with the Bills.
Pete’s prediction: Second-year coach Robert Saleh’s 7-4 team has shown vast improvement over last year’s 4-13 mark. With nine teams boasting winning records and vying for the seven playoff spots in the AFC, the Jets’ margin for error is tight, but qualifying is not impossible.
The same 50-50 optimism Jets fans may have voiced before the season also applies to the Giants, who also are 7-4 entering their 12th game of the season after making the playoffs just once in the past decade. Still, last week’s loss to the Lions was damaging to Big Blue’s playoff hopes, especially with the most difficult remaining strength of schedule in the league (.688 opponents’ winning percentage), including two games apiece with NFC rivals Philadelphia (10-1) and Washington (7-5).
Pete’s prediction: The Giants probably will have to get to 10 wins to seal a berth in the NFC, and Sunday’s game against the surging Commanders, who are 6-1 in their past seven, suddenly feels like a must-win in that endeavor.
We listed the Rangers as the most disappointing of this group, largely because expectations weren’t nearly as high for the mediocre Knicks, who haven’t been more than two games above or below .500 at any point through their first 22 games despite strong contributions from $104 million free-agent signing Jalen Brunson.
Pete’s prediction: Slow starts by 2022 playoff teams Miami, Chicago and Charlotte have kept Tom Thibodeau’s Knicks hovering around the 7-10 playoff grouping, which already feels like their best-case scenario.
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Numbers to know
1️⃣2️⃣ Teams set to play in the expanded College Football Playoff, beginning in 2024, after Rose Bowl organizers got on board with the plan.
3️⃣4️⃣ Saves for Jaroslav Halak in the Rangers’ 3-1 victory over the Senators, the veteran backup goalie’s first win for the Rangers.
3️⃣9️⃣ Points for Kevin Durant in the Nets’ 113-107 win over the Wizards, bringing his total to 151 in his past four games (37.8 average).
4️⃣0️⃣ Games each team will play in the WNBA regular season in 2023, a record high for the league.
3️⃣0️⃣0️⃣ Million dollars, the low end of what Aaron Judge is now expected to receive on his next contract, and as The Post’s Dan Martin writes, “According to some around baseball, not associated with Judge or the Yankees, that number is expected to go higher.”
Knicks getting their kicks
While the Knicks hardly have been world beaters to open the season, many of them have been World Cup watchers the past couple of weeks.
I spoke with a few players about their soccer fandom while on the road with the team earlier this week in Detroit.
Brunson said he played the beautiful game for a few years as a child, and he previously has partially credited his soccer days for helping with his footwork as a basketball player.
“Growing up my favorite player was Steve Nash, and he also played soccer and basketball, and he always said how his footwork was credited from soccer,” Brunson said. “I played a little bit, not enough to say it really helped me that much, but it was a start. Knowing how I play and am creative, it kind of stemmed from that a little bit, I think.”
Brunson added that he “had a phase” where the soccer video game FIFA “was all I was playing, the only game I had.”
Following a pregame nap on Tuesday, Brunson watched the end of the USMNT’s win over Iran to advance out of Group B.
“Awesome,” Brunson said. “Watching the replays of [Christian] Pulisic’s goal, him laying out his body like that, it was really cool to see, and as a fan, it’s inspiring to see that.”
As you’d imagine, Evan Fournier said he’s been watching and supporting the national team of his native France, the defending champions who are through to the knockout round. And Isaiah Hartenstein will be pulling Thursday for Germany, where he spent much of his childhood. The Germans need a win over Costa Rica and a Spain victory over Japan to advance out of Group E.
“I’m enjoying it, for sure,” Fournier said. “I wouldn’t call myself a big soccer fan, but when you’re from Europe and France, which is a soccer country, you follow the national team and get into the big events. We’re the defending champs, so it’s probably us, Brazil, Spain. But I’m happy for you guys [that the U.S. won].”
Ryan Arcidiacono tweeted out “Pulisic!” after Tuesday’s win, but said his girlfriend’s family is of Dutch descent. He joked it should make Saturday’s Round of 16 matchup against The Netherlands “pretty interesting.”
“Pulisic is from Pennsylvania and so am I, so I gotta support him,” said Arcidiacono, who also was a teammate of Brunson’s at Villanova. “It’s great to see them doing well on the world stage, and I hope they can keep it going.”
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