New York Jets home games ranked by prime time probability

New York Jets fans are set to be welcomed back to MetLife Stadium this fall. Can they expect any primetime games? ESM investigates…

The New York Jets learned of a major offseason acquisition late Monday morning.

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy announced on WFAN’s Moose and Maggie program that MetLife Stadium would welcome fans at a 15 percent capacity rate starting March 1. Social distancing will likely be enacted, but Murphy hinted that the percentage could rise as football season approaches.

Jets fans will doubt relish their first opportunity to spell out the team’s name, especially with new head coach Robert Saleh in tow, as well as some potential new faces through both surplus cap space and draft picks.

In celebration of the spectators’ upcoming return, ESM looks ahead on the eight teams set to visit East Rutherford’s green setting this season and ponders their potential primetime posting…

1. Buffalo Bills

The annual Bills-Jets pair used to be Thursday night fodder, a matchup to fill primetime quota for each team. But with the Bills capturing the hearts of many in the Empire State, a rivalry could be brewing for the Jets to keep their territory. Last season, Buffalo earned their first sweep in the series since 2015…a year best known for the time they ended the Jets’ last realistic shot at the postseason.

2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Just when the Jets thought the Tom Brady problem was over, the arguable GOAT returns to a green MetLife Stadium in 2021. The rivalry between Brady and the Jets, who inadvertently gave life to his NFL journey in 2001, has often resembled that of Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner, with Brady owning a 30-8 record against Gang Green. The quadrennial meeting between Tampa and New York has produced some thrillers in the past. Wayne Chrebet and Curtis Martin silenced Keyshawn Johnson with some game-winning trickery in 2000, while Nick Folk booted a late 48-yarder to win the last MetLife meeting in 2013 (Geno Smith’s first NFL start).

3. New England Patriots

National networks have, for whatever reason, taken a liking to the Jets-Patriots rivalry. Even with the allure of Brady gone, last season’s get-together at MetLife earned the Monday night treatment for the second straight season. The networks could be willing to revisit this matchup with each team chasing Buffalo and potentially featuring a new quarterback matchup.

4. Jacksonville Jaguars

Last season, such a meeting between New York and Jacksonville could’ve served as the de facto play-in game for the top spot in this spring’s NFL Draft. But a meeting between the top two picks, potentially a Sugar Bowl rematch between Trevor Lawrence and Justin Fields, could draw the attention of the league’s national TV partners. Sam Darnold and Baker Mayfield notably did battle on a Thursday night during their rookie year in 2018 (though Mayfield did not start the game).

5. Miami Dolphins

Miami proved last season that it wasn’t quite ready for primetime, though networks tend to flirt with divisional matchups. An extra layer of intrigue could be added if one of these rivals convinces the stubborn Texans to trade Deshaun Watson.

6. Cincinnati Bengals

If Joe Burrow is ready to go, networks could be attracted to 2020’s top overall draft pick engaging in a battle with 2021’s number two, especially if it’s also a quarterback.

7. Tennessee Titans

There could be some attraction to this matchup due to the Titans’ status as defending AFC South champions could draw some viewers, but without much history between these squads, there’s little national appeal.

8. New Orleans Saints

The same problems that befall the Tennesse tilt could apply with this matchup, and the interconference setting certainly doesn’t help matters.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

Buffalo Bills WR Stefon Diggs wins AFC Offensive Player of the Week

After a dominant performance in New England, Diggs becomes the first Buffalo Bills catcher to earn POTW honors since Andre Reed.

The 2020 Buffalo Bills have erased yet another dubious streak in this game-changing season.

No Bills receiver had won the AFC Offensive Player of the Week since Andre Reed torched the Green Bay Packers for 191 yards in a November 1994 tilt. Stefon Diggs has ended the drought, earning the honors with a 145-yard performance that yielded three touchdowns on Monday night in New England. Diggs’ performance was a major catalyst in the Bills’ 38-9 victory over New England and clinched their first sweep of the Patriots since 1999.

Situated against New England’s shutdown corner J.C. Jackson, Diggs helped the Bills build an early lead that they would never relinquish. He and Jackson exchanged words all night, but even the defender had kind words for Diggs after their battle.

“He’s a playmaker, he comes back to the ball better than any receiver in the league,” Jackson said, per Nick Shook of NFL.com. “He’s got great hands. You’ve got to almost be perfect when you’re guarding somebody like that. You’ve got to almost have perfect coverage in man-to-man.”

The acquisition of Diggs will likely go down as one of the most important decisions of general manager Brandon Beane’s tenure. Some felt that Beane sent over far too many draft picks (four) in the deal that made Diggs a Bill, which included a first-round choice that became Justin Jefferson. However, Diggs has proven to be well worth the endeavor, currently leading the NFL with 1,459 yards on 120 receptions, which both stand as Buffalo records. The Bills (12-3) have also earned their best win total since 1993 and their first AFC East title since 1995.

Diggs joins his quarterback, Josh Allen, as AFC offensive honorees throughout the course of the 2020 season. Allen has won four this season and six total in his career, trailing only Jim Kelly (10) for most won in a Bills uniform.

Elsewhere in the conference’s weekly honors, Mike Hilton earned the top defensive honors for his role in the Pittsburgh Steelers’ vital victory over Indianapolis, while Diggs’ fellow AFC East competitor Jason Sanders earned the special teams title in Miami.

