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Jets vs. Giants actually matters for a change

Jason Cole
Yahoo Sports

Welcome to the rivalry that isn't. Well, maybe that's not exactly right.

When it comes to hard feelings, the New York Jets and New York Giants have plenty of grudges with one another. Unfortunately, that has nothing to do with anything that has been decided on the field.

For all the history of these teams – the Jets have Joe Namath and Super Bowl III while the Giants have Lawrence Taylor, the David Tyree catch and three titles – none of it intersects. There is no moment that defines this rivalry, just 11 largely nondescript games over the past 42 years. At least not until Christmas Eve, when the teams face off with their seasons on the line. Sure, the Jets may only be a just-above-average 8-6 and the Giants are a perfectly middling 7-7 (getting here in the midst of a 1-5 tailspin), but this game has actual subplots. There are immediate issues (both are trying to maintain control of their playoff chances) and long-term (the Jets badly want to overtake the Giants as the New York football franchise).

There's even a cool individual battle as the Jets' Plaxico Burress faces Giants coach Tom Coughlin for the first time in a game that counts since the wide receiver, who caught the game-winning TD pass in the Super Bowl four seasons ago, was sent to prison and cut by the Giants for his 2008 gun incident.

In that regard, this game is perfectly set up to be the first one that fans of both teams can really get excited about.

"[There's] a lot riding on this one," Giants defensive end Justin Tuck said Sunday. Tuck was a tad guarded after the Giants had just been embarrassed by the Washington Redskins. Likewise, the Jets were humbled later Sunday by the Philadelphia Eagles at the other end of the Jersey Turnpike. Sunday and Monday weren't time for big talk by either team.

[ Related: N.Y. edition of Week 15's least valuable players ]

By Saturday, expect that those stinging losses will be replaced by a chance to both gain momentum and stick a fork in the crosstown rival.

"Pretty interesting situation," Burress said.

By game time, there will be plenty of the teams' fans talking about the promise Jets coach Rex Ryan made in his book "Play Like You Mean It".

"We are going to take over the town whether the Giants like it or not, so those fans on the fence that like both teams are going to be Jets fans in the end," Ryan said as part of a diatribe that went on for the better part of 11 pages.

Until now, however, the rivalry between these teams has been limited to their annual preseason matchups and a bunch of chatter. There was Jets owner Woody Johnson complaining about the Giants getting to play the first regular season game at the MetLife Stadium in 2010. There was Giants owner John Mara suggesting his team would never appear on "Hard Knocks", in contrast to the Jets who were playing to the HBO crowd in 2010.

[ Related: Cards, Chiefs paying price for QB decisions ]

There is the constant view that the Giants are part of football royalty while the Jets are little more than nouveau riche party crashers. When New York was awarded the 2014 Super Bowl, Johnson and Mara looked about as comfortable together on stage as Newt Gingrich and his half-sister Candace.

Fact is, this rivalry has so little on-field history that it rivals the Invasion of Grenada in terms of significance. The Yankees and the Mets – featuring the rage of Roger Clemens against Mike Piazza – has featured more vicious combat. Of the 11 times the football teams have played, the only time both were on the way to the playoffs was in 1981. Even then, the game was in the middle of the season and didn't appear to have as much on the line.

Worse, the only other time the teams played when they were in the midst of winning seasons was 1988, when they faced off in the season finale. That game has some significance because the Jets, who finished 8-7-1, managed to knock the 10-6 Giants out of the playoffs with a victory.

[ Playoff picture: Current AFC/NFC playoff seeds ]

The only other time the game has been remotely interesting was when Bill Parcells, who led the Giants to their first two Super Bowl victories, coached the Jets against the Giants in 1999. However, even Parcells' presence couldn't do much to dress up a game that featured a 4-7 Jets squad against a 5-6 Giants team.

Not exactly the stuff of rivalries.

On Saturday, that has a chance to change. The Jets-Giants game could be something really special for the first time.

QUICK SLANTS

Tough 'Luck' for Colts?

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Andrew Luck has long been considered the top prospect in next year's draft.
(US Presswire)

All that discussion of Andrew Luck getting drafted by Indianapolis could end up being a bunch of hot air if the Colts beat 4-10 Jacksonville and/or 10-4 Houston in the final two games of the season. Basically, the Colts have zero chance to get the No. 1 overall pick if they finish in a tie with 2-12 Minnesota for the worst record in the NFL. The Colts have a better chance if they finish in a tie with 2-12 St. Louis. The first tiebreaker for draft position is the combined record of the opponents for each team. In this situation, the team that faces the worst set of opponents gets the better pick. With two games left, Minnesota's opponents have a combined record of 98-84. Indianapolis' opponents are 105-77 and St. Louis' are 107-75. As for the final two games, Minnesota faces 5-9 Washington and 7-7 Chicago, two opponents the Vikings have a reasonable chance to beat. As for St. Louis, you can pretty much lock up a 2-14 finish as the Rams end the season with 10-4 Pittsburgh and 11-3 San Francisco.

