The Big Apple had big expectations going into the 2023 NFL season — bigger, perhaps, than at any time in recent history. Despite having a single combined playoff victory over the previous decade, both the Giants and Jets figured to be in the postseason mix, if not compete for a Super Bowl altogether. But offseason dreams have proven to be just that so far.
The Jets made it all of four plays before losing prized acquisition Aaron Rodgers to a severe injury, reverting control of their sudden title aspirations to much-maligned former first-round pick Zach Wilson. The Giants, meanwhile, lost 40-0 in their prime-time home opener, and have seen their biggest stars of 2022 fall back to Earth in additional drubbings since.
So which of MetLife Stadium’s ailing franchises has been more disappointing in 2023? And more importantly, which one has a better chance of rebounding for a potential playoff run down the road? Let’s dive in.
Who’s more disappointing: Giants or Jets?
This kind of depends on how we assess Aaron Rodgers’ injury. On its own, it clearly represents the most upsetting turn of either team’s season — and in fact one of the most disappointing twists of the entire 2023 season. Even if you were skeptical about Rodgers’ ability to guide New York to a Super Bowl, he was sure to be an entertaining upgrade for a playoff-caliber roster. No one could’ve predicted he wouldn’t complete even a single pass in his hotly anticipated Jets debut.
But if we expand our view, it’s possible to argue that Rodgers’ injury was/is far more disappointing than the Jets as a whole. Sure, the abrupt change of plans at quarterback was a supreme letdown, but that was at least partially out of the team’s control. (They didn’t exactly give the former MVP a sturdy offensive line, so they don’t get a full pass.) As soon as Zach Wilson took over five snaps into Week 1, expectations were immediately reset.
The Giants, meanwhile, entered 2023 coming off a Divisional Round playoff bid, with Brian Daboll winning Coach of the Year for his rejuvenation of quarterback Daniel Jones, running back Saquon Barkley and Co. They committed lucrative money to upgrades on both offense (tight end Darren Waller) and defense (linebacker Bobby Okereke). And yet, even taking into account early-season injuries to key starters like Barkley and left tackle Andrew Thomas, they’ve been just as bad, if not worse, in every respect.
Put it this way: with Wilson still scraping to shake the “bust” label as the Jets’ signal-caller, no one is surprised Gang Green is struggling to keep up in the AFC East. But not even Giants skeptics may have anticipated just how bad Big Blue would be to open 2023. Consider that, four weeks in, only the hapless and headline-stirring Bears have drawn a worse DVOA rating, and no other NFL team has scored fewer total points. That’s right; with 46 points during their 1-3 start, the G-Men have been outscored by:
a flailing Bengals team captained by a one-legged Joe Burrow,
a Patriots team that benched Mac Jones out of mercy in Week 4,
a Raiders team that’s onto rookie Aidan O’Connell at QB,
a Steelers team that has fans far and wide demanding staff overhaul,
and oh yes, a Jets team led by Zach Wilson.
The Giants’ production hasn’t just been lacking; it’s been historically bad. Behind a shoddy line that’s surrendered more sacks than all but the Commanders, who at least have a young QB who can sling it downfield, the G-Men have been outscored by 68 combined points in first halves alone, which according to The Ringer is tied for the worst mark by any team since at least 2000. A whopping 31 of their 46 total points (67%) came against the rebuilding Cardinals. And even QB Daniel Jones’ best work, as a scrambler, underscores a cold reality: when he isn’t risking his body as a runner, the Giants cannot move the ball.
Their Wink Martindale-led defense hasn’t been remotely good enough to offset this, entering Monday night’s matchup ranked 30th in points surrendered per game, 27th against the run and 18th against the pass. They don’t preserve leads because they never have any; while the Jets have at least stayed in ballgames, edging the Bills and going to the wire with the Chiefs and Patriots, the Giants have been blown out in three of their four matchups. All this to say, while the Jets have endured greater disappointment in the form of Rodgers’ loss, the Giants have easily been the more disappointing team to date.
Who’s more likely to rebound: Giants or Jets?
This one isn’t as difficult to assess. Even if you feel, somehow, that the Jets have been more disappointing, the path ahead looks greener for Robert Saleh’s squad. Let’s start with the talent disparity: despite the star-studded loss at QB, Gang Green boasts superior weapons on both sides of the ball, including the reigning Offensive and Defensive Rookies of the Year. This has translated on “D,” by the way, where the Jets have ranked 12th in scoring and 15th in passing despite already playing the Bills, Chiefs and Cowboys and barely keeping their own offense on the field.
Speaking of offense, Wilson may deserve most of the flak he gets, but it’s Daniel Jones who actually has more turnovers (8) than Wilson (5) through four games, and the latter flashed elite tools zipping the ball in a near-upset of the Chiefs in prime time. Patrick Mahomes wasn’t completely fibbing when he told Wilson post-game on Sunday night that he’s “got the talent.” Even if he just progresses to something like a mid-tier starter, he’s got the weapons, the defense and the O-line-offsetting mobility to keep New York feisty in close games. Jones, meanwhile, has neither the line nor the pass catchers to truly get out of his rut.
Then there’s the schedule: whereas the Giants have the fifth-toughest remaining slate, according to PlayoffStatus.com, the Jets clock in at 13th. And while the Jets’ division may be loaded with star power in Buffalo and Miami, the Bills, Dolphins and Patriots hold a combined record of just 7-5 after four weeks, compared to the 9-3 mark held by the Cowboys, Eagles and Commanders in the Giants’ NFC East home.
None of this is to say the Jets are locks to be back in the title mix. We’re probably talking about a wild-card bid at best. But a year after the Ravens made it to the dance with Tyler Huntley starting in place of an injured Lamar Jackson, the Jets seem much likelier than the Giants to remain relevant late in the year. And that’s not accounting for a miraculous Rodgers return in January.