Jets-Giants is a rivalry built on proximity more than anything else. Their New Jersey practice facilities — the Jets call Florham Park home while the Giants reside in East Rutherford — are separated by about 30 miles. They both call MetLife Stadium home, but they see each other much more frequently in the offseason and the preseason than the regular season.
Since 1970, they've confronted each other just 11 times in regular-season play. Today's huge clash will mark only the second time that both teams have entered the games with at .500 records or better in the second half of the season, so you won't get any argument here if you want to say this is the most meaningful game ever played between the two New York clubs.
In terms of football, it's mostly a civil war, but it's mostly a friendly rivalry amongst families and friends. You might love the Jets, but your buddy prefers the fellas in blue. You hang your Jets flag out in front of your house, but your neighbor has Giants bumper stickers all over his car. Your brother is an Eli guy, but you think it's just a matter of time before Sanchez gets his ring.
D'Brickashaw Ferguson has a unique perspective on the two New York teams, since he grew up in Freeport on Long Island.
"It's a true matchup — New York vs. New York. And we're trying to establish who's No. 1," Ferguson said. "It will be fun. Growing up you watch the games and always have arguments of which team you like more."
"Everything's On the Line"
But Bart Scott, who was raised in Detroit and played seven seasons with the Ravens in Baltimore, doesn't see the Giants as anything more than a team standing in his way of another playoff berth. Saturday may ultimately prove to be an elimination game for the 8-6 Jets or the 7-7 Giants, so postseason implications takes precedence.
"This is an important football game because it's an important football game — not because we're playing the Giants," Scott said. "If this had been earlier in the year and we didn't have to worry about the playoffs and it didn't have the implications it has, it would be a fun game but it only counts for one. This one counts for the playoffs, so it makes it that much more important."
Brandon Moore, another Midwesterner — he grew up in Gary, Ind., and played collegiately at Illinois — doesn't concern himself with the rivalry angle.
"We're playing for our playoff lives here and they are, too," said the Jet with the longest tenure among active-roster players. "It definitely will be that kind of atmosphere coming up, so I think to us that's the biggest focus. Whatever rivalry there is, that'll be taken care of with all of the other type of things that come into play."
Jets head coach Rex Ryan stated this week that the Jets' goal is to become the best team in the National Football League, not just the tristate area. But they'll probably have to be NYC's best team on Saturday to be in position to compete for the ultimate goal.
"Everything's on the line right now," said S Eric Smith. "This is do-or-die time, whether we're playing the Giants or whoever. This game means a lot and it's the most important game of the season."
A Pair of Comeback Connoisseurs
And if the game's on the line in the fourth quarter, who do you want at your offense's and your team's controls, Sanchez or Manning? Rex, it's no surprise, has his favorite.
"I love having Mark in there," said Ryan. "Over a two-year period, if I'm not mistaken, he's had as many fourth-quarter comebacks as anybody. And Eli has some record or something that he has in the fourth quarter, so both guys I'm sure would like to have the ball with a chance to win."
The coach is not mistaken. In the last two season combined, including the 2010 playoffs, Sanchez has eight fourth-quarter come-from-behind victories (and that total doesn't include the '10 overtime win at Cleveland, when the Jets never trailed in the second half). That's tied for the most among all NFL quarterbacks with "Matty Ice," the Falcons' Matt Ryan. The Saints' superb Drew Brees has seven and three have six comebacks — the Buccaneers' Josh Freeman, this year's Broncos wunderkind, Tim Tebow ...
And Manning, who has five fourth-quarter comebacks this year alone, with four of those five coming in Giants away games. (Meanwhile, Sanchez has four fourth-quarter comebacks this season, three at home.)
Plaxico Burress, the current Jets WR who helped Manning and the Giants win the Super Bowl four years ago, analyzed Manning's game.
"Eli's very intelligent. That's one of the things that jumps out to you if you played with him," Burress said. "He'll take his teams out of bad plays and put them in great plays with the checks and audibles he makes at the line of scrimmage. And he's one of those guys who can rally his team in the fourth quarter. He has shown that a dozen times, so hopefully we can get after him up front with our pressure and try to disrupt their passing game because they have some guys out there that can stretch the field and make big plays."
No question the Jets' offense has been more sputtery than the Giants' downfield game this season — except in the red zone, where the Green & White continue to lead the league in TD drive percentage. But one independent yet interested onlooker said Sanchez remains on an upwardly mobile career path.
"I've seen a lot of improvement in Mark Sanchez," said Rich Gannon, the CBS analyst who worked Sunday's Jets-Eagles game and worked with Sanchez a few offseasons ago. "Most important is his preparation. He knows what it takes to get ready for a season and for a game, and not just physically but mentally. I think that's where he's really improved."
Sanchez's prep has taken into account that this game, unlike the Eagles wipeout, should be a game into the fourth quarter and perhaps even into the fifth quarter. Said Ryan:
"I absolutely think it's going to be a 60-minute game and it's probably going to take all 60 to figure it out. This is going to be a hard-hitting game. Even the preseason game, let's face it, when everybody thought that wasn't a good game, I was like, 'Man, that was a great game.' That was a knock-down-drag-out, both teams smashing each other. That's what this game is going to be."
And the team that out-focuses, out-smashes, out-fourth-quarters the other in this clash of Green vs. Blue will be the team that has the happier holidays that also include a chance to advance next week into the NFL's playoff grid. Ho-ho-ho.