David Aitken breaks down five key topics on the New York Jets through nine games in the 2017 season…
Lessons from Years Past
To Jets fans, this season relative to outside expectations is following a familiar pattern. This year was not the first time in the last decade the Jets were predicted to be among the worst teams in the league only to have greatly surpassed expectations. 2006, 2013 and 2015 the Jets went in as basement dwellers in power rankings and actually finished .500 or better. What parallels are there from those years to 2017, and what can the Jets learn from them, given the regression that followed each of those seasons?
In 2013 the Jets finished 8-8 and were not competitive in just about any of those 8 losses. Based on record the Jets were an average team, but Pythagorean wins (a measure of expected wins based on points scored/allowed) ranked the Jets 27th in the league. When you only show up to play in about half your games, you don’t normally expect to win nearly all the ones you do show up in. This team’s 8 wins were flukey, and the regression in 2014 should have been more obviously foreseen.
I don’t see those kind of parallels with this Jets team. Outside of one trip to Oakland (and perhaps Buffalo) this has been a competitive team. There have been dominant wins. A 2-3 record in one possession games indicates a team that arguably could even be a little better than record indicates. This year reminds me a lot more of the 2006 team that went 10-6 in Eric Mangini’s first year. Buoyed by a soft schedule, a stabilizing veteran at quarterback, and instant contributions from the rookie class, that team ended up getting a wildcard spot. They were a below average team statistically like this year’s Jets, but they were well coached week to week and a fortunate 6-3 in one score games.
And from 2015 comes a warning. The Jets were fooled into bringing back Ryan Fitzpatrick as the starter after the Jets had franchise all-time great seasons from Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker and a forgiving slate of pass defenses. Josh McCown doesn’t have the elite duo to lean on, but he’s had up to this point one of the easiest pass defense schedules in the league. Outside of playing the top passing defense in the league in Jacksonville, opponents in passing DVOA have ranked: 32nd (OAK), 30th x2 (MIA), 29th (NE), 28th, (CLE), 24th (ATL) and 14th x2 (BUF). Tampa Bay this weekend is 31st.
What else is there to learn, more generally? From 2006, we can take away that team development isn’t linear. The Jets made progress from 2006-2008 yet their win totals went from 10 to 4 to 9. Judging the progress of a rebuild is a performance first, results second affair. From 2013 and 2015, we can learn from the dangers of maintaining the status quo. The Jets went into both offseasons not being as aggressive or bold in making adjustments as they should have been. Especially if the idea is to build on this year and maintain momentum – there will be plenty of cap space to use and a lot of areas still needing upgrading.
According to FiveThirtyEight data from 1995 and onward, the odds of a given 4-5 team making the playoffs is about 14%. If the Jets pick up an expected (but by no means guaranteed given road record) victory on Sunday, the odds jump from 14% up to 30%. If 4-6 after Sunday, it drops down to 7%. A win Sunday and fans can spend their bye week with the Yahoo playoff scenario generator. A loss and we’re probably not far from giving some more young guys an opportunity.
The most difficult part here is that the Jets schedule difficulty jumps up significantly over the last handful of games. FootballOutsiders’ strength of schedule for the Jets thus far has been 31st in the league, it jumps to 12th over the remaining seven games. Buffalo meanwhile has been playing the league’s easiest schedule and has a remaining strength 27th in the league. They do, however, still have all of their division games outside of the Jets to play. Jacksonville’s remaining schedule is 31st. New England’s 28th. A sliver of hope for the Jets – they’ve got the Panthers and Chiefs at home where the team has been most competitive, and the Chargers must travel across the country to play the Jets as well. The road game in Denver also does not look as daunting as it once did.
Tanks For Nothing
The Jets have 4 wins. They’re likely to match last year’s total by Week 10. It’s over. In retrospect it was always going to be hard to compete with what has become the 2007 Super Bowl of Game of Tanks, the Browns building their Tank Dynasty and the Giants the scrappy underdog. But it’s ok. Even if the Jets end up in the 6-10, 7-9 “purgatory zone,” this class is shaping up to have options at quarterback.
Several recent mock drafts have projected at least four and as many as six quarterbacks going throughout round one. The appeal of the tank is obvious for any rebuilding team without a quarterback, but this quarterback class is shaping up to be another class of flavors as opposed to the one “can’t miss” player Darnold was supposed to be. The fear now is not the Jets being unable to draft a quarterback, it’s the Jets drafting the wrong one. But for Maccagnan, the third time’s the charm, right?
Is Last Thursday’s Success Sustainable?
Last Thursday night was what being a football fan is all about. Your team is dominating a division rival. The fans are celebrating. The players are dancing. The colors are rushing. The decisive victory came through a combination of the run defense the Jets have rediscovered over the past several weeks and an unexpected surge in quarterback pressure. The Jets went into last week’s game with 11 sacks on the year. The team finished with 7 on the night.
If Kony Ealy is considered a starter, the Jets entire front seven were all credited with at least half a sack. It’s a credit to Muhammad Wilkerson’s resurgence and Darron Lee’s emergence, not only in their abilities to rush the quarterback but the opportunities they set up through their improvements in run defense. If the Jets do make an unlikely run toward a playoff spot, this level of pressure plus a healthy Claiborne are requirements.
Below, some possible quarterback options through free agency or trade and whether the Jets should pursue:
Kirk Cousins – Yes. Quarterbacks at his level do not often enter free agency. I know, you have to make him the highest paid quarterback in the league. To which I say: the most important thing is having the space to extend homegrown talent. Outside of Leonard Williams and probably Quincy Enunwa, there aren’t many of those candidates on the roster. And “highest paid quarterback” is a label he’ll carry for all but a year. By 2019 he may not even be in the top five. The Jets have cap space, use it.
Sam Bradford – Pass. But I can’t shake the feeling he’s going to start games for the Jets before his career is over. He’ll miss the remainder of this season, but has missed “only” 3 starts the two years prior. He’s been a good enough quarterback in Minnesota when healthy. But he’s too much of an injury risk relative to what you pay him.
Andrew Luck – Pass. There’s just too much uncertainty around his health to be comfortable giving up premium picks to get him. It’s the kind of situation where if the Colts are open to trading him, that says enough about how they view the injury risk.
Teddy Bridgewater – Yes. Unlikely now to hit free agency given the signs pointing to the Vikings moving on from Bradford, but well worth the risk. First round talent, just 24 years old, poised for a breakout before his injury.
AJ McCarron – Pass. Let the Browns do this one. Everyone wants to find the next Matt Schaub on another roster but you usually end up with an AJ Feeley, Kevin Kolb or Mike Glennon.
Josh McCown – Yes… as the backup. If the Jets go the first round QB route, McCown is the perfect backup. Let’s just avoid another Fitzpatrick situation.
Photo Credit: NewYorkJets.com