Both the New York Jets and New Orleans Saints are coming off of losses last week, but no two losses are created equal when it comes to these teams. The Jets (5-8) were shutout in Denver 23-0, as the team managed a paltry 100 yards and six first downs on offense. Already an afterthought in the wild-card chase in the AFC, New York also lost quarterback Josh McCown for the rest of the season after he broke his left hand against the Broncos.
Meanwhile, the Saints (9-4) let their Thursday night game in Atlanta slip away from them when Drew Brees was intercepted in the end zone with less than two minutes remaining down by just three points. Besides the costly turnover, New Orleans also didn’t help its cause with 11 penalties, nine of which resulted in a Falcons first down. Even with the 20-17 loss, the Saints remain in first place in the NFC South thanks to a better divisional record than the Panthers.
Back in the friendly confines of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans must take care of business against a Jets team that will be led on offense by a quarterback making just his fifth career start.
New York at New Orleans
Kickoff: Sunday, Dec. 17 at 1 p.m. ET
TV Channel: CBS
Spread: New Orleans -15
Three Things to Watch
1. Status of and need for Alvin Kamara
Kamara left last week’s game in Atlanta in the first quarter after being diagnosed with a concussion. His early departure contributed to the Saints gaining just 50 yards on the ground, their lowest total this season.
The good news is that Kamara has cleared the concussion protocol and is expected to play against New York. However, outsiders might wonder why head coach Sean Payton would put Kamara in the game at the risk of him getting hurt again in such a short time frame. Considering New Orleans is a heavy favorite in this game, don’t be surprised if Kamara doesn’t see his usual complement of snaps, especially if the outcome is no longer in doubt.
2. Bryce Petty takes over for the J-E-T-S
Petty had not attempted a pass this season before replacing McCown last Sunday in Denver. He ended up completing just two of his nine attempts for 14 measly yards in the 23-0 shutout loss to the Broncos. With numbers like those, it is no wonder why New York’s offense struggled.
Now in his second season, McCown appeared in just six games as a rookie, making four starts. In total, he went 75-for-133 (56.4 percent) for 809 yards, three touchdowns and seven interceptions. That’s a passer rating of 60.0 and the team went 1-3 in his starts.
Even though the Jets were a longshot at best to get into the playoffs, Josh McCown was putting together his best season in his 15-year career. His absence is going to make things even tougher for an offense that ranks 23rd (tied) in the league in yards per game. If Petty cannot get the job done, New York may turn to Christian Hackenberg, the 2016 second-round pick who has yet to even appear in a regular-season game.
Chances are it won’t matter who is under center, as New Orleans comes into this game ranked 10th against the pass (216.8 ypg) and picked off 2016 MVP Matt Ryan three times last week.
3. Can the Jets generate a running game?
New York’s quarterback situation puts even more pressure on the running game. The problem there is that the Jets are just 21st in rushing offense (103.2 ypg) and have been held under 100 yards on the ground on six different occasions. Not surprisingly, when the running game is going well, New York has been more successful. The Jets are 3-0 when gaining at least 150 yards on the ground, 2-8 otherwise.
Bilal Powell (right), the team’s leading rusher (537 yards, 3 TDs), has just one 100-yard game this season and has gone over 50 just twice. To make matters worse, Matt Forte (knee) and Elijah McGuire (ankle) are dealing with injuries. Even if either plays Sunday, they figure to be limited to some degree.
New Orleans hasn’t exactly shut down teams on the ground. The Saints have allowed eight of their 13 opponents to run for more than 100 yards. They are 5-3 in those games, but also are coming off of their best showing against the run. New Orleans held Atlanta to just 50 rushing yards on 15 attempts (3.3 ypc) last week.
Even when facing inexperienced quarterbacks, the Saints have not been able to take advantage of the situation. In Brett Hundley’s first start in place of Aaron Rodgers in Week 7, Green Bay ran for 181 yards and two touchdowns on just 24 carries. A week later, the Bears ran the ball 31 times for 157 yards and a score in Mitchell Trubisky’s fourth career start. Will New Orleans clamp down on New York with Petty under center or will the Jets run wild in the Superdome?
The Jets’ slim playoff hopes dwindled even more following Josh McCown’s season-ending injury. With New England set to wrap up the AFC East title, New York’s only chance now is to get one of the wild-card berths. However, the Jets are two games behind in the win column to begin with so a sweep of their remaining three games is only part of the equation when it comes to the possibility of sneaking into the postseason.
New Orleans’ situation is completely different, as the Saints are trying to hold off the Panthers and Falcons for the NFC South crown. New Orleans’ biggest challenge for this game may be maintaining focus. Not only is this game sandwiched between matchups with Atlanta, the Saints are still smarting from that first meeting.
The acrimony over the glaring disparity in the number of penalties called last week has not subsided. The postgame revelation that a member of the officiating crew had played for the Falcons previously has only contributed to the Saints’ irritation. Additionally, the postgame antics of the Falcons’ players and stadium crew has just added more fuel to the fire.
New Orleans will get its shot at payback against Atlanta next week. But the first order of business is to take care of a New York team that is even more overmatched now that McCown is out. Even though the Saints are probably already looking ahead to next week, the J-E-T-S shouldn’t offer much resistance on Sunday.
Prediction: Saints 34, Jets 3
— Written by John La Fleur, a contributor to AthlonSports.com, who focuses on the New Orleans Saints and Michigan State Spartans. He also frequently comments on other teams in the NFL and in NCAA football. Follow him on Twitter @FBConnoisseur and read his viewpoints at gridironconnoisseur.wordpress.com and at gridiron-connoisseur.blogspot.com.
(Top photo courtesy of Getty Images)