It’s time. Week 17 comes early as the final two games of the 2023 NFL season are rapidly approaching. The Cleveland Browns are on a three-game winning streak, in pole position to clinch the top wild card spot on Thursday night against the New York Jets.
Like the Browns, the New York Jets went all in for a quarterback (a slightly older one) in Aaron Rodgers. Again, like the Browns the Jets felt they were a quarterback away from reaching the Super Bowl. It all came crashing to a halt opening week when Rodgers tore his Achilles.
The team is eliminated from playoff contention and head coach Robert Salah will be back next season but under a tight leash.
Offensively, when Rodgers went out the entire offense went with him. 32nd in EPA per/play. That’s dead last in the entire league. Running back Breece Hall is the only threat in the rushing game, Dalvin Cook doesn’t look nearly as good as in years prior. Outside of Garrett Wilson, the rest of the wide receiver room is underwhelming (mainly because most of the receivers the Jets brought in were Rodgers' former teammates in Green Bay). As for the offensive line, injuries aside this is a below-average unit.
Defensively, the unit is one of the best in the league. 3rd in defensive EPA/per play. Well-rounded, well-coached and talented. Defensive tackle Quinnen Williams is an X-Factor on the defensive line, linebacker Quincy Williams is having a sensational season and the cornerback duo of Sauce Gardner and DJ Reed aren’t to be taken lightly.
Elite unit but has some concerns in terms of defending the run but not a unit to underestimate.
Here are the 3 key players to watch for in Week 17:
WR Garrett Wilson
The only threat for the Jets passing offense is Wilson. Despite the inconsistency at the quarterback position, he could finish with over 1,000 yards this season. The former Ohio State Buckeye and Zone 6 member is someone who can still find a way to make an impact on a game despite who’s throwing him the ball.
Wilson is everything you want in a WR1, he’s big, has good speed, great hands and YAC ability.
If you watched him at Ohio State, you know the potential that he has.
In their nailbiter win over the Washington Commanders, Wilson made some key plays down the stretch to secure the win.
For Cleveland, the game plan is simple. Let someone else other than Wilson beat you. Cleveland’s secondary with Denzel Ward, Martin Emerson and Greg Newsome have done a solid job in limiting receivers from having sensational games. Look for Emerson and Ward to be matched up with Wilson on Thursday night on occasion with some support from safeties.
DT Quinnen Williams
If there is someone who has earned their contract extension, it’s Williams. Williams signed his extension prior to this season and it has paid dividends for this Jets defensive line that is banged up along the interior.
Power, physicality and a relentless motor are what Williams brings. Williams also ranks 9th in pass rush win rate amongst defensive tackles.
Strong pressure from Quinnen Williams and Bryce Huff picks up sack #8 pic.twitter.com/a04rqiFcGg— Will Parkinson (@Willpa11) December 19, 2023
As for Cleveland, Williams is someone who can cause problems on the interior. He can get pressure in the passing game and he can cause issues in the run game as well. Williams can cause issues and it’s up to the Browns offensive line to neutralize him and make things difficult for him as tough as that can be.
CB Sauce Gardner
Staying on the defensive side, cornerback Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner has established himself as one of the tier 1 cornerbacks in the NFL. Defensive Rookie of the Year, All-Pro and a Pro Bowler in his first year with the Jets was as impressive as can be for a rookie cornerback.
He’s tall, has immense range, good ball skills essentially the entire package.
The talent just oozes off of Sauce Gardner.— Ryan Fowler (@_RyanFowler_) December 24, 2023
Hell of a young corner & a heck of a rep v McLaurin. pic.twitter.com/pMHaCwq8Yd
Sauce Gardner was never targeted on 27 coverage snaps @ MIA— Michael Nania (@Michael_Nania) December 20, 2023
When you watch him rep to rep you can see why he's rarely thrown at. Consistently has his matchup locked down, whether it's man or zone pic.twitter.com/29CgWrsU2V
Teams rarely throw at Gardner and for good reason: When you think of shutdown corners in the NFL, Gardner is up there with the best of the best.
Cleveland’s passing game has been playing well as of late but is prone to turning the ball over with quarterback Joe Flacco under center. Gardner is likely going to be lined up with wide receiver Amari Cooper (who is questionable to play on TNF) and shadow him for the entire game. Look for Cleveland to avoid Gardner and potentially target him if the opportunity presents itself on a rare occasion.
Which one of these three are you most concerned about on Thursday Night Football?