The Bills will end their regular season on Sunday afternoon against the aforementioned Miami Dolphins in Orchard Park (1 p.m. ET, CBS).

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

Buffalo Bills: 3 stars from Monday’s win at New England

The changing of the guard in the AFC East was officially completed with the Buffalo Bills’ blowout win in Foxboro.

The holiday may be a time for forgiveness and unity…but the Buffalo Bills weren’t interested in bestowing such virtues against one of their greatest tormenters.

Buffalo (12-3) put up 476 yards of offense and watched Josh Allen and Stefon Diggs make team history in their seasonal wrap-up with the New England Patriots. The ensuing 38-9 victory allowed the Bills to clinch their first season sweep of the six-time champions since 1999. They also earned the most one-sided victory for an opponent at Gillette Stadium since its opening in 2002, breaking a record set my the San Francisco 49ers earlier this season.

The Bills are no longer able to catch the Kansas City Chiefs for the top seed in the AFC playoffs but are now guaranteed to place no worse than third in the opening bracket. Buffalo currently holds the second seed thanks to a head-to-head tiebreaker with Pittsburgh. Such a seeding will also allow the Bills to avoid the defending champion Chiefs until the potential conference title game.

ESM has game balls to hand out from a downright historic evening on the road…

3rd Star: TE Lee Smith

2 receptions, 31 yards, 1 TD

Smith is one of two leftovers from the Bills’ postseason drought, currently in the midst of his second stint and sixth season with a charging buffalo on his helmet. Used primarily as a blocker, Smith almost got into the scorebook last week but his touchdown in Denver was erased by a penalty. The Buffalo offense had him covered this time around, though, as he would score a four-yard touchdown in the latter stages of the first half to put Buffalo up 17-9. Smith would later earn a 27-yard reception in the fourth quarter to set up Allen and Diggs’ third and final scoring hookup on the evening. His 31-yard output was his highest since November 2018, when he was a member of the Raiders.

2nd Star: QB Josh Allen

27-36, 320 yards, 4 TD, 4 carries, 35 yards

Another week, another breakthrough performance for Allen, who is eliminating any remaining doubters he had left. More Buffalo history awaited him on Monday, as Allen’s fourth and final score of the evening, his 34th of the season, broke Jim Kelly’s single-season record for touchdown passes. That mark had stood since 1991. Relieved for Matt Barkley in the fourth quarter, Allen is 40 yards away from breaking Drew Bledsoe’s record tally for single-campaign yardage.

1st Star: WR Stefon Diggs

9 receptions, 145 yards, 3 TD

Finally armed with a team capable of conquering the AFC East, the Bills were more than happy to flex their muscles in front of a New England team that has bullied them since the turn of the century. Diggs, engaged in a war of words with J.C. Jackson all night, and his incredible run-after-the-catch prowess were some of their most prominent displays of supremacy, His 50-yard score just before halftime more or less snapped the Patriots’ will. That score allowed Diggs to make Buffalo history in style, as he surpassed a pair of historic years from Eric Moulds to become the Bills’ single-season leader in receiving yardage. Diggs is also on pace to finish the year as the NFL’s leader in both receptions and yardage, which would be a first for a Bill in both categories.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

Buffalo Bills RB T.J. Yeldon tests positive for COVID-19

The Buffalo Bills reserve rusher has not played since October. They are still scheduled to battle New England on Monday.

The Buffalo Bills announced on Sunday that running back T.J. Yeldon has tested positive for COVID-19. The veteran will not travel or partake in the Bills’ Monday night showdown in New England (8:15 p.m. ET, ESPN/ABC).

Yeldon, 27, is in the midst of his second season with the Bills and has played sparingly behind Devin Singletary and rookie Zack Moss. His last regular season action came on October 13 during Week 5 action in Tennessee. The Alabama alum earned 52 yards on seven carries and a 22-yard touchdown reception in Buffalo’s 42-16 loss. It was Yeldon’s first score of any kind since October 2018, when he was a member of the Jacksonville Jaguars. He has also dealt with a back injury this season.

Over two seasons in Orchard Park, Yeldon has earned 133 yards on the ground, his best output being the aforementioned get-together with the Titans.

Further Buffalo concerns could lie with who had close contact with Yeldon, namely his fellow rushers Singletary, Moss, and Taiwan Jones. No announcements or reports of contact tracing have emerged as of press time. It’s unlikely that the Monday night game would be rescheduled, especially with both Week 17 and the playoffs swiftly approaching.

As they prepare for their final road game of the regular season, Buffalo (11-3) has seen their scheduled affected by the ongoing health crisis on several occasions. The aforementioned visit to Nashville was staged on a Tuesday night (the NFL’s first such game since 2010), forcing their regularly schedule Thursday night contest against Kansas City to be moved to a Monday.

Though the Bills no longer have a chance at the top seed in the AFC (that opportunity erased by Kansas City’s Sunday win over Atlanta), they’re engaged in a battle with Pittsbrugh, Tennessee, and Indianapolis for the second seed. Such a seeding would allow them to potentially host a divisional playoff game and avoid the defending champion Chiefs until the AFC title game.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

How the Buffalo Bills can clinch a playoff spot in Week 14

The Buffalo Bills’ postseason outlook is already pretty strong, but they can officially punch their ticket with a little help this week.

