February 28, 2024

Jets-Broncos could be NFL’s first flexed game of 2023 season following Sean Payton’s comments

Initially just another game on the schedule, the Jets’ Week 5 visit to Denver has more appeal given the recent back-and-forth between the clubs that was started by Broncos coach Sean Payton. Given the recent drama between the two clubs, there’s a legitimate chance that the NFL could make the matchup the first flexed game of the 2023 season. 

Week 5 is the first time Sunday night games can be flexed, so the Jets-Broncos game (4:25 p.m. ET, CBS) that weekend can certainly be moved to prime time. For that to happen, however, the NFL would have to take the Cowboys-49ers matchup out of the Sunday night slot. That seems unlikely given the history between those clubs along with the fact that the Cowboys typically generate big ratings. 

But if either the Cowboys or 49ers struggle out of the gate, the Jets-Broncos is certainly an option if the NFL looks to make a switch. While not traditional rivals, the Jets and Broncos do have some history against one another. The Jets took a surprising 10-0 lead in the 1998 AFC Championship game before John Elway — playing in his final game at Mile High Stadium — led the defending champion Broncos to 23 unanswered points en route to a double-digit win. The Broncos then coasted past the Falcons in Super Bowl XXXIII. 

This year’s matchup will surely receive plenty of hype after Payton’s recent public criticism of the job current Jets offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett did during his lone season as the Broncos’ head coach. Specifically, Payton was critical of Hackett’s handling of Russell Wilson, who during his first season in Denver submitted the worst statistical year of his decorated career. 

“Everybody’s got a little stink on their hands,” Payton said. “It’s not just Russell. It was a [poor] offensive line. It might have been one of the worst coaching jobs in the history of the NFL. That’s how bad it was.” 

Aaron Rodgers, who is reunited with Hackett in New York after the two spent three seasons together in Green Bay, quickly came to his coordinator’s defense. 

“I love Nathaniel Hackett,” Rodgers said. “Those comments were very surprising, for a coach to do that to another coach. My love for [Hackett] goes deep. We had some great years together in Green Bay, kept in touch. Love him and his family. He’s an incredible family man, an incredible dad. 

“On the field, he’s arguably my favorite coach I’ve ever had in the NFL. His approach to it, how he makes it fun, how he cares about the guys, just how he goes about his business is with respect, with leadership, with honesty, with integrity and it made me feel bad that someone who has accomplished a lot in the league is that insecure that they have to take another man down to set themselves up for some sort of easy fall if it doesn’t go well for that team this year. 

“Thought it was way out of line, inappropriate and I think he needs to keep my coaches’ names out of his mouth.”

Hackett responded to Payton’s comments earlier this week, stating that Payton violated the unwritten “code” of criticizing another coach publicly. Payton, who has somewhat walked back his comments, has not publicly responded to either Rodgers or Hackett’s recent comments. 

On the field, both teams should be an interesting follow this season. The Jets are expected to compete for the AFC East division crown following a busy offseason that included the addition of four-time league MVP Rodgers. The Broncos are hoping that Payton can end the franchise’s ongoing playoff drought that began shortly after capturing Super Bowl 50. 

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