Three weeks into the 2016 NFL season and almost nothing has gone according to plan for the New York Jets. But there is hope that changes soon.
Losing two of their first three games is not ideal. The offense has struggled to score, hovering inside the bottom 10 of points scored per game, while the secondary has been mostly unspectacular on defense, allowing more touchdowns than 21 other squads.
The Jets’ schedule won’t get any more forgiving in the coming weeks, either, further complicating matters. Three consecutive tilts against perceived Super Bowl contenders await: Seattle Seahawks (+1000), Pittsburgh Steelers (+900) and Arizona Cardinals (+1400). Each of those games will test the Jets’ resolve on both sides of the ball, more so than any one of their first three outings did.
And this is fine, if not great.
This season was never supposed to be easy for the Jets. Their schedule is exponentially tougher, and quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick didn’t officially re-join the team until the 11th hour, right before the start of the preseason. He is still rounding into form as is the secondary, headlined by cornerback Darrelle Revis, which started showing cracks at the end of the 2015 campaign.
But it’s not like the Jets are wilting on every level imaginable. They have a top run defense and it stands to reason that their secondary, even with Revis now on the wrong side of 31, will start to figure things out before long.
On offense, meanwhile, the Jets rank in the top 10 of just about every imaginable rushing category. Running back Matt Forte, a new addition from the offseason, has been borderline sensational. He’s racked up three touchdowns through three appearances, and his yards per carry, 3.9, are just a tick below his career average of 4.2.
Forte, mind you, has done all this while the Jets’ passing attack has been going through the motions. That speaks to the shape he’s in, at 30, as well as the integrity of an offensive line that has given quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick enough time to rank in the top 12 of total passing attempts. And the more he throws, the better groove he should get in as the season goes on; the better groove he’s in, the more likely the Jets are to regain their passing form from the middle of last year.
Granted, of course, the Jets need their receivers to remain healthy for that to happen. Top wideout Brandon Marshall is playing through knee and foot injuries, while his No. 2, Eric Decker, is in danger of missing time with a shoulder malady.
Still, on paper, and given the flashes of promise the Jets have intermittently shown to start the season, this is not a team that will continue to exist around the bottom 10 in both points allowed and points scored per game. In fact, it’s slightly encouraging that they are not worse.
Overall, their defense and offense have experienced the worst-case scenarios to open the season. The Jets rank dead last in total interceptions thrown, and their secondary has already given up five touchdowns. And yet, they’re still close to middle of the pack. Do not mistake this failure—not yet anyway. The Jets have plenty of time to find themselves, and it’s beyond unlikely they go through the entire schedule, as tough as it may be, without establishing a positive identity on at least one side of the field.
Does their defense stand a better chance of doing that than their offense? Most likely. But let’s not forget this is a squad—largely the same one—that finished eighth in points scored and ninth in points allowed per game last year. They have that kind of potential. It’s there. As they presumably get healthier, and Fitzpatrick works through his rust, they’re going to be fine. It doesn’t matter if they peaked with 10 victories last season; that is still their ceiling this year.
Which isn’t to say you should go right out and lay money down on their Super Bowl (+6600) or AFC championship (+3300) odds. The Jets, to be necessarily blunt, are long shots. Aside from a difficult schedule, they play in an incredibly tough division, if only because the New England Patriots, who remain undefeated, are in it. And though the Buffalo Bills are 1-2, having already lost to the Jets, they always seem to have their division rival’s number.
Here’s the thing: With the exception of the Patriots every other team in the AFC East—Miami Dolphins, Bills, Jets—got off to a 1-2 start. This bodes well for New York’s wild card chances, since it puts the Jets on level footing with at least two other squads. Beyond that, the Steelers are the only team in the AFC that ranks second in its division and feels scary. The Kansas City Chiefs’ (2-1) conservative offense gets them into trouble, and the Oakland Raiders (also 2-1), largely because of their defense, feel breakable.
Indeed, if the Jets wish to make a legitimate wild card push, they’ll need to come out of this upcoming stretch with more wins than losses, so as not to add pressure to the end of their year. And it’s totally possible they do that.
Even with two losses in three games, the Jets still look like a team that can contend on the fringes of the postseason discussion, and that’s enough for you to keep up hope for them as we move deeper into their schedule.