New York Jets: The next 14 games could well decide Sam Darnold’s future

New York Jets, Sam Darnold

After a dismal start to the 2020 season, Sam Darnold and the New York Jets have 14 opportunities to get this era back on track.

Two weeks into the 2020 season, the New York Jets are more or less removed from playoff contention.

It’s certainly foolhardy to eliminate a team from the NFL postseason in September, especially when playoff real estate increased by a spot in each conference. But the Jets (0-2) have done nothing to suggest they belong among the league’s contenders. The latest disaster, a 31-13 loss at the hands of the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday, didn’t even have the added luxury of a somewhat respectable final score like the 27-17 defeat in Buffalo provided on opening weekend.

“We haven’t shown progress,” linebacker Jordan Jenkins said, per Brian Costello of the New York Post. “It’s been rinse and repeat for the last two games. It’s either we’re going to keep getting embarrassed or we’re going to respond.”

Perhaps most disappointing in the Jets’ process has been the lack of progress on offense. Even with the expanded playoff capital, it was a tall task to put the Jets in the preseason brackets. Thus, it felt like a decent year for Sam Darnold to develop into the franchise quarterback and consistent contributor the Jets envisioned when they chose him third overall in 2018.

The offensive arsenal went through a considerable downgrade over the offseason, letting Robby Anderson walk and cutting the injured Quincy Enunwa loose. Upon their departures, Darnold was left with no receivers from his rookie season depth chart. Medium-risk, high-reward receiver options were brought in via Breshad Perriman (granted a one-year deal with $6 million in guaranteed after a strong December in Tampa Bay) and second-round pick Denzel Mims.

So while question marks lined up in his receiver spots, assurances of a revamped offensive line (headlined by first-round choice Mekhi Becton) gave Darnold some reassurance. Despite little help around him, particularly on the offensive line, Darnold still managed to produce occasional flashes of brilliance. The end of his rookie season saw him earn a come-from-behind win in Buffalo and go blow-for-blow with Deshaun Watson and Aaron Rodgers. His first game back from illness was a 338-yard, two-touchdown masterpiece in a win over Dallas last season.

2020 was on pace to be full of games like that. It served as a chance for Darnold to become a leader. It was set to be a chance to develop chemistry with new teammates that earn long-term rights in a trying campaign. It was a year where the Jets could officially become Darnold’s team, especially with Jamal Adams napalming his New York bridges on his way to Seattle.

But, so far, 2020 has only been a year of regression.

For as much as head coach Adam Gase has felt the temperature rise on his proverbial seat, a good portion of the Jets’ fanbase must learn that it’s indeed possible to hold both he and Darnold accountable for their respective flaws. In year three, Darnold is simply making plays that a third-year franchise quarterback can’t be making.

An interception against Buffalo in Week 1 saw him throw across his body. He ran out of bounds for a loss to escape the Bills pass rush. Things were a little better against the 49ers…particularly on Darnold rollouts…but that didn’t change the final result.

“No one’s yelling at each other. We understand we have to stay together,” Darnold said after the loss, per team writer Randy Lange. “It’s only our second game of the season. Obviously we didn’t envision these two games going like this. But we’ve just got to keep our heads down (and) go to work.”

Darnold’s rough pair of 2020 outings have not only had premature mock drafts pencil the Jets in at the top of the order but also attached Clemson star quarterback and consensus top choice Trevor Lawrence’s name to the hypothetical selection. Opportunities await Darnold in the coming weeks to change the minds of fans, analysts, and New York decision-makers.

Casting Darnold’s struggles in a brighter light is the fact his rookie contract is set to expire after next season. For perhaps the first time, there could doubt lingers over whether Darnold will be granted a long-term deal. Back-to-back tough showings is slowly turning a year of risks and consequence-free football into a make-or-break campaign…a theme that’s becoming all too prevalent under Gase. Ryan Tannehill escaped the nearly annual viewings under the microscope to become a solid contributor in Tennessee. If the Jets aren’t careful, Darnold could undergo a similar NFL journey.