Buffalo Bills fans could experience deja vu all over again in the sweetest of ways this week.

A Sunday night get-together with the Pittsburgh Steelers (8:20 p.m. ET, NBC) could play a major role in securing the Bills’ spot in the 2020-21 NFL playoffs. Buffalo (9-3) clinched their spot in last year’s postseason with a win in Pittsburgh during the Peacock network’s prime time showcase. The proceedings move to Orchard Park this season under similar circumstances. Buffalo’s playoff odds already stand at 99 percent, by NFL Network’s Cynthia Frelund has them situated at a 99 percent chance to make the playoffs.

How can the Bills earn a letter next to their name in the standings? ESM has the criteria…

Buffalo Win vs. Pittsburgh

Everything starts with a win against the Steelers on Sunday night. It worked perfectly last season, as they used a 17-10 victory to clinch their second playoff spot over the last three seasons. Pittsburgh (11-1) is no doubt seething after losing their dreams of a perfect season against the Washington Football Team last week.

New England Loss/Tie at LA Rams (Completed)

AFC East fans beyond Foxboro have no doubt relished the Patriots’ demise, but the Buffalo faithful particularly enjoyed their 24-3 loss at the hands of the Los Angeles Rams. The Bills wrap up their season series with the Patriots on December 28 during the final Monday night game of the season. They’ll be seeking their first sweep of New England since 1999.

Baltimore Loss at Cleveland

The Ravens (7-5) are the one thing standing in front of the Bills clinching on Sunday, if only because they partake in the Monday night game against the Browns (8:15 p.m. ET, ESPN).

Miami Loss vs. Kansas City

A loss from the Dolphins (8-4) against the defending champion Chiefs would not only help the Bills’ regular playoff case, but also give them a chance to secure the division title next weekend. Buffalo owns the head-to-head tiebreaker thanks to a win in Week 2, though they’re due for a rematch in the regular season finale.

Las Vegas Loss vs. Indianapolis

The Jets and their questionable defensive playcalling were of no help to the Bills last weekend, as the Raiders (7-5) earned a bit of a playoff jackpot, their postseason hopes extended by another week. Buffalo owns a head-to-head tiebreaker over Las Vegas from a win back in early October.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

Buffalo Bills: Resurgent rushers looking to continue momentum building

Having reached triple digits in three of the last five games, Buffalo Bills rushers are ready to roll into December.

The glory days of the Buffalo Bills have long been defined by the antics of a strong game, more or less emulating the streaking buffalo that has graced their helmets since 1974. Wray Carlton and Cookie Gilchrist led the way during their AFL championship days, famously followed by O.J. Simpson, who sat in second place on the NFL’s all-time rushing upon his retirement. Thurman Thomas and Kenneth Davis then became reliable presciences during the AFC title streak. Even the dark times provided relief through the legs of Joe Cribbs, Fred Jackson, Travis Henry, and Willis McGahee.

As the Bills seek to form a new consistent brand of glory days, the run game is rising to the occasion.

Buffalo (8-3) enters their most hopeful December yet, one where they’re well on pace to earn their first division title since 1995. The team may be new to the AFC penthouse, but they’re well aware that they’ll have to be clicking on all cylinders to make some postseason noise and officially put the league on notice. Head coach Sean McDermott spoke about it in the earlier stages of the fall.

“Most coaches would say they want to hit their stride in November, December, when the leaves are coming off the trees,” McDermott said, per Mary Margaret Johnson of WIVB on November 3. “Overall, at the end of the day, you’re trying to win one game. Rosters change week to week, lineups change week to week, challenges normally come, and with COVID, we’re trying to find one week wins and do the best you can to put the best lineup out there.”

One area where the Bills are starting to peak is the aforementioned run game.

Exciting as the idea of Josh Allen torching opponents with both his arms and feet may be, Buffalo sought to get their run game rolling. The unit appeared to be well set for the future with Devin Singletary set to return after a strong rookie season (775 yards, fourth amongst first-year rushers). Buffalo would also replace the Jets-bound Frank Gore by drafting Utah’s Zack Moss in the third round of the 2020 draft proceedings. Bills general manager Brandon Beane was hopeful was Singletary’s finesse and and Moss’ physicality would be the next step forward for an offense on the rise.

“Devin has that shiftiness. Zack’s going to be more of that banging in there,” Beane said after the draft, per Alex Brasky of The Daily News (Batavia). “He’s going to lower that shoulder and try to, a little bit like Frank did at an older age for us. I see that role.”

But with the blocking names in front of them changing more than those on the North Park Theater’s marquee, the Bills rushing attack had struggled in the early going. The team managed to get off to a strong start, but a challenging stretch, when the Bills lost two of three in October, coincided with the run game working on a streak of earning less than 100 yards.

The display was particularly scary during an October 19 loss to Kansas City, one of the two teams ahead of the Bills for AFC supremacy. As Clyde Edwards-Helaire broke loose for 161 yards, the Bills mustered only 84 on the ground as a team. Singletary struggled to the tune of 32 yards on 10 carries in defeat.

Keeping the pace of a strong rookie season proved to be a challenge for Singletary. He struggled to reach the 300-yard mark over his first seven games, averaging less than four yards a carry. He noted the big plays that came naturally in his debut failed to resurface in modern times.

