Before the season, the Dec. 23 Jets-Green Bay game looked to be possibly an intriguing interconference matchup between the Packers, perennial playoff participants, and the Jets, rapidly on the rise. Instead, both teams come to MetLife Stadium on Sunday physically and mentally banged up and out of the playoff hunt.
And as the Jets try to wrap up their home schedule on an up note while sending Green Bay to its first winless road schedule since before the New York Titans were born, the messages out of both camps have a similar ring.
"Our record is what it is," Jets head coach Todd Bowles said. "We're a 4-10 football team. We compete our butts off, but there are no moral victories for playing hard. We've got to win ballgames."
And from interim HC Joe Philbin on his 5-8-1 Pack: "I think we have a very good locker room, I think they’re good men, and I’m excited to see how we respond.”
Here are seven more points of interest in the Jets-Packers game that, despite the teams' records, will feature a QB matchup between young Sam Darnold and ageless (although achy) Aaron Rodgers (1 p.m. ET kickoff):
1. Green on Green
The Jets' infrequent rivalry against the Packers that began in 1973 had been going fine until fairly recently. The Green & White lead the all-time series, 8-4, but have lost the last two, in 2010 at then-New Meadowlands Stadium by 9-0 and in 2014 at Lambeau Field by a fall-from-ahead 31-24 verdict. Their last two victories over the Pack were directed by younger QB Chad Pennington over veteran gunslinger Brett Favre — in 2006 at Green Bay by 38-10 and in 2002 in the Meadowlands by 42-17 to lift the Jets to their most recent AFC East title and into the playoffs.
2. Rocky Road
Cheeseheads travel well and no doubt will be well-represented in the MetLife stands Sunday. But that hasn't helped the Packers, who are 0-7 on the road this year and in fact have lost their last nine away from Lambeau's friendly confines. The last time the Packers went winless on the road was 1958, which in part prompted the hiring of Vince Lombardi. This historical trivia may encourage Jets fans but they have to be on guard. Not only will the Pack pull out all the stops to get this road win but of those seven away losses, five have been one-score games. Odds are this one, as well, won't be over till it's over.
3. Count Him In
Those last two Jets-Packers games are significant on Rodgers' résumé. The 2010 win remains the only one of the 169 starts in his 14 NFL seasons that he didn't lead GB on at least one TD drive (not including three starts he left early due to injury). And the '14 win after the Pack trailed 21-3 was at the time the second-largest comeback of Rodgers' career. Posting another W on Sunday would also be significant since he's been playing through a knee injury all year and strained his groin at Chicago and he's declared that he's playing vs. the Jets: "I think it's a lot about leadership. ... I want to be out there with the guys and I look forward to being out there."
4. Hot Hands
With their running games wearing down — Green Bay just IR'd Aaron Jones, who's packing an NFL-leading 5.47 yards/carry, while the Jets have had to shelve Bilal Powell and Isaiah Crowell — two wideouts may well emerge in this one. For the Packers, Pro Bowler Davante Adams is having a career year with 100 receptions for 1,315 yards and 12 TDs. For the Jets, Robby Anderson's not near those numbers but has returned to form the past two games with 11 receptions for 172 yards, two TDs and four 20-yards-plus catches. "He's playing with a lot of confidence now and I am, too," said Darnold. "I'm just finding him and he's just happening to get open a lot."
Take a Look Through Top Photos of the Series Against Green Bay
5. Under Pressure
Green Bay has been grumbling about Rodgers this season for not being, well, Rodgers-like. Besides multiple missed connections in crunch time, he's also been sacked 44 times this season and 19 times in the last five games. This roughly coincides with a rise in the Jets' sack production — they had six against the Texans' Deshaun Watson and 12 the past three games. They express great respect for Rodgers but would love to turf him as often as possible. "Rodgers is up there with the greats," said LB Jordan Jenkins, leading the Green & White with seven sacks. "That's something to tell your kids about when you get a sack on him. That's motivation."
6. More Rodgers Metrics
Rodgers has still put up some outstanding numbers, none more impressive than his TD-to-INT ratio. As Philbin said: "I think there's a lot of teams in the National Football League that would love to have a quarterback with 23 touchdowns and two interceptions and who's battled through some things and provided leadership to the team each and every week." Even with three lost fumbles, Rodgers doesn't figure to turn it over much. The best the Jets may hope for is to make some stops with their third-down defense, No. 2 in the NFL, against the Pack's third-down offense, 23rd in the league and said to be one of the factors in HC Mike McCarthy's dismissal.
7. Familiar Faces
The Jets won't be running into DL Muhammad Wilkerson, who, after being released by the Jets and signed by Green Bay to a one-year deal in March, played only three games before going on IR with an ankle injury. But the Green & White will have to deal with Mike Pettine, their defensive coordinator from 2009-12 who's now the Pack's DC. Pettine has had to patch things up — most recently, it was reported Kenny Clark (elbow) won't play again this year — but Pet's pass defense is ninth in yards/game and his pressure attack, led by LBs Clay Matthews and Kyler Fackrell, have the league's fourth-best sack rate. Darnold and company, beware.