[ Related: Colts QB has been living rent-free with teammate ]

Tension brewing within NFLPA

There has been talk for more than a month that some players with prominent roles with the NFL Players Association are becoming disillusioned with executive director DeMaurice Smith. The feeling is so profound that many player reps and union executives reportedly are in no hurry to give Smith a $1 million bonus he is entitled to as part of his contract. CBS Sportsline columnist Mike Freeman wrote Monday that Smith may quit if he doesn't get the bonus and the union doesn't give him a new contract soon. The reaction to that from a couple of reps was tepid, at best. "If he doesn't want to be here, that's his choice," one player rep said. Another rep pointed out that with a 10-year collective bargaining agreement in place, there is little or no push for a decision on Smith, even if he's threatening to leave. "I think the feeling with a lot of people is De isn't here for the long-term anyway, so why get all freaked out if he threatens us," the rep said. Smith has alienated a number of agents and several player reps who were disappointed with his handling of details at the end of the CBA negotiations, such as HGH testing. In other words, Smith did a reasonable job, but hardly wowed anybody enough that there's a lot of support for him.

Top five
1. Green Bay Packers (13-1):
If Pack can't put away offense-challenged Chicago in the first half, then you know there are problems.
2. New England Patriots (11-3): Offense of a No. 1 seed, defense of a first-round playoff loss. Pats need home-field advantage for shot at Super Bowl.
3. New Orleans Saints (11-3): Having to win two playoff games outdoors may be too much for the Saints if 49ers keep No. 2 seed.
4. Baltimore Ravens (10-4): John Harbaugh's Ravens were saved by Jim's 49ers, but that loss in San Diego was still really disturbing.
5. San Francisco 49ers (11-3): Kudos to the Smith Boys (Alex, Aldon and Justin) for playing huge roles in a dominant win over Steelers.

Bottom five
28. Jacksonville Jaguars (4-10):
Beat Bucs 41-14, then lost to Falcons by same score. Atlanta should beat Bucs 82-28 if scores were logic-based.
29. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-10): Maybe someday Raheem Morris will be a wiser and tougher head coach. He was promoted too fast.
30. Minnesota Vikings (2-12): Rookie QB Christian Ponder looks like he's a little shell-shocked right now. I can't blame him.
31. St. Louis Rams (2-12): Final two games are Steelers and 49ers. Did the Rams draw the short straw in the beat-down contest?
32. Indianapolis Colts (1-13) : OK Colts, you got your win. Now don't screw this up by doing it again and not end up with Andrew Luck.


CLOSING MOMENTS

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The Saints are ranked 28th in pass defense (256.1 ypg).
(Getty Images)

There is a general belief that the New Orleans defense is better at home, where the Saints are 6-0 this season, rather than on the road, where they are 5-3. Interestingly, the Saints are actually allowing more yards per game at home (378) than on the road (357). Where the Saints defense has been better at home is in the turnover department. The Saints have forced eight turnovers in six home games, but only five turnovers in eight road games. In fact, the really pronounced difference in turnovers is between playing indoors and outdoors. The Saints have forced 11 turnovers in nine games played in domes and only two in five games played outdoors. Those two in the outdoor games were against Jacksonville and Carolina, hardly high-caliber opponents. The reason for the disparity is simply that defensive coordinator Gregg Williams has designed an attack-first defense rather than a read-and-react style.

[ Related: Mike Tomlin never considered pulling Big Ben ]

If you're looking for another issue that could potentially put a monkey wrench in the Peyton Manning-Andrew Luck-Indianapolis situation, word in the agent community is that Luck is expected to sign with agents Tom Condon and Ben Dogra of Creative Artists Agency. Condon and CAA also represent Manning, so there's another party that could try to manipulate the situation.

Not only has Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow inspired plenty of fans around the country, he has certainly done the same for a couple of former collegiate teammates. Against Minnesota, former Florida teammate Percy Harvin had a career-best 156 yards and two touchdowns on eight catches. On Sunday against New England, Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez, another Tebow teammate at UF, posted career bests in catches (nine) and yards (129) and scored a touchdown. He nearly had a second touchdown on a pass that was called incomplete but seemed worthy of a review.

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