“Making big plays, creating big plays. We haven’t been able to do that yet,” the struggling sophomore Singletary said after the game, per Jourdon LaBarber & Dante Lasting of BuffaloBills.com. “We’ve got to find a way to get that going.”

Singletary’s words, however, proved prophetic and he found a way to get things rolling again.

Two weeks after the Chiefs’ visit, the Bills battled the New England Patriots, often seen as a weekend for plenty of Western New York fans to skip due to an infamous streak of futility against the AFC East monopoly-holders. Singletary, helping co-author a new narrative in Orchard Park, came up big with a team-best 86 yards on 14 carries, 59 of that tally coming in the second half. Assistance came in the form of Moss, who tallied 81 yards on an equal number of carries, and he also punched in his first NFL touchdowns. They wound up being the difference in the 24-21 Buffalo victory.

“This is probably the most I felt like myself just from everything from top to bottom,” Moss remarked afterwards, per Jenna Callari of WKBW. “I was just happy I was able to come out and be ready to go in a game like this. I was really comfortable today and want to build off that going into the rest of the year.”

As the Buffalo run game continues to surge forward, they continue to fulfill Singletary’s prophecy. With a more balanced offense, the Bills are well positioned to make their first legitimate postseason run. That was on display during their most recent win, a game where three turnovers could’ve threatened to destroy what they were building.

Sunday’s 27-17 win over the Los Angeles Chargers to wrap up the November slate could’ve been the type of trap game that caused Buffalo to fly off the rails, a game that might’ve left them uncomfortably sharing the top spot in the AFC East with Miami. But a strong attack from the run game helped them finish things off. There were no antics from Allen or Stefon Diggs necessary to close out the win. Even if Allen tallied a score on the ground, it was the running that kept things rolling, with Singletary and Moss uniting for 141 yards. Their magnum opus came on the final drive, when Moss opened things up with a 31-yard gain, followed by a 24-yard tally from Singletary that set Tyler Bass for a de facto game-winning field goal from 43 yards way.

Things weren’t fully perfect just yet. A lost Singletary fumble led to a Los Angeles field goal. Moss was penalized 15 yards for taunting. But the Bills made sure that their offensive fate goes far beyond Allen. The quarterback (18-of-24, 157 yards, 2 total touchdowns, 1 INT) expressed his gratitude and hope for more after the game in Heather Prusak’s report for WIVB.

“Our guys did a great job, Zack and (Moss) carried the ball extremely well, they ran hard,” Allen said. “When my number’s called I gotta make some plays too but our guys did a good job blocking up front and you put the ball in your backs’ hands and let them do things and they were great today.”

Singletary explained that the success against the Chargers partially stemmed from an increased emphasis on the rushing attack in practice that week, mentioning that the team ran “an extra drill” leading into LA week.

“It wasn’t even full speed, it was kind of like half speed but just seeing the guys get to their landmark,” Singletary said in Prusak’s report, mentioning how it helped the Bills prevaild in a physical game. “It helps us get to our landmark it just kind of helps the offensive line and the running backs get a feel for each other and it showed today.”

Singletary and Moss will look to carry on momentum in their next game on Monday night, as they battle the San Francisco 49ers in Glendale, Arizona (8:15 p.m. ET, ESPN/ABC).

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets: Yannick Ngakoue is a risk worth taking

New York Giants, Yannick Ngakoue

Jacksonville will want something hefty in return for Yannick Ngakoue, but the reward greatly outweighs the risk for the New York Jets.

With football attempting to creep back into our lives, one could get some clicks compiling a list of locker room availability cliches we’ll potentially miss as social distancing carries on into 2020’s latter stages.

The NHL’s Canadian enclosures brought about the return of “pucks deep“, for example. The NFL is making its return in more confined settings, but you’re still hearing the training camp defaults like “he’s in the best shape of his life” or “everyone has to earn their spot on the depth chart”. Once we get to the season, preparation will undoubtedly be marked by declarations of “making the quarterback uncomfortable” on the road to victory.

That cliche, however, is like the jump scare in horror movies: if you pull it off right, it will pay off big dividends.

The truism’s magnum opus is perhaps Super Bowl XLII, as the New York Giants’ relentless pressure on Tom Brady put the undefeated New England Patriots into straight-up panic mode. It takes a lot to throw Aaron Rodgers off his game, but his Green Bay Packers are 5-18 when he’s sacked at least five times.

Its effectiveness could perhaps be a lesson for the New York Jets. The days of the “New York Sack Exchange” being mere MetLife Stadium tailgate memories, the Jets have had major problems invading opposing backfields. Since 2016, the Jets have earned 129 sacks, bettering only three other teams in the rest of the NFL. AFC overlords new (Kansas City) and old (New England) are in the middle of the pack at 14th and 15th. The perennial contenders from Pittsburgh top the list with 200. They haven’t had a losing record since 2003, and the 696 sacks they’ve tallied during that streak might have something to with it.

The Jets’ defense is going into a year of uncertainty brought upon transition. Jamal Adams, the face of the franchise, forced his way to the Pacific Northwest and C.J. Mosley chose (understandably) to opt-out of the 2020 proceedings. Making the playoffs is going to be a tall task, even with the expanded capital, but this is going to be a year where plenty of free agents-to-be and one-year additions and re-ups that will get to audition for the good times ahead.

