- WHERE: MetLife Stadium (East Rutherford, N.J.)
- WHEN: 8:15 p.m. ET | Prime Video, NFL+
A little less than two years ago this week, the New York Jets were poised to draft Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence. At 0-13 entering Week 15 of the 2020 season, the Jets held their own destiny when it came to landing the first pick of the 2021 NFL Draft and the chance to pick Lawrence, who was viewed as a generational prospect.
Then the Jets won two of their final three games. The Jacksonville Jaguars, who won their first game of the season then lost 15 straight after that, bumped the Jets out of the top slot.
The Jaguars drafted Lawrence. The Jets picked BYU’s Zach Wilson with the second overall pick.
On Thursday, the 6-8 Jaguars and 7-7 Jets -- and their quarterbacks linked by draft status -- will square off in a game that has notable playoff implications.
So it worked out well for both teams? Well, not exactly.
Lawrence has rebounded beautifully from a trying rookie season in which he led the NFL in interceptions. He’s been one of the hottest quarterbacks in the NFL over his past six games, completing 70.4% of his passes for 1,680 yards, 14 touchdowns and one interception.
Wilson, however, has been a different story. The Jets benched him following a second poor game against the Patriots in Week 11, starting Mike White. All White did was nearly match Wilson’s passing totals in three games that Wilson accumulated in his previous six starts.
After White was injured in Week 14, Wilson got the start for the Jets in Sunday’s loss to the Lions, beginning well but cooling off considerably late.
Will this be the game Wilson changes the recent narrative that has his Jets future in doubt? Or will Lawrence and the hot Jaguars upstage Wilson?
Here are four things to watch for when the Jets host the Jaguars on Thursday on Prime Video:
- Zach Wilson needs a big performance to quiet his critics. The script was playing out well for Wilson at halftime last week, having completed 8 of 14 passes for 185 yards and a 40-yard touchdown pass to tight end C.J. Uzomah. But early in the second half, he threw a bad pick that led to a Lions field goal, completed only 10 of 21 passes (misfiring to some open receivers) and took two tough sacks in the 20-17 loss. He made some eye-opening plays, but also plenty of mistakes. Wilson is getting another chance here in this big game, and the Jets badly need him to step up. They’ve lost five of seven games, with the losses all by eight points or fewer. Judging from head coach Robert Saleh’s comments, it sounds like Mike White (ribs) might have started had he been cleared for contact. So Wilson has to know he’s on thin ice heading into this game with the Jets’ playoff hopes hanging by a thread. If he plays well on a national stage, it could change his season and career trajectories significantly. If not, the Jets might turn the ball over to White when he’s cleared.
- Trevor Lawrence looks to keep dealing with Jags in playoff chase. The second-year emergence of Lawrence has been extremely encouraging almost from the start, with Doug Pederson and Lawrence appearing to be a much better pairing than the QB and his last head coach. And it’s really been impressive of late, as Lawrence has thrown for 14 TDs and only one INT over his last six games. Most recently, he led Jacksonville from 17 down to an overtime win over Dallas on Sunday. It was his third 300-yard passing game in his past four outings. Lawrence’s nine fumbles are a bit high, but four of those came in Week 4 and the Jets defense has forced only one turnover in the past five games. What is concerning for the Jaguars is that left tackle Cam Robinson (knee) suffered a season-ending injury Sunday, thrusting backup Walker Little into the spotlight. The Jets have a strong pass rush and had held six straight opponents under 200 yards passing prior to last week.
- Jets defense might have to carry load on Thursday. For most of the season, the Jets defense has kept the team in games. The unit ranks in the top 10 in most major categories, including yards, points and first downs allowed. Although the defense’s turnover-creating prowess has been lacking in recent games, it’s clear that Saleh’s defense is the team’s most reliable element right now. With the offense sputtering at times under the unpredictable Wilson, it’s clear that the Jets could use a big performance in their final home game of the regular season. The Jets have allowed at least 20 points in three straight games after allowing 17.8 points the first 11 games. The defense also has failed to get key, late stops in losses to the Browns, Vikings and Lions, so playing a full 60 minutes will be crucial, especially with Lawrence leading three fourth-quarter comebacks this season.
- Who will be the next playmaker to step up for Jaguars? In Sunday’s win over the Cowboys, it was Zay Jones who did the heavy lifting offensively with six catches for 190 yards and three TDs. The week prior, tight end Evan Engram was the leading man with a 11-162-2 receiving line. In the Week 12 win over the Ravens, Marvin Jones and JaMycal Hasty stepped up with key plays. Travis Etienne has been a big-play back since returning to the lineup. Christian Kirk is having a career season, too. In short, the Jaguars have lots of options they can turn to. The Jets defense will match up well in some regards, as cornerbacks Sauce Gardner, D.J. Reed Jr. and Michael Carter II have done nice work against some quality receivers and the front seven has contained several good backs. The Jets did struggle a bit to keep the Lions under wraps at times on Sunday. But if there’s an area where the Jets do have an advantage, it’s in the big-pass-play department. The Jaguars have only three receptions of 40-plus yards this season, and the Jets have allowed only five such plays all season.