Jets vs. Jaguars Week 16 pick, prediction

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  • Jacksonville Jaguars
    Jacksonville Jaguars
    LiveTodayTomorrowvs--|
  • New York Jets
    New York Jets
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  • Robert Saleh
    American football coach
  • Zach Wilson
    Zach Wilson
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Zach Wilson running white jersey vs Texans
Zach Wilson running white jersey vs Texans

JETS (3-11) vs. Jacksonville Jaguars (2-12)

Sunday, 1 p.m.

Spread: JETS -2 1/2

It is a rare battle between the quarterbacks picked first and second in the 2021 NFL Draft, and an important battle between two teams battling for a top pick in the next draft.

And the Jets enter it while a COVID-19 outbreak is decimating their roster, and might even leave them without their head coach.

There are so many layers to the game this Sunday between the Jets and the Jacksonville Jaguars -- a meaningless, late-season game between two lost franchises that is hardly meaningless at all. And for Robert Saleh, who will have to sit out this game due to not clearing COVID protocols, it all takes a back seat to his most important goal: Winning.

Even though winning might not be what the Jets really need.

“Winning is always first. Always, always first,” Saleh said. “But it’s also not the whole cart in front of the horse thing, right? The process is what takes precedence over everything.”

He was talking about developing players and building the franchise. But one of the best ways to build a franchise is with high draft picks. And that’s what makes this game really interesting: The Jets currently hold the fourth pick in the 2022 NFL draft. The Jaguars hold the first pick. A loss by the Jets would move them at least into the third spot, and maybe second if either the Lions can beat the Falcons or the Texans can beat the Chargers.

They’d actually hold the first pick if they lose and a miracle happens – both the Lions and Texans win.

And just imagine what the Jets’ defense could look like next season with a healthy Carl Lawson on one end of their defensive line and one of the top prizes of the 2022 draft -- Michigan’s Aidan Hutchinson or Oregon’s Kayvon Thibodeaux -- on the other.

Of course, to borrow Saleh’s phrase, that’s a bit of a “cart in front of the horse thing” -- especially since the Jets are perfectly capable of winning this game over a bad Jaguars team still dealing with the fallout from the firing of head coach Urban Meyer two weeks ago.

The result of this game will almost certainly come down to the quarterbacks -- Trevor Lawrence and Zach Wilson. This is just the fourth time in NFL history that two quarterbacks who were taken 1-2 in a draft played against each other in their rookie season. And so far neither of them have been very good. Lawrence, in 14 starts, has completed 58.1% of his passes for 2,945 yards with nine touchdowns and 14 interceptions. While Wilson, in 10 starts, has completed 56.2% of his passes for 1,911 yards with six touchdowns and 11 interceptions.

Lawrence’s Jaguars have the 31st ranked offense in the NFL. Wilson’s Jets rank 22nd, but a lot of their statistical success came during the four weeks Wilson missed with a knee injury.

The fact that Wilson is struggling as a rookie probably isn’t a surprise. But Lawrence was considered a can’t-miss prospect -- some kind of combination of Peyton Manning, John Elway and Andrew Luck all rolled into one. Many thought he’d be playing better by now.

“It’s a good reminder for you all because we do tend to celebrate the anomalies like the (Justin) Herberts of the world,” Saleh said. “But as far as rookie quarterbacks, this is usually what happens. They struggle.”

It could be even more of a struggle for Wilson on Sunday, given the long list of Jets who will miss this game due to COVID-19. But as much as the Jets want to see progress from their quarterback, maybe a few more late-season losses wouldn’t be the worst thing to happen. Because the best way for young quarterbacks to improve quickly is to get surrounded by better players.

So as much as Saleh may say “I want to win these last three games more than anybody … trust me on that one,” nobody should be crying if they don’t. Because while Lawrence vs. Wilson is an intriguing battle, the most important one is for that top pick in the draft.

Pick: Take the Jaguars, +2 1/2

Prediction: Jaguars 10, Jets 6

My record straight up: 10-4

My record against the spread: 7-7