All that’s missing is Yannick Ngakoue. The disgruntled defender is currently at odds with the Jacksonville Jaguars and has been on his own quest for a transfer. He is 12th in the NFL in sacks (37.5) over the last four seasons and has been regarded for his backfield pressure. Depending on who you ask, the Jets may be closing on a deal to paint the 2017 Pro Bowler’s equipment green and bring him aboard for 2020.

Ordinarily, adding Ngakoue’s name, talent, and salary (the 2021 free agent is set to make over $17 million next season) is the type of move a team makes when they’re the proverbial “one move away” from a Super Bowl, and the Jets are much more than one move away from a return trip over five decades in the making. But his New York arrival would be beneficial on all sides.

A New Face

The Jaguars’ shocking, most recent run to the AFC Championship Game feels like an eternity ago, but we’re somehow only two years removed from that endeavor that nearly (and, according to some, should’ve) ended in the Super Bowl. Even if that game’s officiating can be questioned, it’s still one of the more puzzling mysteries in recent NFL history that a defense that featured the services Ngakoue, Calais Campbell, Marcell Dareus, Malik Jackson, Myles Jack, Telvin Smith, and Jalen Ramsey, among others, never went back to the postseason. Most of that group has bolted from Jacksonville, with Jack and Ngakoue being the lone leftovers.

A turn to the Jets could give Ngakoue a chance to truly flash his potential, a chance to be the defensive face of one of the NFL’s most important markets. The Jets are a team that is in desperate need of a big-name defender with Mosley out for 2020 and Adams napalming any bridges he had left with the organization. There are plenty of young names that can potentially move forward…it’s a big year for Marcus Maye and Quinnen Williams for example…but this could be a great opportunity for both Ngakoue and the Jets to hit the reset button on their respective timelines. Ngakoue, as someone who’s had his fair share of proven success on the NFL level, can have control and leadership of a defense, while the Jets can work out with a potential new defensive face. Plenty of New Yorkers are in make or break situations, but, as a team, the Jets are in a relatively consequence-free year. This opens things up to spend a good portion of the remaining summer budget on a Ngakoue audition.

Pressure Cooker

As mentioned above, we can laugh all we want about teams preaching about the importance of making a quarterback uncomfortable, but the fact remains that it works. Silencing the antics of a mobile threat makes it all the more crucial. The Jets might have to face three in their division alone.

Recent NFL Top 100 Players nominee Josh Allen is part of the reason why many have the Buffalo Bills pegged as the team best in position to usurp the Patriots’ seemingly eternal hold on the AFC East throne. New England is attempting to counter by bringing in former MVP Cam Newton, while the Miami Dolphins enter a new era with Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa. Both have well regarded for their ability to change the game with not only their arms but their legs as well.

Thus, a strong pass rush is more important than ever. Allen, for example, has earned a 5-2 record when he tallies at least 50 rushing yards, but those numbers drop to 6-8 when he’s held under 30 or less. Save for the combined 14.5 sacks Adams and team leader Jordan Jenkins tallied, no Jets defender had more than three quarterback takedowns. It’s time to change that, and Ngakoue can be a great way to change that narrative.

Open the Vault

Training camp is open, but the Jets’ roster is anything but complete. Pass rush is one of several areas the team can improve on as Week 1 looms. The team is experimenting with help in the receiver room, as Field Yates reported that they welcomed in former top ten pick Kevin White for a workout.

According to the Over the Cap, the Jets have just over $30 million in cap space to spend. It’s not under the greatest circumstances (Mosley’s opt-out contributed $10 million to that tally), but that’s a decent amount to have at your disposal at this point in the offseason. Hence, the Jets have a rare opportunity to splurge if/when a trade presents itself through some excess space and, perhaps more importantly draft capital.

Jacksonville is reportedly seeking at least a second-round pick in potential Ngakoue negotiations. General manager Joe Douglas somehow collaborated Seattle in an “everybody wins”-type deal, getting back two first-round picks for a player that did everything short of tie the Jets’ Lombardi Trophy from Super Bowl III to the back of his car and drag it around the parking lot at One Jets Drive. Parting with them is likely out of the question…especially if Ngakoue’s potential for being merely a 2020 rental…but with armed with two first-rounders in each of the next two years, the Jets certainly have some flexibility with their seconds.

The Jets are, again, equipped with little to lose as a team unit next season, so they’d be wise to take advantage. Trading for Ngakoue would be a great start to taking advantage of that role.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

NFL: New Jersey native, Super Bowl champion Jim Kiick passes away at 73

The nine-year NFL veteran starred at Boonton High School before partaking in the Miami Dolphins’ Super Bowl runs in the 1970s.

New Jersey native and former NFL running back Jim Kiick has passed away at 73, the Miami Dolphins announced on Saturday.

A native of Lincoln Park, Kiick starred at Boonton High School, where he was a multi-sport athlete that made the all-Morris County team as a defensive back. He then spent three years at the University of Wyoming, where he led the Cowboys to victory with an MVP performance in the 1966 Sun Bowl, where he put up 177 total yards in a 28-20 win over Florida State. One year later, he was the spark behind Wyoming’s undefeated regular season.

