This could be one of the most anticipated matchups of the week—though not necessarily for the reasons you'd expect.
The New York Jets have to win each of their last four games in order to have any chance of making it to the postseason, while the Jacksonville Jaguars, at 2-10, are the bona fide worst team in the NFL. But given the quarterback controversy in New York at the moment, there are plenty of fans nationwide who can't wait to see how Mark Sanchez responds when he gets back on the field after being benched during last week's slim win over Arizona.
Coach Rex Ryan gave up on Sanchez last Sunday after he failed to put a single point on the board against the Arizona Cardinals, and when backup Greg McElroy entered the game, he threw the game's only touchdown pass and snagged a crucial win for New York. Alas, it wasn't enough to get McElroy a chance to start this week.
Now that Sanchez knows he still has his coach's support, he has everything to prove—not only to Ryan, but to the fans as well.
Where: EverBank Field, Jacksonville, Fla.
When: Sunday, Dec. 9 at 1 p.m. EST
Listen: ESPN New York 98.7 FM in New York, WKOV 690 AM in Jacksonville
Live Stream: GamePass
Betting Line (via OddsShark): Jets -2.5
What's At Stake?
For the Jets, everything.
The New England Patriots have already locked up the division. To squeeze their way into the postseason, the Jets have no choice but to win out in order to even factor into the wild-card picture—but at 5-7, it's a bit of a long shot already.
As of now, the 7-5 Steelers and the 8-4 Colts are the projected Wild Cards. If either of those teams manages to collapse over the next four weeks, the 7-5 Bengals are also in the hunt for a berth—and then you get to the Jets. Not only does New York need to keep winning in order to get in, it's going to require some pretty huge missteps from teams that are two and three games over .500.
The Jaguars, meanwhile, are playing for nothing at this point. They are one of the NFL's worst teams on both sides of the ball, though things have improved somewhat since Chad Henne took over for the injured and ineffective Blaine Gabbert.
- DB Aaron Berry (quadriceps) missed last week's game
- WR Clyde Gates (concussion) missed last week's game
- TE Dustin Keller (ankle) left last week's game
- RB Joe McKnight (rib) left last week's game
- DL Ricky Sapp (ankle) missed last week's game
- QB Tim Tebow (ribs) missed last week's game
Jacksonville Key Injuries (via CBSSports.com)
- DB Derek Cox (hamstring) missed last week's game
- RB Rashad Jennings (concussion) left last week's game
- RB Maurice Jones-Drew (foot) missed last week's game
- DL Austen Lane (foot) missed last week's game
- DB Aaron Ross (leg) left last week's game
- WR Cecil Shorts (concussion) left last week's game
Fantasy Prospect to Watch: Justin Blackmon
This is perhaps one of the hardest weeks ever to determine the fantasy prospect worth watching for—we don't know whether Rex Ryan is going to keep Sanchez in the mix for the whole game, we don't know who's going to have sufficiently recovered from injury and there's barely anyone on either roster who compiled 100 yards or more in last week's game. Pretty much every fantasy prospect worth watching suffered a concussion in last week's games.
So let's go with Jacksonville rookie Justin Blackmon. Throughout 2012, we've seen flashes of what Blackmon is capable of: Most recently, we saw it a few weeks ago in a 43-37 overtime loss to Houston, when he went off for 236 yards and a touchdown.
Since then, though, he has battled a groin injury and has only made a handful of receptions. He did, however, get a TD two weeks ago, and he's always a threat to gain big yardage—especially this week, when Cecil Shorts could be out.
What They're Saying
There is something positive to talk about in New York—and even more shockingly, it involves Tim Tebow.
The injured backup quarterback called 17-year-old Matt Hardy this week after the teen was hospitalized following a car crash, according to ESPN.com's Rich Cimini. Cimini reports that two of Hardy's peers were killed in the accident, and the driver of the other vehicle failed alcohol tests.
After talking to Hardy, Tebow tweeted:
Thanks to everyone who got #TebowCallMatt trending & helped connect us. Matt truly inspired me. God bless y'all— Tim Tebow (@TimTebow) December 4, 2012
Now, back to football: Rex Ryan made the decision on Wednesday morning to start Sanchez over McElroy, and according to Cimini, the move was the right one—but that doesn't mean that Sanchez is going to have free rein. Cimini writes:
Sanchez will have a short leash Sunday in Jacksonville—a well-deserved short leash. He has 18 turnovers, including five in the past two games. When he gives the ball away, it demoralizes the offense. If he struggles in the first half, it'll be McElroy time, probably for good. Sanchez needs a positive start to regain the trust of his teammates.
There's some turmoil in Jacksonville, too: Rashean Mathis is not happy that coach Mike Mularkey kept him on the bench in Sunday's loss to Buffalo, especially after cornerback Kevin Rutland got burned for two touchdowns.
After the game, Mathis, a 10-year veteran who missed time last month with a groin injury, told the Associated Press he feels good and is sick of watching his defense struggle:
This is not to bash anybody. This is not to spark a big, "What's going on with Rashean" thing. I do have a voice, and this is the little voice I want to be understood. ... I feel good. I feel like I'm in a position to help my team win.
New York Key Player
It goes without saying that Mark Sanchez is going to have to do better this week than last week, when he finished with 97 yards and three picks before being replaced. The week before that, the turnovers were a huge problem, too, against the Patriots. Limiting the mistakes is going to be the first objective for Sanchez on Sunday, if he plays. If he does that, it should drastically improve this offense.
Part of Sanchez's struggles this week is doubtlessly going to be mental. He knows that McElroy energized the team and the fanbase last week, but he's going to have to channel any frustration he feels into motivation to do the same exact thing.
Jacksonville Key Player
There are so many offensive injuries on this team right now that someone is going to have to pick up the slack. Several key players are likely to be missing from the backfield and from the receiving corps, which makes Chad Henne's job even more difficult.
But still, the quarterback was effective just a couple of weeks ago, when he led Jacksonville to its first W since Week 3 and threw for 261 yards, two TDs and a pick against Tennessee. Last week, he took a step back with a 208-yard performance against Buffalo in which he threw a touchdown and an interception, but he's capable of leading this team to victory, especially against a struggling team.
And though the Jags may not have anything to play for, Henne is still playing to prove he can commandeer a team.
Prediction: Jaguars Win
The quarterback turmoil has been haunting the Jets all season, and it certainly hasn't done Sanchez any good this week. The uncertainty will hurt New York on the road once again, and Sanchez hasn't done much over the last few weeks to prove he can avoid the critical mistakes that have victimized this team all season.
The Jaguars have their own fair share of injuries, but Henne has proven he can move the ball, especially against the league's weaker defenses.