Before the New York Jets joined the NFL via merger half a century ago, Wellington Mara demanded $10 million. The New York Giants owner made sure he got paid for welcoming a rival into the market. When the clubs clashed for the first time in exhibition play in 1969, Jets legend Joe Namath tossed three touchdown passes and the Giants’ blowout defeat got their coach fired.
Momentum swung when the rivalry resumed in 1970. Irked by being stopped on fourth down at the Jets goal line, Giants quarterback Fran Tarkenton chucked the ball at a linebacker and sparked a fight that cleared the benches. The Giants forced a safety on the next series and Tarkenton threw for two TDs within the quarter, sealing victory.
“You’ve got to be champions of your own neighborhood before you try to conquer the world,” Mara crowed to reporters postgame, per the Associated Press.
The Giants and Jets don’t face off much, but proximity and pettiness enliven their encounters. The Jets hung black curtains inside MetLife Stadium in 2011 to conceal their co-tenant’s Super Bowl logos. The Giants won that year’s Christmas Eve game – Brandon Jacobs and Rex Ryan traded F-bombs at midfield afterward instead of shaking hands – and they lead the all-time series 8-6.
Playing in opposite conferences and the same home building, the New York teams have traveled parallel paths in recent seasons. Both were prolific losers for the longest time. Both are trending skyward in 2022.
The Giants are 6-1 and sit second in the NFC East, football’s strongest division. The 5-2 Jets haven’t let the Buffalo Bills run away with the AFC East lead. The market that appeared in one postseason in the past 10 years – the Giants went one-and-done in 2016 – is unbeaten in October.
Recent history conditioned fans to not expect this. The franchise that Namath quarterbacked to a famous Super Bowl triumph reached the conference title game under Ryan but has yet to return to the playoffs. Joe Judge’s brief run as Giants coach ended when he dialed up a QB sneak on third-and-9. But head coaches Robert Saleh and Brian Daboll are guiding New York out of the wilderness this season.
Similarities between the Giants and Jets explain their hot starts.
They lean on stars. Cornerstone players drafted in the top five recently have elevated the Giants’ run game and the Jets’ defense. Saquon Barkley leads the NFL in touches and has amassed 906 yards from scrimmage – 99 more than Nick Chubb, the league’s rushing leader. Jets cornerback Sauce Gardner is a Defensive Rookie of the Year contender (league-high 12 passes defended), while nose tackle Quinnen Williams has five sacks and an elite 90.1 PFF grade.
They’ve been dominant in the fourth quarter. The Jets outscored teams 51-7 in the final frame throughout their current four-game win streak. The Giants are up 55-12 in fourth quarters over their six wins, all of which were decided by one score. Big Blue keeps mounting comebacks against the likes of Lamar Jackson, who was intercepted and stripped down the stretch when the Baltimore Ravens blew a 10-point lead at MetLife.
They’ve taken care of Green Bay. Victories over the Packers in consecutive weeks illustrated something that each team has done well. The Giants controlled the ball, hoarding it for 19:35 of the second half in London as they erased another double-digit deficit. The Jets nabbed a fumble, blocked a field goal and punt, and made three stops on fourth down to swing possession and maximize the offense’s chances to score.
Their QBs aren’t costing them wins. Zach Wilson remains uninspiring in Year 2, but hasn’t lost a start despite throwing for 110 yards at Green Bay and 121 last week against the Denver Broncos. Content to complement Barkley, Daniel Jones ranks 11th in expected points added per play, according to Ben Baldwin’s database, and has run for more touchdowns (three) than he’s thrown picks (two, none in October).
The New York teams, like most squads that have a winning record right now, start QBs who make less than $10 million against the salary cap, per Over the Cap. Jones is still on his rookie contract, so Kenny Golladay’s burdensome deal didn’t stop the Giants from spreading money around. The Jets have benefited from spending to land Carl Lawson in free agency; Gang Green leads the NFL in QB hits (eight per game) thanks to him and Williams.
The Jets have a dearth of offensive playmakers – more so now that dazzling rookie Breece Hall tore his ACL – but their defensive glow-up seems sustainable. The unit that ranked last in points and yards against in 2021 owns an 80 PFF defensive grade this year, second in the league to the Broncos and miles clear of the Giants’ 53 figure.
Gardner deserves plenty of credit. He’s held his man to fewer than 20 receiving yards in four different games. Up a touchdown at Denver last week, he snuffed out two potential game-tying heaves with lockdown coverage.
Purveyors of fancy stats think the Giants are pretenders. That has to do with their great record in nail-biters – logic dictates it’s likely to even out – and the extreme extent to which the defense has bent without breaking.
The Giants are ranked 19th in defense by yardage allowed, but are sixth in points against because they force a lot of field-goal tries – the second-most in the league behind the Cincinnati Bengals. They protect the end zone, like when Fabian Moreau and three teammates stood up Christian Kirk to foil a long but fruitless last-ditch drive from the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Troubling trends such as the Giants leading the league in blitz frequency but landing only 21st in sacks haven’t hurt Daboll’s team yet. The Giants have stockpiled enough wins to boost their playoff odds through Week 7 to 78.1%, per Football Outsiders. Three NFC teams (the Philadelphia Eagles, Dallas Cowboys, and Minnesota Vikings) have stronger odds.
That should set up a stirring divisional playoff race. Three of the Giants’ remaining games are against the Cowboys or Eagles, including a trip to Philly for the season finale. Meanwhile, the Jets’ playoff odds rose to 64.9% entering a pivotal stretch: they’re about to face the New England Patriots on both sides of a home date with Buffalo.
Rushing the ball downfield will be important. The Jets need trade acquisition James Robinson to match Hall’s explosiveness: the rookie graced highlight reels with a 79-yard reception and 62-yard TD run before he was hurt. Barkley, who’s finally back at peak form following his own ACL recovery, is playing 84% of Giants offensive snaps and is on pace to reach 2,200 yards from scrimmage, which would rank in the top 25 all time.
If he maintains that form, it’ll be good for the rivalry. The Giants and Jets are set to square off again in 2023, when their divisions align in the NFL schedule rotation.
New York football looks revitalized a year ahead of the clash. How long will that last?
Nick Faris is a features writer at theScore.