This past Sunday, the Jets and Chargers met at the Meadowlands for the first time since 2014, and while both New York and L.A. haven’t been remarkable this season, Sunday’s matchup between the two teams might just be a rough preview of next year’s AFC title game.
Both the Jets and Chargers have immense work to do before they can compete in the upper echelons of the NFL, but if the pieces fall correctly into place, then both teams could hold the top two spots in the AFC as soon as next year. While the Patriots and Steelers have consistently held the American Conference in check for nearly the past decade, teams like the Jaguars and Chiefs have been consistently trending upward over the course of the 2017 season. However, after exceeding expectations this year, both the Chargers and the Jets are only a few steps away from challenging the “Old Guard” and making power moves across the NFL.
In Los Angeles, Philip Rivers has been leading the Chargers to an unexpectedly successful season after starting the year 0-4. Although their star Quarterback just turned 36, Rivers is having one of the best years of his career, posting over 4000 passing yards along with 25 touchdowns. Alongside Rivers, Wide Receiver Keenan Allen and Running Back Melvin Gordon have powered the offense to 8 wins, 2 more than they were projected to win during the preseason, according to FiveThirtyEight; with still one more game to play.
Meanwhile, on the defensive side of the ball, linemen Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram have propelled the Chargers to 5th in the NFL in sacks with a total of 41 over 15 games. Meanwhile, the Chargers secondary ranks 4th in the NFL with 17 interceptions over the course of the season, as Safety Tre Boston and Cornerback Casey Hayward have turned L.A’s defense into formidable opponents for opposing offenses this season. And although the Chargers have looked very solid on both sides of the ball, they are just a few players away from making a deep run at the playoffs and becoming one of the top teams in the NFL in the years to come.
For the Jets, there a few more holes that need to be plugged, but the issues that face New York are easily fixable. The primary struggle facing the Jets is obviously the Quarterback position. While Josh McCown has proven to be a serviceable interim signal-caller, the Jets are desperately lacking a playmaker on the offensive side of the ball. And while the 2018 NFL Draft is the most Quarterback heavy draft in recent memory, the Jets’ front office has proven through Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg that General Manager Mike Maccagnan is lacking an eye for talent when it comes to Quarterbacks. Therefore, it would make the most logical sense to take the Jets’ $100,000,000 in salary cap space and sign Redskins QB Kirk Cousins to a long-term deal.
Cousins has been able to turn mediocre receivers like Jamison Crowder and Josh Doctson into above-average talents. When paired up with actual solid players like Wide Receivers Robby Anderson and Jermaine Kearse, along with Tight End Austin Seferian-Jenkins, the potential for the success of Cousins in New York seem unlimited. Besides Quarterback, the Jets could use a solid Running Back who could be used in tandem with Bilal Powell out of the backfield. With this logic in mind, it would make sense for the Jets to cut veteran RB Matt Forte and draft Penn State RB Saquon Barkley in the first round of the 2018 Draft and utilize him and Powell in a “one-two punch” scenario, similar to how the New Orleans Saints utilized RB Mark Ingram and RB Alvin Kamara in 2017.
Beyond that, Defensive End Muhammad Wilkerson is expected to be cut from the Jets prior to the 2018 season, meaning that the Jets will need to acquire a solid pass rusher from either Free Agency or the Draft.
With both teams being so close to success, it’s not out of the question to suggest that both the Jets and Chargers could be powerhouses in the years to come and that Sunday’s uninspiring, low-scoring match-up in the Meadowlands was an early prototype for the future of the NFL.