Head-to-head matchups can be compelling no matter whether the competing teams are fighting for top seeds and conference dominance or for a chance at a break-even record and for their playoff lives.
The Jets and Falcons, playing in the rain today at MetLife Stadium, are in the latter category. The Jets are 4-7 and need to keep their small window to an AFC playoff berth open with a bold stretch run, beginning with a victory today. The Falcons are 5-6 and, although they're in first place (by a tiebreaker) in the .500-challenged NFC South, they could be easily passed by the Saints and Buccaneers over the final six weeks and fall out of the NFC postseason picture.
The Jets have gotten some positive developments in their month-and-a-half quest ahead. The return of Aaron Rodgers to practice can't be understated. He's not close to playing in a game yet and will be inactive today, but he is active in the minds of the Jets. His presence on the practice field and in the meeting rooms and locker room have lifted the team despite their four-game losing skid. What his effect he can have on the Jets on the field today remains to be seen.
QB Tim Boyle, in his second Jets start, and the offense also feel that its late energy despite the 34-13 loss to Miami on Black Friday could bode well for more third-down conversions and explosive plays. Also, the return of LT Mekhi Becton after a one-week injury absence could lend some power and experience to the offensive line.
See photos the Jets arriving for Sunday's game against the Atlanta Falcons.
The Jets defense could have a productive day if they are on their game against Atlanta QB Desmond Ridder (former college teammate of Sauce Gardner), who is tied for fourth in the NFL in turnovers and tied for second with four lost strip sacks. But Ridder also has been productive when protected and has a strong ally in first-round RB Bijan Robinson, who leads all NFL rookies with 703 rushing yards.
Nickel corner Michael Carter returns to the Jets D from a two-game hiatus due to a hamstring injury. And special teams captain and Pro Bowler Justin Hardee, who spent five weeks on short-term IR before returning to practice this week, is also active and could be back in action.
Rodgers might be considered a good omen for the Green & White today, and here's another fact for the historically connected: The Jets' last home win over the Falcons occurred in the last millennium, 1998 to be exact, when they downed the Birds at old Meadowlands Stadium, 28-3. Not as bad as it sounds since the teams have played at the Jets home just two times since then. But in '98, that win was one of 12 that the Jets used to finish strong and springboard into the playoffs.
Here is the Jets' seven-man inactive list:
- Emergency QB Zach Wilson
- WR Randall Cobb
- CB Bryce Hall
- LB Zaire Barnes
- T Billy Turner
- DL Carl Lawson
- OL Austin Deculus
And these are the Falcons' seven inactives:
- Emergency QB Logan Woodside
- WR Mack Hollins
- CB Mike Hughes
- OL Jovaughn Gwyn
- DL Travis Bell
- TE John FitzPatrick
- DL Joe Gaziano