In the eyes of the oddsmakers at DraftKings, no Week 15 affair was supposed to be more lopsided than Sunday's meeting between the 9-4 Los Angeles Rams and the visiting 0-13 New York Jets. In this week's picks column at Bleacher Report, every NFL writer picked the Rams to not only win but also to do so going away.
Umm, about that.
In what has to be the most surprising outcome this season, the Rams did not win. As a matter of fact, they never even led. Instead, the Jets stunned them (and, frankly, the rest of America) by winning 23-20. And in doing so, they sent shockwaves across both the NFC playoff picture and next April's NFL draft.
After they got shellacked 40-3 by the Seattle Seahawks last week, there were some rumblings that the Jets had essentially packed it in for the year—that the team had resigned itself to becoming the third franchise to post a winless 16-game season. But head coach Adam Gase insisted he hadn't seen any quit in his team.
"I haven't seen that," Gase said. "I think guys have done a good job of resetting and getting ready to go to the next one. They know what kind of challenge we have this week, they know how we have to play, they know this has to be a well-played complementary football game for us to put ourselves in position in the fourth quarter."
In what has to be a first this season, Gase was right.
This wasn't some kind of fluky win filled with weird plays in which the Jets pulled a victory out of their backsides. For the eighth straight game, they scored on their opening drive. It was 13-3 at the half and 20-3 after the first series of the third quarter.
The Jets flat-out outplayed a team that entered the game in first place in the NFL's toughest division, and Gase was overjoyed to see his players finally break through into the win column.
"I'm just so happy for our guys," he said. "They've done such a great job with how they've worked. It's been too long for us to even remember what a win feels like almost. It was great to see those guys get excited."
Gase is thrilled. The Jets players are no doubt ecstatic. But fans of the team?
Not so much.
Jets fans had taken a measure of solace in what 0-16 could mean for the future of the franchise. A winless season would have ensured they had the top pick in the 2021 draft, and the top pick in the 2021 draft means getting Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence, who is the most coveted quarterback prospect in a long time.
Those fans recently got a boost when Lawrence intimated he'd be amenable to playing in New York if the Jets had the No. 1 pick in April while appearing on The Dan Patrick Show (h/t Andy Vasquez of NorthJersey.com).
"I know some of the stuff I say sounds cliche," Lawrence said. "But just to have the opportunity to go somewhere, help someone rebuild if that's what it is or whatever, and just win. That's something I love doing. I think that's what I'm best at, is winning."
That's the sort of talk that gave Jets fans the vapors—vapors that are now headed south.
By virtue of New York's win, the Jacksonville Jaguars now have the first pick. They're also 1-13 but would have a weaker strength of schedule if both teams finish 1-15. They also have a more difficult schedule from here on out.
Jacksonville plays the Chicago Bears and Indianapolis Colts, two teams fighting for their postseason lives. New York gets a Cleveland Browns team in a similar situation next week, but it closes the season against a New England Patriots team that was eliminated from the playoffs in Week 15.
Gee, I wonder if Bill Belichick would sit "injured" starters in a meaningless game if it meant not seeing Lawrence twice a season in perpetuity.
(Yes, as consolation prizes go, Justin Fields of Ohio State isn't a bad one. But over the last few weeks, the gap between Fields and Lawrence has become a chasm, and it's one that may grow even wider after the pair meet again in the Sugar Bowl on Jan 1.)
Jets fans weren't the only folks left nauseated by what happened at SoFi Stadium.
After the game, Rams head coach Sean McVay sounded like a man who needed an air-sickness bag:
"I got to do a better job getting us ready to go, and really it was in all three phases. It wasn't good enough. This loss will demoralize us only as much as we allow it to. It's gonna be embarrassing, sick to your stomach about it, but we do have two games left, and we have got to find a way to rebound and respond on a short week, not really a short week but this week, as we get ready for the Seahawks. But very humbling and it's going to be humbling, but we're going to move forward and that's exactly what we'll do. That's all I know how to do."
McVay has good reason to be frustrated.
The Rams entered what looked like a gimme week in the driver's seat in the NFC West. Now, their backs are somewhat against the wall. Next Sunday, they will travel to face the 10-4 Seattle Seahawks before ending the regular season at home against the Arizona Cardinals.
Lose in the Pacific Northwest and the division is decided.
It gets worse.
Sunday's loss also dropped the Rams into a virtual tie with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Rams own the head-to-head tiebreak over the Bucs, but another loss could mean falling to the No. 6 seed in the NFC.
If that doesn't sound like a big deal, consider this: The No. 5 team gets an NFC East champion that will all but certainly have more losses than wins. The sixth seed would get to travel to either New Orleans or Seattle.
A loss to Seattle (combined with an Arizona win over the San Francisco 49ers) would also set up a Week 17 matchup with the Cardinals that could drop the Rams all the way to No. 7 in the NFC. And the matchups don't get easier the further down the bracket you fall.
If Sunday taught us anything, it's that nothing can be taken for granted in the NFL. The Jaguars could win one of their last two games. The Rams have already beaten the Seahawks once this year and could do so again.
We could wind up back where we started just as easily as we got to this unexpected place, or this most surprising of outcomes could affect the fortunes of one franchise this year and another for years to come.
And if Lawrence really is the player so many think he is and New York misses out on him because of what happened in L.A. on Sunday, it would unquestionably be the most Jets thing ever.