While the NFL grows and flourishes and plants seeds in our nation's fertile sports soil, what we have here is dimly different. While the NFL seems to be in a rolling state of profit, the Meadowlands are reminiscent of a dark time in our history. If the NFL is private planes and luxury suites, the Meadowlands are soup lines and Salvation Army clothes.
Indeed, John Steinbeck would have worked wonders with that dust bowl called MetLife Stadium. It's dry, empty and filled with cats, just like some abandoned prairie home from his classic novel, The Grapes of Wrath. But just as that corridor of dead crops and lost dreams eventually found life, along with the rest of America, the Meadowlands could be a very different place next Thanksgiving.
The Jets are a gridiron atrocity.
They are 0-10 and plunging toward 0-16 and a place among the worst teams in NFL history. Meanwhile, the Giants are a comparatively feisty 3-7. We can't be sure if we see true progress in the G-Men because it's real or because they're simply not the Jets. Either way, our two NFL clubs are a combined 3-17 and an embarrassment to our rather proud city.
But consider that the Jets would be well served to finish winless, despite the historical stains that come with it. For it would give them the top draft pick and a clear path to Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence, perhaps the best college prospect since John Elway. Some may disagree on how great Lawrence will be, but every pundit agrees he's a unicorn, a can't-miss kid who has absolutely everything an NFL team wants from a QB. He's big, strong, smart, tough, mobile, accurate, can make all the throws and doesn't flinch when large men swipe at him in the pocket.
Everyone except Adam Gase knows there will be a new coach wearing Gang Green next year. And with the right quarterback things can get better pretty quickly. Check out the warp speed with which Kliff Kingsbury and Kyler Murray turned that Cardinals tanker around. Look at the absurd size and skill set rookie QB Justin Herbert brings to the Chargers. If Anthony Lynn loses his job in January, coaches will line up around the block to get a crack at coaching Herbert. And yes, even the Bengals were an emerging team with Zac Taylor and QB Joe Burrow, before the rookie sensation suffered a gruesome knee injury last week.
The Giants, meanwhile, are slowly improving, playing a rugged defense, ranked 12th in points allowed, 6th in rushing yards allowed, and 7th in fumbles recovered. They keep competing despite playing musical chairs at RB without their best player, Saquon Barkley. Unlike Gase, Joe Judge will surely return next year. Daniel Jones has learned better ball security. But they clearly need to get better on offense, as one of just three NFL teams averaging under 20 points per game (19.5) Jones has just eight touchdown passes and nine interceptions. (Ryan Tannehill, hardly a Hall of Famer, has 22 TD and 4 INT.) Next year will be Jones's last chance to prove he's a franchise quarterback, and should have a full arsenal (including Barkley) to help make his case.
Listing the Jets' rankings is like reading an obituary. They are every bit as bad as their record implies. But the NFL is designed to make it easier for bad teams to get better, and harder for great teams to stay on top. By trading some of their best players - particularly All-Pro safety Jamal Adams - the Jets have amassed a mountainous draft cache. Gang Green has nine picks entering the 2021 NFL Draft. Five of which come in the first three rounds. Plus, Lawrence's blind side is already walled off by the monstrous tackle Mecki Becton, who's so good Brian Baldinger calls him "Highway 77" - meaning you just get behind Becton and cruise down the road as far as you need. Becton is already being referred to in verbs, such as pancaking and ragdolling.
So with cool heads and keen drafts, the Giants could easily be 5-5 or 6-4 this time next year. And the Jets, with a surplus of draft picks and the best rookie QB in 35 years, could be virtually anything next year. To go with the draft picks the Jets also have cavernous cap space. Only the Colts, Pats, and Jaguars have more cap space than the Jets' $56 million or $71 million to spend next year (depending if the salary cap is $175 or $190 million), according to overthecap.com
And, frankly, if we're going to have a quiet NFL Thanksgiving, this is the year to have it. With the ugliest election and the most destructive pandemic in U.S. history, our nation hasn't been attacked this hard since WWII. And while sports serve as a spiritual balm during dark times, any team that sucks will get a mulligan for 2020.
But one year from now, the Big Blue and Gang Green could be, should be, and better be, much better. There will be no mulligans waiting for them.