It’s always nice when I can find some opportunities to write about sports.
As of last night, NBA basketball is officially back, with my Brooklyn Nets facing the Golden State Warriors, and an all-L.A. battle late last night with the Los Angeles Clippers facing the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers. The other 26 teams play their respective opening games tonight, and we are off to the races. The league rushed back with the shortest offseason in history to ensure the ever-popular Christmas Day games would be intact.
The Christmas Day quintuple (!) header is one of the NBA’s great traditions. It’s such a unique opportunity for the league (and its broadcast partners), knowing that the majority of basketball fans are cozying up on the couch. For all those basketball fans, the NBA has mostly succeeded in their endeavor to make us associate Christmas Day with basketball. It’s positively Pavlovian
I’m not a diehard fan to the point that I’ll be watching every minute of each of the five games on Friday, but the Brooklyn at Boston game at 5:00 PM is certainly circled on my calendar. (Apologies to Celtics fans of The Good Press community; Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett ain’t walking through that door.)
Moving over to football, the NFL is plowing ahead toward the playoffs in a few weeks, and for the first time in over a decade, the New England Patriots will not be participating. The Patriots were eliminated from postseason contention last weekend, the earliest they’ve been eliminated in 20 years.
With the Patriots seemingly mortal for the first time in the Bill Belichick era, it led to a big opportunity for the Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins, and New York Jets to win an AFC East division championship and a guaranteed playoff spot. Buffalo was the one who took advantage, winning the AFC East for the first time since 1995, and Miami has a shot at a wild card playoff berth
The Jets? Well, the Jets are the Jets. In a year that been bizarre and upside-down, the Jets still being embarrassing losers is a warm blanket of familiarity.
This time, the Jets’ unique brand of loserdom has manifested in a pretty unparalleled way: they won a game on Sunday, and it could be catastrophic.
In the NFL, the team with the worst record is awarded the opportunity to select first in the following year’s annual draft of college football stars. Trevor Lawrence of Clemson University is widely regarded as the most promising quarterback prospect to enter pro football in quite some time. The chances of any team trading into the #1 slot in the draft are remote, so it’s likely that the only way to draft Lawrence is to finish with the worst record in the NFL.
These 2020 Jets? They are bad. They lost their first 13 games to start the season, a franchise record. The only solace for Jets fans was the knowledge that an imperfect 0-16 record would guarantee them the worst record in the league, the #1 pick, and the golden opportunity to draft Trevor Lawrence.
In short, the best opportunity the Jets had to become a winner was to lose, and lose, and lose again. Enough to earn the right to draft a potential savior. That is how the NFL incentivizes the right to make the first draft pick, so it’s not a new thing (nor a football-exclusive thing) to try to lose now to win later.
The problem with that “plan” is that the players and coaches are trying to win. Every game is an opportunity for them to prove that they belong in the NFL, whether it’s with the next Jets winning team or with another NFL team. No player, no coach, wants to be 0-16. The Jets players have been playing their hearts out all season long, knowing that they may not get to call Trevor Lawrence a teammate next season if they are scapegoated for all the losses.
The coaching staff, wildly out of their depth, seemed to be canceling out the talents of the good Jets players (squint and you can see one here and there).
The number one pick was the Jets’ to lose. All they had to do was keep losing. Instead, the playoff-contending Los Angeles Rams improbably laid an egg, and they became the team that did the impossible: they lost to the 2020 Jets.
As Danny Heifetz wrote in The Ringer
, the Jets’ upset victory put their chances of landing the top pick in serious peril. The Jacksonville Jaguars would have the mathematical tiebreaker over the Jets if both finish at 1-15. It’s possible that it may end up fundamentally changing the future of the NFL: