Last season, the New York Jets, in their first season under rookie head coach Todd Bowles, came agonizingly close to the playoffs. Finishing with a 10-6 record, with the offense knocking out several franchise and league records and the defense ranking as one of the top in the league, the Jets had a good 2015; especially when compared to what had come before. The comedy of errors which was the week 17 loss to Buffalo took some of the shine off, but 2015 gave fans a glimpse of what could be – both the good and the bad. Coming into 2016, with many of the pieces of last season’s team still in place, expectations are high for the team to build on the 2015’s successes, without falling at the final hurdle again.
*NB – Written before the week one loss to the Bengals*
The Jets, along with the rest of the AFC East, face the NFC West. This means match ups with the Arizona Cardinals and the Seattle Seahawks, two teams tipped for deep playoff runs. These two games fall in a six game stretch at the start of the season where they also face Cincinnati, Kansas City and Pittsburgh. A road game at divisional rivals Buffalo is sandwiched between these tough assignments – one of the most challenging starts in the league; and don’t forget they also have to play the Patriots twice.
That’s not to say that the Jets don’t have a good chance, they also face Cleveland, San Francisco and the Rams; all currently projected towards the bottom of the rankings. All games are ‘must win’ but given the difficult start to the year, the Jets have no room for error if they want to prove that their 2015 record wasn’t an anomaly. Both Bills and Dolphins divisional ties are crucial, as are AFC match ups against the Colts and Ravens.
There were a few surprises when the 53 man roster was announced but the release of Jace Amaro and Dee Milliner, both high draft picks of the previous regime, show that the Jets are committed to moving on from the past. In terms of rookies, as well as the higher round picks, several late rounders and undrafted free agents (UDFA) made the roster. This includes UDFA Jalin Marshall, who has been named as starting punt returner, a position at which the Jets have recently struggled to find consistency. Second year GM Mike Maccagnan has a pedigree in scouting, and this is clearly working. Drafting Christian Hackenburg in the second round is still a bit of a headscratcher and won’t help this year, but they are clearly going to keep drafting until they find their future QB.
The defense should continue to dominate and replicate its high ranking from last year. The defensive line is one of the deepest and most impressive in the league, with former defensive rookie of the year Sheldon Richardson, Mo Wilkerson and last year’s first round pick Leonard Williams as the key players. Darelle Revis, Buster Skrine and Marcus Williams head up a strong secondary. A possible weak spot on the defense continues to be at linebacker although there is some young talent in first round pick Darron Lee and second year backer, Lorenzo Mauldin. However, injuries mean another promising rookie. Jordan Jenkins and veteran stalwart David Harris are unlikely to play in week one and there is limited depth at this position.
On the offensive side, the Jets retain last year’s recording breaking receiving duo, Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker, and have added veteran running back Matt Forte from the Chicago Bears. Despite losing Chris Ivory to Jacksonville, the backfield still looks like it could do some damage. The question will be whether quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick was a ‘one year wonder’ last season. He broke the franchise record for the most passing touchdowns in a single season, but is notoriously inconsistent from year to year and game to game. His interceptions in the Buffalo game were a key reason for the loss that cost the playoffs. It’s not good to have your biggest question mark at quarterback, but Fitzpatrick has the coaching and the weapons to succeed if he can make it happen.
The bottom line
If they execute well and everything goes to plan, the Jets have the potential to go 10-6 again (or better) but this time make the extra jump into the playoffs. The difficult opening schedule is clearly a huge challenge but not insurmountable given the level of talent on the roster. The Jets have one of the best defenses in the league and some excellent offensive weapons in Marshall, Decker and Forte. Realistically, inhabiting a division with the Patriots means the Jets will continue to struggle to grab that automatic playoff place – but with Brady out for four games and Gronk sidelined to start the season, they have as good as chance as they’ve had in a while.
However, the Jets need to start with a bang; the season and each game. Last year, a number of games were lost in the first half as the offense just didn’t get going, some were clawed back in the second. Against the opponents they face this year, this will not be good enough. However, there is lot of well placed optimism amongst Jets fans and just a few crossed fingers.