Two years after breaking Floridians’ hearts by running all over the Seminoles, Kiick became a crucial part of the state’s athletic history when the Miami Dolphins chose him in the fifth round (118th overall) of the 1968 NFL/AFL Draft. He and fellow Miami draftee Larry Csonka rekindled a friendship begun at the 1968 College All-Star Game and, along with Mercury Morris, formed a deadly rushing attack. Kiick tallied 3,644 rushing yards and 28 rushing touchdowns over seven seasons in a Dolphins uniform. His nine scores during the 1969 America Football League campaign.

To this day, Kiick ranked fifth in Dolphins history in rushing yardage (3,644) and sixth in rushing touchdowns (28).

Kiick would go on to make a name for himself via big performances in the postseason. Notably, he scored in all playoff contests during Miami’s completion of their perfect season in 1972-73. Kiick touchdowns were the difference in all three wins, including his one-yard score in Super Bowl VII against Washington. Previously, he posted a two-touchdown performance in the AFC Championship Game win in Pittsburgh (won by a 21-17 margin). His score in the divisional round against Cleveland was the last end zone entry of a 20-14 victory. One more Super Bowl score awaited Kiick in the eighth edition against Minnesota, which Miami won 24-7.

Clashes with head coach Don Shula about his Miami role led Kiick to seek a new opportunity in the World Football League. He, Csonka, and fellow Miami champion Paul Warfield spent a year-plus with the Memphis Southmen/Grizzlies (no relation to the NBA team of the same name). The trio were three of the richest WFL players before the league shut down in the middle of its second season in 1975.

Kiick was set to reunite with his good friend Csonka (the Miami media dubbed the pair “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”) with the New York Giants, but the team was wary of the pair’s hard-partying ways. He would go on to play four games over two final NFL seasons with Denver and Washington before retiring in 1978. The dual-threat retired with 6,061 yards from scrimmage, with his best statistical season coming in 1971 (738 rushing yards in 1971, a year that ended with Miami’s first Super Bowl appearance).

After football, Kiick returned to Florida and served as a private investigator in the public defender’s office of Broward County. He routinely appeared at modern Dolphins games and was inducted into the University of Wyoming’s sports Hall of Fame in 1996. The running back was living with dementia at the time of his death.

Kiick is survived by his children Allie and Austin, the former being a tennis pro on the ITF Women’s Circuit.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

 

3 Reasons why Frank Gore and the New York Jets are a perfect match

New York Giants, Frank Gore

The signing of Frank Gore has raised some eyebrows, but the newly minted 37-year-old may wind up being the New York Jets’ most vital addition.

If you assembled the all-time “He played for the JETS?!?!” team, Frank Gore would already be a top contender, but he’d have some competition.

Gore, who turns 37 on Thursday, joins a list of illustrious rushers that have spent their twilight years with the New York Jets. Others notables that have taken the green plunge include Chris Johnson, Matt Forte, and LaDanian Tomlinson. Aging legends of the game be found all over such a lineup, one whose depth chart includes Brett Favre, Derrick Mason, Jason Taylor, and Ronnie Lott.

While some names wind up hitting the blooper reels of NFL lore, others can wind becoming solid contributors to the New York cause. Law, for example, earned a career-best 10 interceptions during the 2005 season. A decade later, Brandon Marshall had the most illustrious season in franchise history with team-bests 1,502 yards on 109 receptions, 14 of which went for touchdowns.

Here’s why Gore can potentially lean toward ending up in the latter, more hopeful, category…

He’s Still Got What the Jets Are Looking For

Jets head coach Adam Gase took some heat for his usage of Le’Veon Bell last season. Comments to ESPN’s Rich Cimini earlier this offseason only seemed to further freeze the icy relationship Bell and Gase have reportedly had so far.

“I do think we have some guys that can help maybe lessen the load on (Bell) to where it’s not all on him,” Gase told Cimini on May 4, two days before Gore’s arrival. “Hopefully, we can get some of the younger backs to where we can make a good one-two punch to where we can really excel instead of feeling like it’s just all on him all the time.”

But Gase may have a point.

While Bell’s tally of 311 touches didn’t sniff the league-best 406 he had with Pittsburgh in 2017, it still ranked eighth in the NFL last season. It quickly became clear that Bell wasn’t the one-size-fits-all solution to the Jets’ offense some envisioned him to be. Things could get a little easier after the expansive offensive line renovations,  The Jets had to find a spell option for Bell, a process that became all the more imperative with Bilal Powell and Ty Montgomery on the free agency block.

They began to address the role when they took Florida’s Lamical Perine in the fourth round of last month’s draft and continued with Gore. No one’s expecting Gore to be the dominant rusher he was during his glory days in San Francisco, but he has spent the past few seasons fulfilling similar roles across the AFC East. Gore has earned 1,321 over the last two seasons with Miami and Buffalo. He would serve as a passable starting option when Devin Singletary went down with an injury. Among his notable efforts with the Bills last season was an 83-total yard performance at MetLife Stadium (also scoring a touchdown in a 28-14 win over the Giants) and a 109-yard ground output on 17 carries against New England. For what the Jets are looking for, Gore was a perfect fit.

Over the last seasons, Gore’s 1,321 rushing yards are good for second amongst running backs in their 30s (behind only Washington’s Adrian Peterson).

