For two quarterbacks who've been in the NFL as long as Tom Brady and Josh McCown, they've sure had divergent career paths.
The 40-year-old Brady is arguably the best quarterback in NFL history, winning five Super Bowls while playing for only the New England Patriots since he was drafted in the sixth round out of Michigan in 2000. He has a 186-54 career regular-season record and 25-9 mark in the playoffs.
The 38-year-old McCown has been on 10 different NFL rosters -- and also the United Football League's Hartford Colonials -- since he was drafted in the third round in 2002 out of Sam Houston State by the Arizona Cardinals. The current New York Jets quarterback has a 21-44 career record and has never sniffed the playoffs.
But on Sunday, shockingly, their teams will meet on equal footing at MetLife Stadium, as the Jets (3-2) host the Patriots (3-2) with first place in the AFC East on the line. The Buffalo Bills, who are also 3-2, are off this week.
Despite the inequity of the quarterbacks' resumes, Patriots coach Bill Belichick was effusive in his praise for the journeyman McCown on Tuesday.
"He has a lot of different options and uses them. He gets the ball out quick, he's been accurate, he's athletic, he's been able to extend plays. He's over 70 percent completions, so he's making a lot of good decisions, throwing the ball accurately, getting the ball in the hands of his playmakers, letting those guys make the plays," Belichick said. "I have a lot of respect for him, a lot of respect for his competitiveness, his toughness, his leadership."
The Jets, thought to be one of the worst teams in the league by preseason prognosticators, currently have a better shot at making the playoffs (1.1 percent chance) than securing the top pick in next year's draft (0.4 percent), according to ESPN Analytics.
Last week, they beat the winless Browns, 17-14, in Cleveland, in a game that was hardly a thing of beauty. So it's not a complete surprise that they're 9.5-point underdogs to the Patriots.
"Winning breeds confidence, man, it breeds enthusiasm," Hall of Famer Joe Namath told ESPN on Tuesday about his former team. "It gives you an edge. They believe they can win now. They've done it three times in a row."
Speaking of prognosticators, the same folks who were prone to hyperbole regarding the dire prospects for the Jets were equally delusional about the Patriots, as some predicted another undefeated regular season for Brady and Belichick. That was squashed opening night in a convincing loss to the Kansas City Chiefs.
New England's defense has allowed 142 points in five games (28.4 per game), which is tied for second worst in the NFL with the Tennessee Titans (only the Indianapolis Colts at 159 have allowed more). But the unit played marginally better in a 19-14 victory in Tampa last Thursday, despite allowing Jameis Winston to throw for 334 yards.
The nine days of rest the Patriots will get before Sunday's game will give Brady and All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski more time to heal. Brady injured his non-throwing shoulder against the Bucs, and, despite missing practice Wednesday, said he "feels great" and that he'll play Sunday. Gronkowski also didn't practice Wednesday because of a thigh bruise but is expected to play.
"They are more dangerous, because if you have someone that's good at preparation, and you give them extra days … they get better," McCown said after Wednesday's practice. "We expect them to be ready to go and be on top of things … But we really look forward to that challenge and seeing where we stack up."
Brady stacks up favorably among the league's quarterbacks, leading the way with 1,702 passing yards. He also has 11 touchdown passes and one interception. McCown has 1,020 passing yards, five touchdowns and four interceptions.
But the two are equal, at least so far this season, in the all-important wins column.
Said Jets linebacker Jordan Jenkins: "For us, it's not (shocking). I know that it (angers) a lot of people in this country, because I guarantee nobody had us being tied with anybody for first, second or third. It's shocking to them, but we knew we could be in this position."