At the same time, the Jets have to what they can to help Darnold, a quarterback who has managed to produce some memorable moments in New York green despite the ineffectiveness around him. So far, the would-be solutions of Perriman and Mims have yielded only injuries. Chris Herndon has yet to recapture the form of his rookie season. The top solution among the amatuer general managers amongst the Jets’ fanbase has been to can the current coaching staff.

But is that fair to do to Darnold? Is a third round of new coaching in what would be his fourth season something he wants?

Even Sunday’s disaster featured ever-so-brief glimpses of Darnold brilliance, primarily a would-be sack that he turned into a touchdown pass. But the sheer number of mistakes and miscalculations that have been made in his brief time in New York would take its toll on anyone. It’s fair enough to criticize Darnold’s role in the Jets’ fall, but it’s time to analyze who shoulders more of the blame. If it’s Darnold, especially with the fifth-year option conversation looming, then it’s time for he and the offense to hunker down and overcome the numerous obstacles facing them. If it’s on Gase and the coaching staff, then they have to do something, anything, to justify team CEO Christopher Johnson’s label of “brilliant”. Gase and company may have to do it sooner rather than later; coaches have been shown to be far more expendable than franchise quarterbacks.

Even at a mere 0-2, the Jets are likely too far gone from the AFC playoff picture. But these next 14 games may mean everything the team’s offensive outlook.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Yankees head to Buffalo, enter quarantine

New York Yankees, Aaron Judge, Gleyber Torres, Giancarlo Stanton

On Monday, the New York Yankees begin a crucial four-game set against the Toronto Blue Jays in Buffalo. The team is looking to run down the Rays in the final week of the season in attempt to win the AL East. The Yankees sit 3.5 games back with seven games left to play, while the Rays have just six.

Although the Yankees didn’t win the series finale against the Boston Red Sox on Sunday, they were able to clinch a postseason spot for the fourth straight season with a Mariners loss to the Padres.

With the MLB postseason happening in a “bubble”, the Yankees are being forced to quarantine in hotels starting a week before the postseason. That means that the quarantine officially starts for the team in their Buffalo hotel, and the team will remain in hotels until their postseason elimination. Even when they are in New York for the final series of the regular season this weekend, they must quarantine in a hotel. Team members can only go to the ballpark from the hotel.

If the postseason were to begin today, the Yankees would be the five seed, and would play the Minnesota Twins in the wild-card round. The newly added round will be a three game series, with all games being played at the highest seed. The ALDS will be hosted at Dodger Stadium and Petco Park in California, with the ALCS being hosted at Petco Park. The first three series will be played with no off-days.

The World Series will be played at Globe Life Field in Arlington, the Rangers home field. Unlike the other series, the Fall Classic will have the traditional 2-3-2 format with off-days. The Rangers won’t make the postseason, confirming that all series will be played at a neutral field.

Although the postseason will look different in 2020, the Yankees are getting healthy and ready to chase a 28th ring.

PFL plans massive international expansion

MMA, PFL
The Professional Fighters League is eyeing a grand comeback next year including plans of international expansion.

PFL CEO Peter Murray bared that they are targeting an April return in 2021.

“We’re locked and loaded for next year,” Murray told Empire Sports Media in an exclusive interview. “Our broadcast partners are on board including ESPN. We will have more expansive coverage internationally. Our fighter contracts are all locked, our fighters are getting ready for next season which will start in April, a month earlier than the previous seasons.  All our sponsors have renewed, ready to go for next year.”

The PFL will stage its next season at a single location in the US and bring in their fighters from 20 countries all over the world.

“We’re looking at and execute the learnings from the NBA, even what the UFC has done very, very well.  We will have our version of it,” Murray said.  “And should the landscape of Covid-19 change and we hope it does then we are in a position to open up our events perhaps to fans and we look forward to that.”

The NBA has successfully continued its season in Orlando while the UFC has created its own Fight Island in Abu Dhabi.

With those as blueprints on how to insulate its product from the pandemic, the PFL is looking to get back on track and build on its momentum after shaking things up in the MMA with its string of innovations.

In 2017, the PFL introduced a season-format where fighters earn points to qualify for the playoffs and compete in championships in six weight classes. They have also capitalized on technology, providing real-time data analytics during fights for a more immersive viewing experience.

“This is the format that worked in the NBA, EPL, NFL, and other major sports and we feel that’s the key differentiator to re-imagine the MMA sports, grow the sport and scale the PFL around the world,” Murray said.

With meritocracy, transparency, and incentivizing athletes at the core, they were able to create an exciting league that is fast catching up with the UFC.

“We’re now in the No.2 market position in the world in just a short amount of time and we have a business plan for the growth of the sport and the PFL as a league. Our view is there’s more room for more than one leader and together, we’ll absolutely grow the sport and this sport has yet to peak. In the next 3-5 years, you’ll see much growth in the US and outside,” Murray said.

Murray also bared that they are holding talks with several countries for potential sites of their season-ender.

“We’re looking forward to our first event potentially outside the US, our year-ending championship. We are in discussion with select countries and destination partners,” Murray said.

“We are focused on the US next season but should the Covid-19 landscape change, we are contemplating our world championship in 2021 to partner with a country and a key destination, put on a fantastic, pinnacle sports entertainment event where each title fight has life-changing money on the line, a million-dollar cheque,” he added.

On top of its ESPN broadcast deal, the PFL is also being distributed in 160 countries worldwide and Murray said they are looking to expand more.

“Russia is an important market. Western Europe, Latin America, Southeast Asia are all critically important to us and there’s definitely future growth, massive opportunity in China, and India,” Murray said.

With their season on hold, the league has introduced a lot of original content from their PFL Studios headed by George Greenberg, a 16-time Emmy Award-winning producer, and director.

They have already produced the “Fantastic Finishes”, a seven-episode series that showcased the knockouts and submissions across the PFL’s six weight classes.  Meanwhile, the 10-episode “Inside The Season” provides fans inside access to their 2019 season with never-before-seen footage.

They have also lined up two more series: “A Champion’s Journey” and “The Randy Couture Story”.  The former will give a spotlight on their elite fighters such as Kayla Harrison, Lance Palmer, and Ray Cooper III, and newcomer Rory McDonald, while the latter will navigate the life of current PFL broadcaster and MMA legend Randy Couture.

New York Giants confirm ACL tear for Saquon Barkley, what’s next?

New York Giants, Saquon Barkley

The moment New York Giants star running back Saquon Barkley fell to the ground in the second quarter against the Chicago Bears on Sunday, his face told the story.

After taking off his helmet and grimacing with severe pain, Barkley clutched his right knee. Everyone’s worst fears became a reality on Monday, as the Giants confirmed an ACL tear that will keep Barkley out for the entire 2020 season. He will now begin rehabilitating for 2021, coming off a significant high ankle sprain that limited him to 13 games in 2019.

The Giants have no choice but to move forward without their allusive and electric running back, and they will need to find a supplement in the meantime.

They’ve already scheduled a visit for free agent Devonta Freeman, who spent the last six seasons with the Atlanta Falcons. At 28 years old, he’s coming off a season with 656 yards on the ground and 410 through the air. He is a solid running back who could fill a major void for the Giants immediately. However, the loss of Barkley is a big one and will undoubtedly limit their offensive capabilities.

Quarterback Daniel Jones hasn’t enjoyed a full game with his entire arsenal of weapons since his inception in the NFL last year. A poor offensive line and lack of talent around him has severely limited his progression up to this point. Hopefully, he can return to full health and pick up where he left off next year.

