Imagine this scenario: The struggling New York Jets, losing a grip on their playoff hopes, turn their season around with Zach Wilson coming alive over the final three games.
That's the dream for the Jets anyway. Their unexpected entry in the playoff race this season has been overshadowed at times by the struggles of their second-year quarterback. Instead of a young star leading them to a winning record, the team benched Wilson because they figured Mike White was an upgrade. Then they had to turn back to Wilson when White got injured.
There's still time for Wilson to become a great quarterback — look at how Jalen Hurts, Tua Tagovailoa and Josh Allen among others took off in their third seasons — and a chance for him to end this season on a very positive note. That starts Thursday night in a huge game for the Jets against the surging Jacksonville Jaguars.
At 7-7, the Jets can still make the playoffs. They'll need to start winning, and for that to happen they need Wilson to play well. A lot is on the line these last three weeks.
Zach Wilson vs. Trevor Lawrence
This was supposed to be a fun matchup between the No. 1 and No. 2 overall picks of the 2021 NFL draft. But the two players are on much different paths. Trevor Lawrence looks like a star and has been one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL since the start of November. Wilson needed an injury to White to get a chance to start against Lawrence.
Wilson started last week against the Detroit Lions and the stats looked fine. He had 317 yards and two touchdowns. He showed off his arm talent on a few plays. But the same old problems persist.
Wilson threw an awful interception in which he seemed to completely misread the coverage. And he simply has not been accurate enough, especially on easy throws that are a must for any competent NFL quarterback. Wilson was off target on 35.3 percent of his passes last week, even worse than his 35 percent mark against the New England Patriots in the game that got him benched, according to Rich Cimini of ESPN.
Wilson simply hasn't been good enough. He can make scramble plays when everything breaks down, and that's when you see his immense athletic gifts. But play-to-play he hasn't been consistent. It seems fairly obvious he hasn't won over the locker room either.
On Thursday night, it'll be especially tough to see the difference between Wilson and Lawrence as they near the end of their second seasons. Lawrence has 14 touchdowns and one interception over the Jaguars' last six games. He was dominant in a win last week over the Dallas Cowboys. It's easy to envision him winning an MVP in the next few years.
The Jets never had a shot at Lawrence, so it's not like they can regret passing on him or anything. But one team has a bright future with an exciting young quarterback. The Jets have a lot of questions.
Jets, Jaguars have a lot on the line
Thursday night is a huge game for the Jaguars and Jets.
The Jaguars have won three of four and suddenly find themselves in the AFC South race. They're 6-8, one game behind the 7-7 Tennessee Titans, but beat the Titans once and have a Week 18 matchup with Tennessee at home. The Jaguars need to stay within a game of the Titans until Week 18, and a win over the Jets would be a huge step toward that.
The Jets were in great shape during a 5-2 start, but they keep sliding. They've lost four of five since a huge win over the Buffalo Bills right before their bye week. Wilson got benched because the offense wasn't good and while White has made some plays, the Jets haven't been winning. White took a lot of punishment two weeks ago in a rematch against the Bills and hasn't played since.
In a perfect world, Wilson would come alive beginning on Thursday night and White wouldn't start for the Jets again. The Jets' best-case scenario still involves the second pick of last year's draft becoming a star. What they've seen so far has been disappointing. There's still time for a turnaround.
The Jets hope that it coincides with them making a late-season push for the playoffs.