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Two of the NFL’s top rookie defensive players square off in New York on Sunday. Thanks to the promising early returns on both Aidan Hutchinson and Sauce Gardner, there is optimism for the future for both the Detroit Lions and New York Jets for the first time in years.
The Lions and Jets are surprisingly in playoff contention thanks in part to the play of their first-round selections. Sunday’s game won’t change how either player is viewed, but it will give someone early bragging rights.
More importantly, the losing team may find itself kissing its playoff hopes goodbye. Detroit (6-7) needs a win to inch closer to the loser of Washington-New York Giants this Sunday in the Wild Card chase. That is, of course, as long as the Commanders and Giants don’t tie each other for the second time in three weeks.
The Lions will be 7-7 with a victory and have a remaining strength of schedule of .333 following their game against the Jets.
New York, meanwhile, has a tougher schedule following Sunday. They face teams with a combined win percentage of .512. A loss to Detroit, paired with a Patriots or Chargers win, would knock the Jets out of a tie for the final Wild Card spot in the AFC.
There’s far less fluidity in the race for the individual hardware the two rookies are in the running for this year.
Gardner is the favorite to win Defensive Rookie of the Year honors. Per Oddschecker, he is -500 to claim the award while Hutchinson has second-best odds at +550.
Both teams have every right to be ecstatic over their 2022 draft picks. Hutchinson has 35 tackles, two interceptions, two pass deflections and seven sacks.
It’s difficult for Lions fans not to be excited about the future when Hutchinson makes plays such as this one from last Sunday: