For the first time since 2004, both New York professional football teams are above .500 at the season’s midpoint. (In ‘04, the Jets lost in the divisional round to the Steelers, and the Giants lost eight in a row in the first season of Tom Coughlin’s reign.) In fact, both teams are in first place, though the Jets are tied with the Bills and Patriots. For the Jets, while the excitement over Brett Favre has been tempered by his poor play over the last four games, an easy schedule and some good fortune has boosted their fortunes. For the Giants, pretty much everything has gone right; Coughlin’s charges seem dramatically improved over last year’s Super Bowl champions. But there’s a long way to go. (Last year, the Detroit Lions were 6–2 halfway through and finished the season 7–9. And they’re winless so far this year.) It’s impossible to figure how the rest of the season is going to go — but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try! Here’s a week-by-week primer to see how it all might — might — turn out.
St. Louis Rams (2–6) at New York Jets (5–3). The Rams betrayed a brief flicker of life — beating NFC rivals Washington and Dallas in successive weeks and giving the Patriots a legitimate scare — before being destroyed at home by the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday. Their embattled quarterback is telling local reporters that he “doesn’t give a damn” what people say about his terrible play. The team has imploded. Brett Favre could throw four interceptions, and the Jets are still winning this game. Jets 28, Rams 13
New York Giants (7–1) at Philadelphia Eagles (5–3). On NBC’s Sunday Night Football, the red-hot Giants travel to a city still gleeful (and pretty much still burning) over the Phillies’ World Series title. The Eagles are better than their record, Brian Westbrook is healthy and playing great, and Philadelphia needs a win to stay in the divisional race. Here’s guessing they get it. Eagles 23, Giants 21
New York Jets (6–3) at New England Patriots (6–3).
Hope you don’t have Time Warner Cable, because if you do, you’re gonna have to go to a bar to watch this one: It’s a Thursday night NFL network game. The Eric Mangini–Bill Belichick “rivalry” is still a heated one, and if the Patriots beat the Bills in week ten (like we project them to here), this will be for first place. But the Jets couldn’t beat the Brady-less Pats at home in September; there’s little reason to think they can do so in Foxboro. Patriots 26, Jets 9
Baltimore Ravens (6–3) at New York Giants (7–2). A rematch of the worst Super Bowl of all time — it’s strange to see Kerry Collins back, quarterbacking the only undefeated team in the NFL — is a game that plays straight into the Giants’ hands. Rookie Ravens QB Joe Flacco will be pleased to get out of the Meadowlands alive. Giants 19, Ravens 6
New York Jets (6–4) at Tennessee Titans (10–0). Told you the Jets might have a rougher schedule in the second half. The Titans probably won’t go undefeated (they close with the Steelers and Colts), but they’re unlikely to fall to the Jets at home. Titans 27, Jets 10
New York Giants (8–2) at Arizona Cardinals (7–3). Because the NFC West is so terrible this year, the long-suffering Cardinals are a favorite to make the playoffs for the first time in a decade. Unfortunately for them, the Giants are light years better than anyone else in the NFC West. Giants 34, Cardinals 28
Denver Broncos (6–5) at New York Jets (6–5). The two teams have the same record, but the game’s far more important for the Jets than it is for the Broncos. The AFC West is nearly as bad as the NFC West, and the division champ could end up going 8–8. Meanwhile, the Jets, because of the Patriots’ sweep, will be clawing for one of the two wild-card spots. That extra fire gives them a slight edge. Jets 31, Broncos 28
New York Giants (9–2) at Washington Redskins (8–3). The three-team scrum in the NFC East (and that’s assuming the Cowboys, who everyone was projecting as the conference favorite going into the season, continue their collapse) hinges mainly on this game, a rematch of the season opener. The Hogs (the fat male Redskins fans who dress up like elderly women) will lose their minds, but the Giants can handle them. Plus, they’re appreciably better than the ‘Skins. They’ll show it here. Giants 19, Redskins 14
Philadelphia Eagles (9–3) at New York Giants (10–2). Under NBC’s “flex” scheduling system — which allows the Peacock to take their pick of which games they want from week eleven on — you can count on this being a Sunday-night game. Not only is it for the NFC East title, it’s also probably for home-field advantage in the playoffs. These teams are evenly matched, but the Giants, if only to make up for last year’s 3–5 record at home, are going undefeated in the Meadowlands. Giants 16, Eagles 9
New York Jets (7–5) at San Francisco 49ers (3–9). In his first game as interim coach, Mike Singletary ejected a player from the game, dropped his pants in front of his players at halftime, and freaked out at the postgame press conference. By this point of the season, he will have burst into flames. Jets 31, 49ers 14
Buffalo Bills (9–4) at New York Jets (8–5). After pulling out of the midseason tailspin — and by “midseason,” I mean “right now, at the beginning of November — thanks to a frighteningly easy schedule, the Bills have their act together. More to the point, they’re playing disciplined and steady. At least one game in the season’s second half will be decided by a terrible fourth-quarter interception from Favre. Here’s betting this is the one. Bills 22, Jets 21.
New York Giants (11–2) at Dallas Cowboys (7–6). Tony Romo’s return wasn’t enough to fix the hundreds of things wrong for the Cowboys this year. How about a game where Terrell Owens finally loses his mind midfield and kills a drifter? Giants 27, Cowboys 13.
Carolina Panthers (11–3) at New York Giants (12–2). Perfect scheduling for the NFL, as the two best teams in the NFC play for home-field advantage. (Presumably on national television.) The winner becomes the instant favorite to reach the Super Bowl. But the Giants are going undefeated at home this year. How does overtime sound? Giants 16, Panthers 13 (OT)
New York Jets (8–6) at Seattle Seahawks (3–11). Mike Holmgren has taken his teams to three Super Bowls, and won one. He’s retiring after this year. This will be his last home game. Everything is leaning against the Jets this game, who will be playing tight and, if injuries are any gauge, will be out of running backs. This will be the backbreaker. But hey: Holmgren gets a win in his last game, so there’s that. Seahawks 21, Jets 17
New York Giants (13–2) at Minnesota Vikings (7–8). In a meaningless game — Coughlin has home-field advantage wrapped up and rests his starters — the Giants lose, and nobody cares. They’re just happy to have the extra week off. Vikings 31, Giants 10
Miami Dolphins (9–6) at New York Jets (8–7). The season, for all intents and purposes, is over, but the Jets take glee in knocking the Dolphins out of the playoff chase (the Bills win the division, and the Patriots get the wild-card, if you’re curious) in what turns out to be Brett Favre’s final game in the NFL. Get your tickets now. Jets 28, Dolphins 14
All this lunacy sets up the following seedings in the NFC:
1. New York Giants (13–3)
2. Carolina Panthers (12–4)
3. Arizona Cardinals (10–6)
4. Chicago Bears (10–6)
5. Philadelphia Eagles (12–4)
6. Washington Redskins (11–5)
What happens then? Man, that’s too far in the future. Who could possibly guess that?