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The New York Jets are currently the ____ best team in the AFC. Why?
Joe Caporoso – Despite all the talk of parity in the NFL, the Patriots, Bengals, Broncos and Steelers have been regular, consistent participants in the AFC Playoffs over the past 5-6 years. It isn’t crazy to think that will continue. Outside of them, the Baltimore Ravens have the infrastructure to bounce back if healthy and the Kansas City Chiefs have enough talent to return to postseason play. Jacksonville and Oakland are pre-season darlings but still have many question marks. The Jets fit somewhere in the second tier alongside Houston, Indianapolis and the previously mentioned Raiders and Jaguars. Some will rank Miami and Buffalo in that second tier but the Bills are poorly coached, didn’t improve this offseason and haven’t been in the playoffs since the millennium turned. The Ryan Tannehill Excuse Machine is heading into year 5 and still needs to show it can even come close to meriting playoff discussion.
Dalbin Osorio – The Jets, on paper, are the 7th best team in the AFC and in prime position to compete for a wild card spot this season. I think the Jets have upgraded their OL by trading for Ryan Clady. They’ve gotten better at RB, as Forte/Powell/Robinson is a better trio than Ivory/Powell/Ridley despite Ivory having a career year last year. They’ve gotten better in the secondary by replacing Antonio Cromartie with Buster Skrine in the starting lineup (yes, Skrine is the presumptive starter outside) and elevating Marcus Williams to the slot corner position. They’ve also improved their linebacker core with having Erin Henderson replace Demario Davis full time, and the additions of Bruce Carter, Darron Lee, and Jordan Jenkins. The loss of Damon Harrison hurts, but Steve McClendon is no slouch and you can argue that the DL is deeper today than it was a year ago. I put the Jets at 7th in the AFC for those reasons.
Oakland and Jacksonville will be trendy picks to make the playoffs; I actually like Jacksonville more because of how much better their offense is than Oakland’s, but I can’t get over the fact that the Jags paid Malik Jackson $85M for Jarvis Jenkins like production. Oakland’s defense will take time to gel. It’s worrisome that that happened. People will rank the Bills over the Jets as if the Bills didn’t get worse, or like the Jets weren’t better last year despite the two losses. I think Pittsburgh is the best team in the AFC right now, with New England a close second followed by Denver, Cincinnati, Kansas City, Houston. Then the Jets slot in right above Indianapolis, who will be a trendy bounce back team but they aren’t the best team in their division anymore.
David Aitken – I’d put the Jets in the middle of the pack, sixth if we’re being optimistic but realistically on a tier with a number of teams whose talent is more or less similar. Let’s start with the teams that should be a class above the Jets. Sadly once again the Patriots will fall into this category, as should the Bengals and defending Super Bowl champion Broncos. Pittsburgh too is probably in this category, with a young and improving defense in addition to an offense with the best QB/RB/WR trio in the league. Kansas City is a little more talented top-to-bottom than the Jets as well, with their average passing attack made up for by a running consistency the Jets should be envious of. Defensively the two are similar also, although it’s Kansas City that has the elite pass rush and combined with Alex Smith’s safe approach are more consistently likely to win the turnover battle.
There are teams like the Raiders and Jaguars who have built an impressive young core of talent but there is uncertainty over whether certain players will be taking the next step. The Raiders on paper look like a team that could be better than the Jets when the quality of free agent signings is factored in. Houston too is a team that could prove more talented than the Jets, picking up a stud running back in Lamar Miller and rolling the dice on Brock Osweiler at QB to go with a defense that is similar to the Jets’ in quality. Then teams like the Bills and Colts can make cases that they can make the playoffs with their talent, though the Bills are relying heavily on rookies for improvement and the Colts are relying on Andrew Luck being a hero.
Just like last year, the Jets are a decently talented team that can make the playoffs if things go their way. They’re not however built to overcome a lot of injuries or a really tough schedule and still compete over the types of teams mentioned in the last paragraph.
Kevin Zielaznicki – I would say that the Jets are around the 6th-8th best team in the AFC. I think the Jets have the roster to be playoff contenders but with a tough 2016 schedule and question marks still surrounding the quarterback position, the Jets may miss out on the playoffs for the fifth consecutive season. Although the Jets made some positive strides with their offseason acquisitions, teams like the Jaguars, Raiders, and Texans have also made huge strides this past offseason and the AFC wild card race will be much more competitive next season.
Nikki Charlesworth – I’d optimistically put the Jets around the middle of the AFC rankings (7th or 8th) – with a number of improving teams who have a possibility of contending for playoff wildcards. If things come together (and that’s a big if), the Jets have a decent roster across most positions. They have a strong defensive line and strengthened secondary and an offense with one of the most productive receiver pairs in the NFL as well as an interestingly revamped backfield.
However, the rest of the middling teams in the AFC are also improving and this will have a huge impact on how the Jets fare overall. Last years playoff contenders will likely to remain at the top of the pile this year; with the Steelers in particular looking strong – their powerful offense are likely to all find the field at the same time this year. Despite the Brady suspension the Patriots still unfortunately rank in the top few and aside from QB, (the return of Sanchez?!), the Broncos still have much of their Superbowl winning team intact. It is the projected rise of teams such as the Raiders and Jaguars who have recently added much young talent that may upset the Jets rankings. However, although teams such as the Jags are being projected for a breakout year, much of their predicted success is still hypothetical whereas the Jets showed last year that they can challenge for the playoffs. Despite changes in some areas, this should be possible again but of course the QB question still looms large.
Alex Kaczynski – The Jets are the best team not to make the playoffs last season and during this off-season they have definitely improved slightly putting them at number five overall in the AFC. Granted the quarterback situation has not been completely resolved but the additions of Matt Forte and Ryan Clady have definitely risen their rank. The loss of Damon Harrison hurt, but on paper, I just see more talent than what other AFC teams have. In my opinion, the Jets have the best defensive unit among the other top teams in the AFC. You could make the argument that they have the best wide receiver tandem and running back committee in the AFC.
With much ambition, my official top 5 would be the Patriots, a healthy Bengals, Broncos, Steelers, and Jets. Followed by the Texans, Chiefs, Raiders, Jaguars, Bills. and Kansas City. Jacksonville should have a pretty decent season with the key additions, but not enough to put them in the top 5. Do not get me wrong, I love the Jags this year and already have them locked-in to win their division. On paper they look scary good but they still have a lot of “what ifs.” I was actually hesitant to put the Steelers that high, losing Martavis Bryant is huge and they do still have a very suspect defense. Brown, Bell, and Ben are the only reasons they are staying in my top 5.
Photo Credit: NewYorkJets.com