New York Jets and Giants fans are setting realistic expectations going into the first week of the NFL season following drastic changes in both organizations during the off-season.
The Jets revamped their club by bringing in Joe Douglas as their new general manager and Adam Gase as the new head coach. The Giants drafted quarterback Daniel Jones with their first round pick signaling the end of the Eli Manning era.
Both teams also are in playoff droughts: The Jets have not made the postseason since 2010 and the Giants since 2016.
“It’s funny because this is first season that I can’t get a feel for this team,” said Alan Lapkin, 64, a Jets fan since 1966.
Lapkin usually knows when to expect a poor season or when they have a chance. This year he is very optimistic about the team’s passing capabilities under second-year quarterback Sam Darnold, but is troubled by the team’s field goal kicker and defense. Fans watched in horror as rookie kicker Taylor Bertolet missed three of five field goals in their last preseason game against the Philadelphia Eagles, but the signing of superstar running back Le’Veon Bell has helped counter fears.
“I see promise, offensively,” said Jets fan Ken Molloy, adding: “That gives me hope that they’re going to put some points up on the board.”
Bell, a three-time Pro Bowler did not play last season due to a contract dispute with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
“I’m not going (to) write playoff tickets yet but I’m confident they’re going to be competitive,” Molloy, 59, said.
For the Giants, there has been speculation of the team’s direction since Manning was benched in November 2017. Manning started all 16 regular season games last year and had a career high 66 percent completion rate, but rumors of retirement continue to plague the 38-year-old, two-time Super Bowl MVP. They were reignited when the organization drafted Jones with the sixth overall pick earlier this year.
“I think this year is going to a lot more about developing Daniel Jones and building a culture to make New York an attractive free agent destination,” said Jay Vido, 26, a Giants fan.
“With retirement looming (for Manning), this is (Jones’s) year to soak up as much knowledge as possible,” said Vido, who believes it is a critical year for the team’s development.
Running back Saquon Barkley will be looking to improve on his Rookie of the Year and Pro Bowl selection from last season.
But Vido is clear he does not expect a championship this season.
“I don’t think they’re going to bomb, but I don’t see a Super Bowl,” Vido said.
It is not unusual to see such optimism among fans ahead of the season. Organizations fostering a belief in their team’s potential success has been at the core of sports for some time, according Scott Rosner, the academic director of the sports management program at Columbia University.
“Part of what you’re selling to fans is hope,” Rosner said. “A new coach, new general manager and a younger quarterback that continues to evolve. You’re selling hope that this could be the year that you turn it around.”
The Jets (4-12) and Giants (5-11) finished the 2018 regular season in last place in their respective divisions. While some fans are repeating to themselves the mantra "nowhere to go but up," others, like Lapkin, are just too jaded.
“I don’t see them making the playoffs. I hope I’m wrong,” he said.
Lapkin’s son continues to ask why he was forced to be a Jets fan.
“I feel sorry that I ever did. There were very few good years with the Jets. They’re just cursed,” he said.