Denver Broncos @ New York Jets
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Jets tank out of Gase
The New York Jets have seen plenty of tough times but this could be the bleakest winter in their history. Their talent-poor roster looks to be collapsing under the shortage of practice time, injuries and team-spirit killing coach Adam Gase.
They shipped 31 points in Week 2 against a spluttering 49ers offence helmed by Nick Mullens, while scoring just 13 on an SF defence that was losing starters at a devastating pace.
The Jets offence ranks among the worst in the league across statistical categories - 30th in yards per play, 32nd in yards per game, 28th in third-down conversions, 32nd in first downs, 32nd in scoring margin.
QB Sam Darnold threw two pick-sixes and one more interception against the Colts in Sunday's humiliating 36-7 loss. It continued a disappointing start to his third season in green, although evaluating the 23-year-old is difficult because he's lumbered with an organisation that is dysfunctional from the top to bottom.
The current emblem of Jets' failure is their head coach, Adam Gase. He was an odd choice of coach two years ago when he'd just been let go by Miami, having earned a reputation as a poor man-manager. Hiring him to handle Darnold's development after he failed to do the same with Ryan Tannehill seemed a strange decision, and so it has proved.
New York's three beatings this season look to have pushed him to the brink as rumours circulate that he'll be fired after this game should his team slide to 0-4.
It's no surprise the Jets are in this situation - I picked them to have the worst record in the league at 14/1 before the season started, and Gase was a big part of that.
They've not had it easy on the injury front either. Denzel Mims, their rookie receiver, hasn't played. Jamison Crowder and Breshad Perriman are also hurting now.
It means they've been taking on anyone to catch passes - Chris Hogan was signed a fortnight ago and almost immediately became their top receiving option. Braxton Berrios, a former Patriot roster filler, made some plays when Indy already had NYJ beaten, but there's very little here.
At running-back, Le'Veon Bell sits on IR with a hamstring complaint, meaning Frank Gore is seeing significant snaps at 37, backed up by rookie LaMichael Perine and former Dolphins plodder Kalen Ballage.
The knocks to their few notable names have exposed a long-gestating problem with the Jets roster. GM Joe Douglas joined from the Eagles last year, so still gets a pass for now, but their coach won't be so lucky.
Denver have worries of their own, although not on the same scale as the Jets'. For one thing, the Broncos are also 0-3. They've played the Steelers and Titans close but were well-beaten at home by the Bucs on Sunday.
They have some talent, but have also been bitten by the injury bug, including at QB, where they're still waiting to find out if Drew Lock can make use of all the weapons assembled around him. He's dealing with a significant shoulder injury picked up in Week 2 and could return later in the season to prove his worth.
Jeff Driskel deputised when Lock left the Pittsburgh game and he kept Denver competitive there, but Sunday's 28-10 defeat to Tampa was even uglier than the scoreline suggests. Driskel was benched in favour of undrafted second-year QB passer Brett Rypien before the rout ended, and he will start on Thursday having completed 8-of-9 passes and an interception on Sunday.
He won't have Courtland Sutton to throw to, unfortunately, as he is already done for the year, but rookies Jerry Jeudy and KJ Hamler will pose defences problems. Noah Fant at tight end has shown glimpses of elite-level pass-catching this season, while Melvin Gordon, the former Charger, is a big addition in the backfield, where Phillip Lindsay may return to support.
Denver's real identity should be on defence though, with coach Dick Fangio formerly DC in San Francisco. However, Von Miller is out for the season, and they've seen several other notable defenders drop to IR too - Jurrell Casey the latest this week, AJ Bouye is gone from the secondary - so whether their coach can scheme them up to make them competitive with the turnover at QB remains to be seen.
Not meaning to dampen spirits, but it'd be no surprise if this was a horrible game.
On the one hand, you've got a home team that's falling apart with a quarterback seeing his career slide down the New York sewers. On the other, the visitors are flying from the West to East on a short week with their practice squad QB starting after being pummelled by Tampa Bay a few days ago.
Given these factors, it's hard to be confident backing the away team -1.5 points here, but the Broncos do at least resemble a competent franchise, so I'd lean towards them if pushed.
However, these circumstances do present an opportunity for a smarter play on the total points market as neither offence promises much. Denver have playmakers, but Rypien rawness as a starter at the most crucial position in sport could render it all meaningless. The Jets have nothing beyond Sam Darnold's diminishing promise.
The line here reflects those doubts, with under 40 Total Points priced at 1.910/11 on the Exchange. But I still think that's high enough to offer decent value as I would expect the Jets to post around 10 points at most, while the Broncos are hardly likely to be marching up and down the field with their third-string quarterback either. And, even if they can generate offence, they may not be forced to if the Jets continue to be as inept as they have been.
Denver will be happy to get this game over with, winning ugly is still winning, the so Under is the only way to go for me.
For a touchdown interest, Melvin Gordon stands out as a First TD selection because we know he should see a lot of the ball, and the Broncos are likely to feature him with their QB situation in flux.
If you want to take a chance on Brett Rypien completing some passes, Jerry Jeudy and Noah Fant are the clear receiving options. There's a reasonable case for both, as the inexperienced QB could lean on his tight end early, but I'm inclined to side with Jeudy's defence-breaking potential against a demoralised Jets team. He's a slightly longer 11/1 for the opening score as well, so that could make this less-than-tantalising clash worthwhile.