Philip Rivers and the Los Angeles Chargers come to MetLife Stadium, head coach Anthony Lynn's home office for six years, with post-holiday goodies on the line. At 7-7, they're in the sixth-seed/second-wild-card slot in the AFC postseason grid, thus in control of their playoff destiny, and still with a shot at the AFC West title.
Todd Bowles' Jets, at 5-9, officially lost their longshot playoff bid in the Superdome last week yet still have plenty of reasons to look forward to Weeks 16 and 17 and on into '18. And one with a lot riding on these last two games is QB Bryce Petty, making his second start of the season and sixth as a pro.
The Saints game wasn't perfect, for sure, but Petty said, "I felt really good, I felt really confident. ... I'm excited about the progress and excited about where we're going. ... To me, it's all a success because I'm growing and learning."
Here are seven points to unwrap and assemble before Jets-Chargers kicks off Sunday at 1 p.m. ET:
1. Festive RivalryJets-Chargers is a rich interdivisional rivalry. It began in 1960, when the Titans of New York played the Chargers of Los Angeles twice before they relocated south. The Chargers lead the series 21-12-1 but that includes two Jets playoff wins — 20-17 in OT in 2004 and 17-14 in '09, both on the West Coast. As for the Jets' Christmas Eve performances, not so rich with one win in six tries, that win coming in the first one, by 42-31 on Dec. 24, 1967. At San Diego. Time to put a bookend victory for that game under the Green & White tree.
Jets Try to Play Spoiler This Weekend at MetLife
2. Starts and FinishesThe Jets would like to finally coordinate their good starts and strong finishes. Even with their cathartic comeback over the Chiefs, they're still minus-76 in fourth-quarter point margin, the third-lowest margin of any quarter in the NFL. And the past three games they've trailed 14-0, 10-0 and 10-0 in first quarters. Perhaps the Chargers are an antidote: The visitors have scored just seven first-quarter points in seven road games combined and they've been held scoreless in the fourth quarters of their last three games.
3. Coaching ConnectionLynn of course coached the Jets RBs from 2009-14 before moving on to Buffalo, then to his first permanent HC post with LA, which lost its first four games under his rein. "I know how it was when I broke in. We're pretty close," Bowles said about reaching out to him early this season. "Just letting him know, first year, it gets better. He's a tough guy anyway, so just stick to it." Lynn did, and it did — the 'Bolts have gone 7-3 since. As tight as they are, Bowles wants to go 2-0 vs. Lynn, who was Buffalo's interim HC in last year's 30-10 finale loss to the Jets.
4. Back to the GrindPetty's air game could be severely restricted by LA's 10-sack DEs, Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram. On the other hand, BP could throw efficiently behind a Bilal Powell/Matt Forte/Elijah McGuire/O-line ground game that will try to pound away at the Chargers' run defense, ranked 30th in the NFL in rush yards/game (128.3) and 31st in yards/carry (4.8). And with McGuire at NO turning in the longest catch by a Jets back this year (38 yards) and his first pro receiving TD, don't rule out a return to midseason form when the Jets RBs were at their receiving best.
5. Old HandsDC Kacy Rodgers says Rivers "is still as competitive as ever." Bowles adds: "Highly intelligent, highly accurate." One measure of the 14th-year QB: With 162 passing yards, he'll hit 4,000 for the ninth time in 10 years. His most productive receivers are WR Keenan Allen and RB Melvin Gordon. And in a pinch we know he'll find 15th-year TE Antonio Gates, who in eight games vs. the Jets has 39 catches for 536 yards and six TDs. TEs have eight TDs vs. the Jets this season so S Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye and LB Darron Lee among others must be ready.
6. Reaching RiversIf the Jets' hot-and-cold pass rush couldn't sack the Saints, No. 2 in sacks allowed/pass play, what chances do they have against the Chargers, ranked No. 1 with Rivers being taken down only 17 times? Well, Muhammad Wilkerson sacked him once in 2012. And the Jets have an X-factor: DL Xavier Cooper as a Brown notched his first pro sack in his second pro game vs. Rivers in '15, then his QB hit forced Rivers into an intentional grounding last season. "I always like playing against him," Cooper said, "because he always gets his guys ready to play."
7. Battleground Red ZoneIt sounds neat to say that the Jets now own the NFL's longest red zone scoring streak since they've converted 21 consecutive opportunities inside the opponents' 20 (13 touchdowns, eight field goals). But a downside to RZ stats is that you have to get there first and the Jets' 31 RZ drives are tied for second-fewest in the league. Still, it's a good thing that Petty directed two TD drives in four RZ trips at New Orleans — a warmup to trying to punch it in against the Chargers' No. 2-ranked red zone TD defense at 39.4%.