Ever since the 2009 Draft, when the New York Jets selected Mark Sanchez, and the Detroit Lions selected Matthew Stafford, we, the fans, have been waiting for this matchup. Mark Sanchez vs. Matthew Stafford.
Even though the Jets are a perennial playoff team, while the Lions still seem to be on the bottom half of the NFL, this game has special meaning to both fanbases, coaching staffs and managements and probably will as long as both quarterbacks are playing for their respective teams. Ten years from now, we could be talking about Sanchez vs. Stafford as highly as we talk about Manning vs. Brady.
In hindsight, these two teams, two cities, and two quarterbacks couldn’t be any more different from one another. They are the perfect polar opposites. On one hand, you have New York, the biggest city on this continent, where sports teams are expected to contend or win a title every year, and when they don’t win titles they are thrown under a bus faster than a New York minute. On the other hand, you have Detroit, once the auto capitol of the world, now just a dying city. However, the fans here are just as hardcore as the ones in New York, but patience, time, and opportunity is warranted to organizations like the Lions, Pistons, and the University of Micihgan to build programs, but when they fail to do so, the roars for a general manager’s head is just as loud in the Motorcity as is it in the Bagdad of Subway.
The teams? One is 5-2, and the other by seeming coincidence is 2-5 (even though it should be 3-4). One is lead by a loud, vulgar, yet highly intelligent and motivating head coach in Rex Ryan. The other is lead by a calm and quiet looking man on the outside that is ferocious, and equally intelligent on the inside. Looking at just the records may tell you that these two teams are headed in opposite directions, but one could argue the opposite of the opposite of that is true(yes that is meant to confuse you). The Lions are coming off a great come from behind victory against the Redskins in which the savior of our franchise made his glorious return, while the Jets suffered an embarrassing defeat at the hands of our long time rivals, the Green Bay Packers.
Both teams coming into Sunday will have playoff implication attached to this game. If you’re the Lions and you win this game, then there are only two tough games in the next eight: New England and Green Bay and both of those teams come to your house. Is is a stretch to say this team can make the playoffs? Yup, probably the greatest stretch in the history of the NFL, but crazy(ier) things have happened in football before. If you’re the New York Jets, then you almost cannot afford to lose this game. In a tough AFC, and AFC East division, three losses in the first eight games might be too much to make up, and you still have to play New England and Pittsburgh on the road.
The quarterbacks, Matthew Stafford and Mark Sanchez, also couldn’t be any more different from one another. On one hand, you have Mark Sanchez, a USC product that has enjoyed the high life even before he was eligible to vote. For him (and the city), New York was the perfect landing spot. The city provides him with plenty of high profile opportunities, while a team like the Jets provided him with one of the few teams, where he could come in and not have to go through a rebuilding process. On the other hand, you have Matthew Stafford, who even to this day isn’t really known by the common fans, and his only appearance in primetime was when he was drafted in 2009. As with Sanchez, Detroit was also the perfect landing spot for him. In Detroit, he got a blue-collar city that was willing to accept mistakes from their young quarterback as long he played with his heart and won games for them. In a team, he got the big, physical, and talented receiver in Calvin Johnson that every gunslinger dreams of, a head coach and offensive coordinator that were willing to build around him and let him make mistakes and actually learn the playbook, and a team that was immediately willing to follow the 21 year old’s leadership.
They’re play on the field is also contrasting. Stafford and Sanchez threw identical number of interceptions last year (even though Stafford played fewer games), but the mistakes were for completely opposite reasons. Stafford’s pick for the most part were due him trusting his arm too much. As Drew Sharp of the Detroit Free Press said, “No one loves Matthew Stafford’s right arm more than Matthew Stafford”. Sanchez on the other hand threw 20 interceptions, and most of them were due to his lack of self-confidence and trust in his arm. On Sunday, we will get our first look at which quarterback is better, the one that has too much confidence at times or the one that lacks confidence at times. We will also witness round one of Sanchez vs. Stafford. Who knows, with both teams on the rise, maybe round two will come in the February of 2012…