Before we get to the game, let me say that this story about Aaron Rodgers and the Jets is pure gold:
To woo the four-time All-Pro, the owner approved the hiring of Hackett on Jan. 26. Rodgers won MVP awards in 2020 and 2021 after Hackett was hired as the Packers’ coordinator in 2019, and the quarterback developed a close friendship with the coach. But Hackett was also coming to New York fresh off a disastrous 15-game run as head coach of the Denver Broncos, a performance his replacement, Sean Payton, called “one of the worst coaching jobs in the history of the NFL.”
The Jets made Rodgers comfortable in other ways, pursuing some of his former Green Bay teammates and other friends in free agency before he officially joined the team in April. They signed wide receiver Allen Lazard to a $44 million deal on March 14, the first day of free agency, courted Odell Beckham Jr. before he signed with the Ravens and then added receiver Randall Cobb, tackle Billy Turner and quarterback Tim Boyle after Rodgers signed with New York. Rodgers also had offensive lineman David Bakhtiari and tight end Marcedes Lewis on his wish list.
It’s not uncommon for team decision-makers to consult star quarterbacks on potential roster additions, but the perception around the league was the Jets went beyond the norm. “Rodgers isn’t the assistant GM,” one AFC general manager said. “Joe Douglas is the assistant GM.”
Hackett struggled to adjust the offense to the team’s new reality. Multiple coaches and players described Hackett as lacking in attention to detail. For most of the season, Hackett would meet with offensive line coach/running game coordinator Keith Carter and passing game coordinator Todd Downing during the week but wouldn’t get together with the rest of the offensive staff until the “last minute” of game prep.
During games, Hackett struggled to make adjustments. Against the Dallas Cowboys in Week 2, Carter asked Hackett to give left tackle Duane Brown more help blocking Cowboys star pass rusher Micah Parsons, according to multiple team sources. But Hackett never adjusted, and Parsons dominated (two sacks, four QB hits) in a 30-10 loss.
We’ve talked before about how NFL coaches. do too much performative work, but Hackett takes things a little far in the other direction.
The insecure and constantly excuse-making head coach doesn’t come off much better:
Saleh has the mantra “positive vibes only” printed on T-shirts that coaches and other staffers often wear around the team facility. The Jets head coach tries to stay optimistic around players and in front of the media and has garnered respect from many in the locker room for cultivating an environment that allows players to be themselves.
But behind closed doors, the vibes weren’t always positive, especially when Saleh would see negative press reports. He would often bring up how, in his mind, the Giants don’t get as much negative coverage as the Jets, calling it unfair.
In the aftermath of Rodgers’ injury, Saleh bemoaned his bad luck. Throughout his tenure, he has often wondered aloud if he was doomed to the same fate as Vic Fangio, a brilliant defensive coach cursed by misfortune at quarterback. Fangio was fired by the Broncos in 2021 after three seasons and a 19-30 record despite building an elite defense. Saleh’s Jets — and his elite defense, ranked No. 1 in 2023 by PFF— are 18-33 in his three years as coach.
The Jets under Saleh have indeed looked like a team whose head coach thinks that the offense is something that happens to him rather than something he has responsibility for, and even if Rodgers is healthy next year I suspect it will end with Saleh never being in charge of anything but defensive players again.
To move to more current events, we discuss the game here. A brief summary of my take:
- If you judge the teams by total season body of work, the line (-2 SF when I bet, down to -1.5 now) is correct and perhaps even a touch generous to KC.
- If you weigh the most recent games more heavily, you get the opposite picture. KC beat the other two best teams in the conference convincingly, on the road. (The Bills game was closer on the scoreboard than on the field — the Chiefs outgained them by 3 yards a play.) The Niners, on the other hand, were in many respects outplayed by inferior teams at home — they did prove that they aren’t just frontrunners, but also needed numerous unforced errors by the opposition to get by.
- I wouldn’t read too much into the Niners being a little shaky in the playoffs, with the one qualification that Purdy is less likely to get a away with interceptable ducks against this secondary like he did against the Lions and Packers. (Barnwell also pointed out on his Super Bowl podcast that Purday has so far been substantially worse against top 10 defenses than against the rest of the league.) But I do think the Chiefs are better than their regular season record indicates: the Chiefs can use Kelce more and the shaky wideouts less, Ried’s playcalling tends to me more vanilla in ordinary regular season games, and perhaps most importantly and regrettably for the Niners Kadarius Toney will be a healthy scratch again.
It’s a great matchup and should be a really good game, but I’m with the sharps who have been pounding the Chiefs enough to get the line down — I bet KC +100 and +2 parlayed with the over. The Niners are an outstanding team but in the final analysis it’s hard to bet against a team that has the better defense and Patrick Mahomes.