Last week we touched upon the importance of winning divisional games if the Jets are to have any chance of a trip to the playoffs or even a winning record. Following week one, the AFC East are the only division in the NFL with a 4-0 record, further highlighting this immense challenge. As if to further illustrate, various NFL news outlets discussing the division completely left the Jets out of their conversations. It seems that just as the Jets have improved in the offseason, so have the rest and this was patently clear following the week one schedule. It’s early days but what did we learn from week one that indicates how we could have success in the division?
The JetsFollowing a nervy start, the 31-10 victory against the Browns was a huge relief for the Jets as the fanbase collectively exhaled following the win. Phew! Across the division, it was the Jets who scored the highest but it wasn’t perfect by any measure and errors will have to be corrected before facing the Colts in week two. Although the Colts had a shaky start, ironically losing to the Bills, they are plainly better than the Browns. However, with an eye on the positives it was great to see improvements from individuals such as Calvin Pryor and the o-line in general who did a good job of protecting Fitzpatrick. Injuries to Cromartie and Maudlin put a slight dampener on affairs; especially the nature of Mauldin’s, but thankfully neither are as serious as first impressions suggested. The offense showed better rhythm, with Marshall and Ivory showing themselves to be difference makers. Overall lots to be happy about, but lots to improve going forward especially if we want to beat our divisional rivals who also showed plenty of upside in week one.
Just like Todd Bowles, Rex Ryan saw success in his first game in charge of the Bills. Of course, we could be cynical and say ‘we’ve seen that before’, but the Bills looked good and we have to play them twice. Their monster defense, another Ryan cliche, was able to shut down one of the predicted best offenses in the league holding Andrew Luck to a 63.6 passer rating and forcing two interceptions with their blitzes. Rex has built a bully (and paid it handsomely) and to beat them in week 10 and/or 17 will require interpreting these defensive looks. Tyrod Taylor looked pretty good too and it’ll be interesting to see how he fares against better defenses; including our own. This could be the key to success against the Bills.
The PatriotsThe Patriots looked like nothing had happened since the end of Super Bowl 49 and the start of the game against the Steelers on Thursday Night Football, let alone having been the centre of a media storm for most of the offseason. Tom Brady picked up where he left off and Gronk was dominant once more. The Patriots aren’t without problems; especially in the secondary and running back positions but they played with immense confidence and a chip on their shoulders to beat the Steelers 28-21. It was the Pats offense who dominated in the win, as their defense allowed Big Ben to put up 351 yards and a 95.4 passer rating. When the Jets face the Pats in week 7 and 16, the defense will need to try shut down Brady and Co, not just to keep the score down, but to give our offense as much field time as possible and enable Marshall, Decker and Smith to exploit their weaker secondary.
Of all divisional rivals, the Dolphins win against the Redskins was the least convincing and against the least accomplished opponents. It was Jarvis Landry’s 74 yard punt return which clinched it for the Phins, but all other offensive stats were pretty mediocre. The defense forced 2 interceptions of Kirk Cousins but the offense struggled to dominate. Perhaps fortunately, the Dolphins are the divisional team the Jets play first; in the International Series game in our very own Wembley. This of course comes with its own traveling related challenges but also a great deal of advantage. There will be large numbers of Dolphins and Jets fans in attendance, but the nature of the international games as a hub for fans of all teams means that this will not feel like a Dolphins home game. The Dolphins also have to play the Bills before then and will need to step up their offense against Rex’s D. With a similarly dominant defense, the Jets should feel particularly positive about their chances against Tannehill & Co in London and beyond.
The Jets have made a good start; but so have the rest of the division. Finding ways to get out of at least some of these games with a win is going to be vital and from what we saw in week one, a serious challenge. Of course week one isn’t a sure fire barometer for the rest of the season but it gives us plenty to consider. However, if the Jets can find a way to compete is what is one of the most competitive divisions we’ll know that the leaps forward we have begun to see are real and impactful.