He Knows the Staff

If and when we get a 2020 season, it will undoubtedly be one of reckoning for Gase and his staff. He and offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains will be under particular scrutiny for how the offense flows with Sam Darnold entering the telling third year as the franchise quarterback, now armed with a revamped offensive line and a potential big-play receiver in Denzel Mims in tow.

It’s only natural for the staff to surround themselves with talent that has worked to their advantage before. Gore was brought into Gase and Loggains’ Miami squad in 2018. His duties were shared with youngsters Kenyan Drake and Kalen Ballage, but he still led the team with 722 yards. The 2018 season also served as a mini-revitalization, as Gore averaged 4.6 yards per carry, the first time he put over four yards since his final San Francisco season in 2014.

Gase has spoken highly of their brief shared tour of Miami. He referred to the Gore experience as “unbelievable” in the lead-up to the Jets’ Week 1 matchup with the rusher’s then-employers from Buffalo.

“If you watched him work day-in and day-out, it wouldn’t surprise you,” Gase said, per Brian Costello of the New York Post. “We would always say, ‘Hey, we think you should take today off,’ and he’s like, ‘Wednesdays, I’m practicing,’ and he wants every rep. You’re in full pads and he’s going at it like it’s Sunday. That’s just how he looks. That’s how he’s always been. He loves football. There’s no other place he’d rather be than the practice field, game day. Everything about football, he loves.”

(Photo by Anthony J. Causi/Icon SMI/Corbis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Good Country For Old Men

A lot has been made about the Jets signing yet another veteran past his prime. But that might be exactly what they need at this stage of the game.

The Jets’ perpetual rebuild is in perhaps its most hopeful stage yet, but it’s one stocked with youth. On the team’s current roster, only four other veterans are at least 30. When it comes to building a winning culture, a veteran that has done the dance of victory before is an essential ingredient. One can do far worse in a helpful veteran than a college football national champion, a five-time Pro Bowler, the rusher named to the 2010s All-Decade Team by the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and the third-leading rusher in NFL history.

An example at another position came in the form of Mark Brunell’s brief tenure as Mark Sanchez’s backup during the 2010 and 2011 campaigns. Brunell’s resume wasn’t as polished as Gore’s, but he was the quarterback that led the Jacksonville Jaguars to their earliest glory days and later won a Super Bowl as the understudy in New Orleans.

The aged Brunell, who was entering his 40s, had a calming effect on Sanchez, who posted the best numbers of his career with the ex-Jaguar in the room.

“He has a calming presence when everything is spinning out of control,” Sanchez told Cimini during the 2011 preseason. “When you’re not having a good game or practice is going too fast and you’re just not right, he’s got this way about him.”

A prominent rushing example came from Thomas Jones at the turn of the last decade. Jones’ was a solid contributor during his twilight years (he’s still seventh in franchise history with 3,833 rushing yards despite spending only three years in green), but he had a calming effect on the lineup as a whole. In another Cimini piece, Sanchez called Jones “one of the best teammates I’ve ever had”, even though their New York paths only merged for a single season.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

Fun Facts and Analysis of the New York Jets’ 2020 Schedule

New York Jets, New York Giants, Daniel Jones

Times and dates have been attached to the New York Jets’ 20 preseason and regular season matchups. ESM reveals what you need to know.

As if you didn’t need more of a reason to stay inside, the NFL just gave you 256 goals to work toward.

The league attached times and dates to its 2020 regular season matchups on Thursday, while preaching caution in the wake of the current health crisis. Nonetheless, the event gave fans a welcome reprieve as they continue to work their way through these trying times.

Here’s what you need to know about the Jets’ slate…

Preseason

Mandatory Credit: Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

TBD: NY Giants (TBD, WCBS)

The annual Snoopy Bowl stays in the Week 1 slot it found itself in last season, even though the Jets and Giants will not play each other during the regular season. Big Blue took last season’s matchup by a 31-22 final.

August 20: @ Detroit (8:00 p.m., ESPN)

The Jets will play a nationally televised preseason game for the second time in three years, the last matchup being a 2018 visit to Washington, which was also on ESPN.

TBD: Pittsburgh (TBD, WCBS)

Pittsburgh will return to the site where their playoff hopes more or less died, as a Marcus Maye deflection game the Jets a 16-10 win.

TBD: @ Philadelphia (TBD, WCBS)

Should it happen, 2020 will mark the 20th anniversary of the Jets and Eagles meeting annually in the preseason. The Jets took last year’s meeting at MetLife by a 6-0 tally

Regular Season

New York Jets, Sam Darnold, Josh Allen, Buffalo Bills
Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

September 13: @ Buffalo (1:00 p.m. ET, CBS)

For the third time in four seasons, the Jets will open their regular season against the Bills. Buffalo has taken each of the first two openers in that span thus far, but Sam Darnold has yet to lose at New Era Field, having bested fellow 2019 first-round pick Josh Allen twice thus far. The Jets have dropped their Week 1 matchup in three of the last four seasons, the lone exception being 2018’s Monday night visit to Detroit.

September 20: San Francisco (1:00 p.m. ET, Fox)

The Jets’ will welcome the defending NFC champions for their first East Rutherford visit for AFC business since the 49ers administered a 34-0 shellacking in 2012 en route to that season’s Super Bowl. New York’s last home opener win came in 2017 against Miami, but they have likewise gone 1-3 over their past four tries in such a game.