It would take a miracle for the New York Mets to advance to the playoffs

New York Mets, Rick Porcello

The New York Mets endured a severe blow on Sunday, losing 7-0 to the Atlanta Braves and falling five games below the .500 threshold. While they still can make the playoffs mathematically, it would take a small miracle for it to happen.

The first eight teams will qualify for the playoffs, and the New York Mets are in the eleventh spot in the National League, two and a half games back from a spot in the postseason. With seven games to play, advancing seems like a pipe dream.

The Mets, currently 24-29, have too many teams vying for the playoffs with a better record, so the most realistic scenario for them to advance is to win all seven games remaining in the calendar, or at least six of them. It would take an enormous effort and a little bit of luck at this point.

A tough day for the Mets

“Obviously, today is a tough day,” outfielder Brandon Nimmo said to MLB.com. “We don’t have many more losses that we can handle. So it’s tough, but this team is resilient. I believe in this team, and I believe in the fight. All we can do, that’s our only choice right now, is to fight.”

On Sunday, it wasn’t Rick Porcello the one who faltered. In fact, he delivered his best start of the season for the Mets, throwing seven innings of one-run ball, with 10 strikeouts. But the bullpen and the offense made sure that the game was lost.

The Mets have had to fight injuries, especially in the starting rotation. But the truth is that they haven’t been able to consistently hit with men on base despite the fact that they are among the best offenses in the league. The bullpen, outside of Edwin Diaz, hasn’t performed well.

“It’s not talent that separates you,” Porcello said. “It’s playing good baseball.”

“Time is ticking away,” Nimmo said. “We don’t have many more to really try and recover. It is disappointing to all of us.”

For the Mets, it is now, truly, do or die time. Will they be able to pull off a miracle and advance to the postseason?

New York Giants likely losing Sterling Shepard for multiple weeks due to injury

New York Giants receiver, Sterling Shepard.

As if losing star running back Saquon Barkley wasn’t enough for the New York Giants, they will also likely be without wide receiver Sterling Shepard for the next few weeks. After Shepherd’s foot was caught underneath a defender on a tackle, he limped off the field toward the sidelines. He returned shortly after but wasn’t able to continue and was removed from the contest.

Shepard picked up a toe injury designation, but the injury is thought to be more severe. According to Ian Rapoport of NFL Network, Shep is expected to miss multiple games with turf toe.

The recovery time for this injury can take multiple weeks to heal, while a grade-1 strain should only take a few days. It seemed to be severe enough that he could miss the next two weeks of football. That would leave Golden Tate and Darius Slayton as the top pass-catchers.

This will open the door for Evan Engram and CJ Board to receive more targets in the passing game, and it could indicate a signing as well. The Giants are already bringing in running back Devonta Freeman for a visit, but they could also look in the direction of Corey Coleman.

Coleman looked good during camp but ultimately was cut in favor of Board and Damian Ratley, who picked up three receptions for 32 yards against the Bears on Sunday (Board).

There are plenty of directions the Giants could go with this unfortunate scenario, but they will have to keep fighting on.

Against the Bears, the defense allowed 17 points in the first half but kept Chicago scoreless in the second half. The offense simply wasn’t able to get going, which hurt their chances at victory. It came down to the wire, as the Giants were stopped at Chicago’s 10-yard line with one play left in the game. Hopefully, with San Francisco dealing with a bevy of injuries of their own, they can take advantage of a struggling team.

Should the New York Giants stick with Wayne Gallman and Dion Lewis at running back?

New York Giants, Wayne Gallman

The moment New York Giants star running back Saquon Barkley hit the ground after scampering to the sideline, everybody knew something was wrong.

Barkley removed his helmet and gripped his right knee. The immediate fears flashed a torn ACL, and those early thoughts are most likely correct. An unfortunate injury for a player coming off a high ankle sprain, but the Giants must move forward and find a supplement at the running back position.

According to Ian Rapoport, the Giants are bringing in Devonta Freeman for a visit to see if he can be a supplement at the running back position. Freeman is a two time Pro Bowler who can act as a supplement in the meantime. While he has battled injuries the past few seasons with the Atlanta Falcons, he did tally 656 yards on the ground and 410 yards through the air in 2019. He totaled six scores, and he’s an adequate back in pass protection.

Out of six seasons in the NFL, he has tallied 1000+ scrimmage yards in four of them. I think Devonta would be a fantastic option for the Giants while Barkley heals from his injury, considering his experience and success in the league.

The New York Giants could stick close to home:

However, it is possible the Giants elect to stick with their own talent. Wayne Gallman and Dion Lewis represent two options that can fill the role. In the loss to the Bears, Lewis ran for 20 yards on 10 attempts and caught four passes for 36 yards. While he averaged only 2 yards per carry, Lewis has always been a primary receiving back.

Gallman would be the primary lead back in the absence of Barkley. In 2019, he averaged 3.8 yards per carry on just 29 attempts for 110 yards. In his rookie season back in 2017, he earned 111 rushing attempts, totaling 476 yards but failing to score on the ground. Wayne is actually a decent running back who can move the chains, but he is not a bruiser. Bringing in an option like Freeman would offer the Giants a different approach to the running game, as he can break tackles and power through.

Personally, I would like the Giants to sign the former falcon and keep Gallman as the number two back. A one-your deal won’t hurt their cap space in 2021, and it will at least improve the Giants’ chances at winning games.

New York Yankees Previews: Yankees start a four game series with the Jays in Buffalo

New York Yankees, Jonathan Loaisiga

The New York Yankees has clinched a berth in the playoffs, and tonight they will meet up with the Toronto Blue Jays to begin a four-game series, away in the Jays 2020 home, Buffalo. The Yankees were hoping to clinch their berth in the postseason last night in Boston.  The Yankees, riding a ten-game winning streak, entered last night’s game with high hope, but Deivi Garcia failed, and the Yankee’s bat were near silent.  Never the less, the Yankees clinched their 22nd postseason berth in 26 years when the Seattle Mariners lost to the San Diego Padres.

Pitching sensation Deivi Garcia, in his fifth start of the season, only lasted three innings, giving up six runs in the eventual Yankee 10-2 loss.  The only bright spot in the game is when Luke Voit hit his 21st home run of the season, which leads all of baseball.  21 home runs in this short season equate to 64 home runs in a regular 162 game season.  The would beat the Yankee home run record leader’s 61 home runs in 1961.

Tonight should be a pleasant evening for baseball, with a game-time temperature (6:37 pm) in the high ’60s. The game will be played under mostly clear skies with no chance of showers. The game will be broadcast on the Yes Network, on SNET in Canada, and nationally on MLB Network (out of market only).

The New York Yankees have met up with the Blue Jays six times, so far in the season, winning four of those games, but they never have faced Matt Shoemaker. The righty Shoemaker has been on the IL with right shoulder problems.  There will be pressure on Shoemaker to win tonight’s game, as it could cement his place as the third starter in the Blue Jay’s postseason. He is 0-1 with an ERA of 4.91. The Jays have lost 4 of the 34-year-olds starts.  In his last start, he went five innings in the eventual Jay’s win while striking out six Tampa Bay Rays. Coming off the IL, the Jays don’t expect him to go more than 60 pitches.

The New York Yankees, in an attempt to line up pitchers for the postseason, will give both Gerrit Cole and Masahiro Tanaka an extra day’s rest, and start this game with an opener. That opener could be Michael King or Jonathan Loaisiga, although that is no surety. Loaisiga is 3-0 on the season with an ERA of just 2.70 and has started 3 games this season. The Yankees last year and this year, has been quite successful in opener games.  Chad Green is the most successful game opener, so he is a possibility.

“We’re going to try to win games,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. “We’d love to have those (wild card) games at home — not at the expense of anyone, but our guys should be good and ready to go.”

Both teams had streaks end on Sunday. The Yankees (31-22) lost 10-2 to the Boston Red Sox to stop a 10-game winning streak, and the Blue Jays (27-26) defeated the Philadelphia Phillies 6-3 to end their skid at six. Both teams will be looking to improve their seeding in the postseason.  It’s most important for the Blue Jays to win as they move closer to clinching their berth in the playoffs. The Yankees swept the Blue Jays in their last meeting at Yankee Stadium.

The New York Yankees played the J.A. Happ situation perfectly

New York Yankees, J.A. Happ

One of the most pleasant surprises for the New York Yankees this year has been J.A. Happ. The expectations were not high for Happ given how bad he was during the 2019 season. Last year the Yankees‘ weakness was starting pitching.

Despite that being an obvious weakness, Happ didn’t start in the postseason because of how bad he was in 2019. 12-8 with a 4.91 ERA, a WHIP of 1.295, and giving up more than 30 home runs doesn’t earn you a spot in the postseason rotation.

Going into the shortened 2020 season, the Yankees were going to do everything they could to prevent Happ from vesting his option. No way did the Yankees want to be on the hook for $17 million in 2021 after what they had seen from Happ.

However, Happ has surprised everyone this season with his pitching. So far this year he’s pitched to a 3.25 ERA and a 2-2 record. However, if you take out his first two starts, Happ has pitched to an ERA of 1.93 which is absolutely incredible.

The Yankees got the best of both

The Yankees re-signed Happ after he looked great for them in the 2018 season. The market was fierce so the Yankees had to give Happ a 2 year deal at $17 million per year with a vesting third year option. The Yankees were hoping for the best of Happ, but only for two years.

Well, with the shortened season, it looks like they are going to get their wish. Happ is pitching the best the Yankees could have hoped for, and his option doesn’t appear likely to vest. Happ needed ten starts or 61.1 innings pitched. Happ is at eight starts and 44.1 innings pitched right now.

With the amount of games left, Happ will only get one more regular season start with the Yankees. Thus, his option is not going to vest and he will be a free agent after this year. The third Yankees starting pitcher that will hit the market this offseason (James Paxton and Masahiro Tanaka).

The Yankees have played this perfectly. Happ is pitching at his best, and the bombers know that they won’t be on the hook for $17 million. Happ’s pitching is good enough to get him another 1-2 year deal with someone, but it won’t be for $17 million, and it won’t be with the Yankees.

WATCH: Boston Red Sox security blows it and allows fan to break into Fenway

New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox

The Boston Red Sox are having a tumultuous 2020 campaign with a 20-34 record. It seems as if Fenway park security is just as good as the team this year, as they allowed a fan to break in over the green monster.

With the Yankees down 10-2, they decided to have a bit of fun, putting in catcher Erik Kratz out to pitch an inning. That wasn’t the craziest thing that happened during the game, as the fan that broke into the stadium began throwing Yankee hats out onto the field and yelling for no apparent reason.

The random fan broke in right next to the camera crew, who looked over in awe as he simply climbed over metal bearings to reach the outfield. Standing next to an American flag, the fan yelled out “remember 911 and the Boston marathon, America!”

To be quite frank, his message was heartfelt and reasonable, but breaking into a professional baseball game during the COVID-19 era might not be the best idea. He was quickly removed from the stadium and the game continued, but it was an odd day for the Yankees and Red Sox.

Nonetheless, the Bronx Bombers clinched a postseason spot, coming off a 10 game win streak. The Yankees touched .500 in the win-loss column, but the return of Giancarlo Stanton, Gio Urshela, Aaron Judge, and Gleyber Torres has given them an offensive spark. Against the Toronto Blue Jays this past week, they tallied 46 total runs, hitting six or more homers in three consecutive games, an MLB record.