Sunday’s game between the Chargers and Jets was supposed to be the NFL’s marquee matchup for Week 16. The schedule makers saw the potential for two playoff-bound teams meeting each other with postseason ramifications.
They were wrong.
After both clubs were officially eliminated from playoff contention (actually, before that even happened) the NFL flexed the game out of the Sunday night slot, dropping it to its 1 p.m. EST kickoff and leaving most who are actually going to participate at Metlife Stadium trying to sell the game.
“I know playing this game growing up, you played like crazy when nobody was watching or nobody cared,” San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers told the media this week. “But you care. And we all do. We want to go out and win as if we were still in the hunt. It won’t mean much for people on the outside, but you’ll see people in the trenches go after it.”
Added Rivers’ head coach, Norv Turner: “Anytime you go walk out on the field, step out on the field, there’s something to play for. There’s a lot of guys that are trying to establish themselves with careers in the National Football League. There’s a lot of guys that are trying to continue theirs in the National Football League. Every time you go out there and play you’re being evaluated. You might be being evaluated by someone in this building. You might be being evaluated by someone who is from a prospective team who might sign you in the future. I think it’s in everyone’s interest to get excited about playing and go play at the best level you can.”
That certainly is the case for a certain Jets quarterback who will be making his first NFL start Sunday.
If there is any intrigue surrounding this game, it’s coming from New York, as head coach Rex Ryan named Greg McElroy the starting quarterback over Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow.
McElroy—the second-year man out of Alabama—has played in just one NFL game. He led the Jets to a barn-burning 7-6 win over the Arizona Cardinals three weeks ago. After subbing in for a struggling Sanchez in the third quarter of that game, McElroy went 5-for-7 on pass attempts for 29 yards while throwing the only touchdown pass of the game.
If there’s one San Diego player looking to impress in East Rutherford on Sunday, it should be much-maligned wide receiver Robert Meachem.
Meachem—who signed a four-year $25 million contract to replace Vincent Jackson last offseason—has not seen any action since the Week 12 overtime loss to Baltimore. But it’s not like he did any heaving lifting in that game. Meachem played just two snaps in that loss to the Ravens.
His best game of the year was against New Orleans, catching three passes—two of them for touchdowns—for 67 yards against his former team.
Since then, Meachem has been a ghost. But he’ll get his chance against the Jets, after Malcolm Floyd suffered an ankle injury last week.
“It’d be great to get him going,” Rivers said. “They way we got him going in New Orleans, I thought it was going to be fixing to be getting on a roll. It hasn’t turned out that way, but it certainly would be great to finish the season on a positive note.”
Meachem’s production, however, may depend on if Rivers can get him the ball. And that might depend on if San Diego’s make shift offensive line can give Rivers time in the pocket.
New York’s 26 sacks may not induce fear in opposing offensive lines, but Rivers knows the sort of matchup problems his offensive line will be in store for. In last year’s loss to the Jets, Rivers was sacked once and threw two interceptions.
This year, the Jets ranked second in the NFL in passing yards allowed.
“They’re a complete defense,” Turner said. “This defensive front creates a lot of challenges for whoever they’re playing.”
Maybe New York isn’t so complete. While its pass defense is among the best in the league, the rush defense is porous. The Jets rank 29th in the NFL in rushing yards allowed.
The only thing, however, is that San Diego’s top back, Ryan Mathews, is out for the season with his second broken clavicle. The Chargers will have to rely on veterans Jackie Battle and Ronnie Brown to pick up the rushing load. And that should leave Chargers faithful a little uneasy. Combined, the two backup running backs have rushed for 394 yards. Brown, however, does produce more catching the football. He has 360 yards receiving yards on the season.
Though there may not be many offensive fireworks for either team, Rivers does still have a reminder for all those fans willing to watch Sunday: “You’re still playing in an NFL football game.”
That’s probably more of a reminder for himself and his team than for the fans in the stands and watching at home.
Prediction: Since Norv Turner took over as head coach at the beginning of the 2007 season, the Chargers have gone 7-16 when playing in the Eastern time zone (that includes games in 2012). I don’t see the Chargers winning with a struggling Philip Rivers, a revamped offensive line and no real playmakers around him (even Antonio Gates isn’t having an amazing year). Add the fact that Ryan Mathews isn’t going to get to play against one of the worst rush defenses in the NFL, the Jets seem to have all the upside. New York, however, struggles just as much on the offensive side of the football as the Chargers. But the Jets don’t have to fly 3,000 miles to play this meaningless game.
The oddsmakers in Las Vegas has put the over/under at 40.5. I’ll take the under and I’ll have the Jets barely making the two-point spread: New York 13, San Diego 10.
Written by Gerald Nicdao