September 27: @ Indianapolis (4:05 p.m. ET, CBS)

The Jets are 3-1 at Lucas Oil Stadium since it opened in 2008. Alas, the lone exception is the 2010 AFC Championship Game. New York’s previous visit was a 20-7 Monday night triumph in 2015. Overall, the Jets have taken four of the past five meetings with their former AFC East brethren since that postseason match.

October 1: Denver (8:20 p.m. ET, NFL Network)

A previous Thursday night meeting with the Broncos didn’t go so well, as Tim Tebow’s 20-yard touchdown run gave Denver a 17-13 win at Mile High. Their 34-16 win over Denver ended a three-game losing streak in the series. The Jets are 2-5 on Thursday night games since the NFL made them a full-time phenomenon in 2012.

New York Giants, Lorenzo Carter
Mandatory Credit: Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

October 11: Arizona (1:00 p.m. ET, Fox)

No matter what happens between the Jets and Cardinals, the quarterback matchup between Sam Darnold and Kyler Murray will definitely be more exciting than the last time they met at MetLife Stadium. Back in 2012, Greg McElroy relieved Mark Sanchez and guided the Jets to an ugly 7-6 victory. The Jets have won six of the last seven meetings, but fell in the last showdown in Glendale in 2016.

October 18: @ LA Chargers (4:05 p.m. ET, CBS)

Depending on health progress, the Jets are set to make their first two trips to SoFi Stadium, the site of Super Bowl LV this season. The Jets’ last game against a team with a Los Angeles moniker came back in 1993, when they fell to the Raiders at the Coliseum. More recently, the Jets dropped a 14-7 decision to the Chargers in their last meeting at home on Christmas Eve 2017.

October 25: Buffalo (1:00 p.m. ET, CBS)

The Jets will be looking to end a two-year losing streak at MetLife Stadium to the Bills, who are 4-2 at the relatively new establishment in East Rutherford after dropping their first four. This will mark the first time the Jets end their yearly pair with the Bills by the end of October since 2007, a Buffalo sweep.

Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

November 1: @ Kansas City (1:00 p.m. ET, CBS)

Kansas City ended their five-decade plus Super Bowl drought. Are the Jets next? Time will only tell, but the first two AFL champions will meet at Arrowhead Stadium for the first time since 2016. The Jets’ last Kansas City masterpiece came in 1998, when John Hall’s 32-yard field goal as time expired gave them a 20-17 victory.

November 9: New England (8:15 p.m. ET, ESPN)

After two appearances last season, the Jets get one showing on Monday Night Football, thought the MetLife meeting with the Patriots gets such a treatment for the second straight season. The Jets will look to end an eight-game losing streak in the rivalry and also seek their first Monday night win since the aforementioned Week 1 tilt against the Lions in 2018.

November 15: @ Miami (4:05 p.m. ET, CBS)

With the expanded AFC playoff picture, could these matchups with Miami hold major implications? The schedulemaker certainly seems to think so, as this is the first time a Jets-Dolphins game starts beyond the 1:00 p.m. ET timeslot since December 2016, when a Miami squad led by Adam Gase beat the Jets 34-13 in a Saturday primetime game.

November 22: Bye Week

The Jets’ bye week comes in Week 11 for the second time in the last three seasons.

Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

November 29: Miami (1:00 p.m. ET, CBS)

In this de facto home-and-home series with the Dolphins, the Jets will look to win after their bye for the first time since 2015, when they followed up a London win over Miami with another triumph against Washington. The Jets’ last-second win Miami last December, courtesy of a Sam Ficken field goal, ended a four-game losing streak against the Dolphins.

December 6: Las Vegas (1:00 p.m. ET, CBS)

The Jets finished their stretch against the Oakland Raiders with a 9-11 mark, but they were able to end things on a dominant note with a 34-3 win at MetLife Stadium last season. Las Vegas’ new franchise has not won in East Rutherford since 1996 and is 0-3 at MetLife Stadium.

December 13: @ Seattle (4:05 p.m. ET, CBS)

The Jets haven’t beaten the Seahawks since 2004, and their last win in Seattle came at the since-demolished Kingdom in 1997. Their prior matchup a 27-17 defeat at MetLife Stadium.

December 19/20: @ LA Rams (TBD)

Over the last two weeks of the season, a dozen matchups have been nominated to potentially appear in a trio of Saturday games. The Jets’ penultimate two games are a pair of such choices, including the latter half of their SoFi split.

Mandatory Credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

December 26/27: Cleveland (TBD)

Thus far, Baker Mayfield has gotten the better of Sam Darnold in the two meetings between 2018’s first two quarterbacks. Darnold, however, was unable to take part in last year’s Monday nite tilt, as his illness forced Trevor Siemian and later Luke Falk to oversee a 23-3 defeat in East Rutherford.

January 3: @ New England (1:00 p.m., CBS)

The Jets are still looking for their first win at Gillette Stadium since their epic divisional playoff wince in 2011, but they were at least able to snap the touchdown hex in their last visit. New England and New York last ended their regular seasons against each other in 2018, a game that served as the end of the Todd Bowles era.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags