by Paul West
Welcome to the long-overdue (I know, I said that last time) fifth edition of PDub’s Observatory, in which I offer observations on trending sports topics of the week. As always, I hope you’ll find my informed warm takes to be of a reasonable critical standard.
Are The Rangers Good? We Don’t Know Just Yet
The New York Rangers just finished a road trip in which they lost the last three, all in distressing fashion. First, they gave up a lead to the Vancouver Canucks and lost in overtime; next, they gave up a sizable lead to the Edmonton Oilers. Last, they were blown out 6-0 in Calgary, allowing half a dozen for the second straight night. To be fair, one of the goals they let in was a one in a million play by a one in a million player; and they were shut out by the red-hot Jacob Markstrom, who’s now got an astonishing four shutouts in his first nine games this season. Still, the Rangers showed the same glaring weaknesses they’ve shown for weeks–they’re turnover-prone, they struggle to clear the defensive zone, and they often leave their crease poorly guarded–and, because they faced the league’s top teams and Igor Shesterkin didn’t play in a fugue state, were punished for those flaws. This prompted some to declare the Rangers a ‘bad team,’ but this seems premature; what they are, though, is a team performing an alarming distance beneath their obvious ceiling. This reflects a problem of approach (similar to how a woeful approach doomed the Mets’ stacked-on-paper lineup to a season-long swoon), one which better get fixed before they lose too much ground to make up. It bears noting that the Rangers still sport a 7-3-3 record, are finally back East, and beat the previously undefeated Florida Panthers at home to start the week; but the victory over the Panthers was a microcosm of both their strengths and the aformentioned weaknesses. The Panthers outshot the Rangers by a whopping margin of 45 to 18; Shesterkin was incredible yet again; one of their goals was a stupendous talent-meets-effort maneuver by K’Andre Miller; and the Rangers gave up two quick goals in the last minutes of a game they should have easily put away. The Rangers are neither good nor bad; they’re mediocre, with elite goaltending and astronomical upside. They also need to make adjustments, and soon.
No, This Isn’t The Same Old Jets
After a few years of relevance during the Rex Ryan era, the New York Jets have floundered for a long time. Things continued to get worse when once-heralded quarterback Sam Darnold hit a plateau and was traded away, leading the Jets to draft the latest in a string of first-round QB gambles in Zach Wilson. Of course, Wilson suffered a multi-week knee injury just a few games into his rookie season. But things might not be so bad, as evidenced by their gut-check upset over the Cincinnati Bengals, who came into to town as the AFC’s top seed; and there’s more reason to have hope for the Jets than there’s been in years.
Once fashioned in the image of the Ryan’s blustery, headline-grabbing persona, the Jets are slowly remaking themselves in the image of centered, erudite rookie coach Robert Saleh. Saleh is pensive, even-keeled, and a former competitive chess player, and his calm resilience is rubbing off on his team. They beat the full-strength Titans in overtime a few weeks ago, and they’ve competed hard despite losing key offensive snd defensive players to injury. Running back Michael Carter is showing promise, dual-threat receiver Elijah Moore has been a revelation, and they have a talent-laden receiving corp to help Wilson develop. Speaking of the quarterback position, backup Mike White has been another embodiment of the team’s quiet toughness while handling the sudden spotlight. It might be a while before they’re a reliable contender, but the Jets’ signs of improvement are not a mirage.
The 4-Team FBS Playoff Is Still Ridiculous
Every year, there seems to be more parity in college football, while the rankings are more widely debated and supposed powerhouses seem more vulnerable to upsets. Even when said powerhouses do suffer upsets, it’s an open secret that their spot in the top ten is rarely at risk if their top-ten status was previously presumed; meanwhile, teams like Wake Forest–a high-scoring, squad, led by dual-threat QB Sam Hartman–lose their first game after an 8-0 start, the general understanding is that their playoff hopes are dashed. Nevermind the fact that Wake could almost certainly challenge any team in the country, and are arguably reminiscent of the Boise State team that took down powerhouse Oklahoma in maybe the best bowl game ever played; nevermind that other levels of college football have had larger playoff brackets for a while. More and more people are pointing out how outdated the current playoff system is (I’ve been pointing it out for years), and it’s one of many things chipping away at the NCAA’s credibility. Expanding the playoff bracket to eight, or even sixteen, teams would add the kind of uncertainty and enhanced backstory that helps make March Madness so special–and, since we know the NCAA mostly cares about the so-called bottom line, it would almost certainly enhance both ratings and revenue.