The New York Jets surprised many with a 10-6 record in 2015, bringing them to the cusp of a playoff spot. Will they be able to replicate or exceed their success from last year this season or will they take a step back?
Let’s start with the factors working in favor of a Jets regression. A six game improvement (the Jets jumped from 4-12 to 10-6 in 2015) is not commonly followed by an increased win total. 31 of the 39 teams who have accomplished it in the past 15 years have won less games the following season.The Jets finished top ten in turnover margin last season (+6), this is a commonly referenced regression indicator statistic, as turnovers frequently involve luck alongside the ability to regularly force or avoid them. A positive turnover margin is a difficult thing to maintain or replicate year over year, particularly with a likely starting quarterback who got away with many near interceptions last season. If the Jets fall to the middle of the pack or worse in turnover margin, it may be coupled with a few more losses.
On paper there is a case to be made the Jets schedule will be substantially more difficult in 2016 than it was in 2015. Last season, the Jets played four games against eventual playoff teams, finishing with a 2-2 record. This season, they have seven games on the schedule against teams who made the 2015 playoffs. More specifically, their offense which was a surprisingly effective unit last year (14th in DVOA) will face a slate of defenses that were excellent last season and are expected to remain among the league’s best. 2016 opponents Arizona, Seattle, Kansas City, St. Louis, Houston, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and New England were all top 12 DVOA units last year.
The Jets sustained a handful of important injuries and suspensions for short periods of time last season. Sheldon Richardson and Quincy Enunwa both missed four games. Bilal Powell missed five. Calvin Pryor missed three. Nick Mangold missed two. Darrelle Revis missed two. Eric Decker missed one. Chris Ivory was regularly in and out of the lineup in games he suited up for. However, their starting quarterback played 15+ games. Their left tackle didn’t miss a game. Their Team MVP, Brandon Marshall, didn’t miss a game. Their best defensive player, Muhammad Wilkerson, didn’t miss a game.
As the roster is currently constructed the Jets are in serious trouble if Marshall, Decker, Ryan Clady, Mangold or Revis miss any extended period of time. The same goes for any injury to the starting quarterback, whoever that ends up being. Considering Clady’s recent history and the age of Marshall, Fitzpatrick (if he comes back) and Revis, it is fair to wonder if they will receive such luck.Overall, the Jets offense could be primed for a step back, with or without Fitzpatrick. It is unrealistic to expect a 34 year old journeyman to replicate or improve on a career season. if Geno Smith is the quarterback, he is yet to prove he can consistently perform at the level Fitzpatrick did in 2015. On the offensive line, the Jets are perilously thin at every single spot and have questionable depth at receiver until Devin Smith proves himself healthy and capable.
Before you write off the Jets 2016 season, there is a case to be made against the Jets regressing. Despite raising a red flag on turnover margin as a regression indicator, they do not raise one on points differential or Pythagorean wins. The Jets were 9th overall in DVOA last season and 8th in point differential at +4.6. Basically, the Jets were not a fluky 10-6 last season. By most advanced metrics they were one of the ten best teams in the NFL. This is unlike 2013 when they were 8-8 but had an awful point differential (due to regularly losing by 10+ points) and advanced metrics that pointed to them being a much worse team than their record indicated.
Another metric that is regularly used to indicate potential regression is record in one score games. If you squeaked out a bunch of close ones, usually you work back to the mean eventually and lose games that often break late on one or two plays. The Jets weren’t particularly good in one score games last season with a 3-5 record, meaning there is room for potential improvement there.
It is also presumptive to think it is a guarantee the Jets schedule will be that much harder in 2016. It is only July. Things happen. Players get hurt. Coaches get fired. Teams get hot and cold. Last year two of the hardest games on the Jets schedule were supposed to be Indianapolis and Dallas, along with flying to London to play an “up and coming” Miami team….we saw how all those went.Unlike the offense, the Jets defense and special teams are both poised for improvement this season. The Jets were 5th in Defensive DVOA in the first year of Todd Bowles system. They now have a year under their belt and replaced their two most ineffective starters, Demario Davis and Antonio Cromartie, with likely upgrades in Erin Henderson/Darron Lee and Marcus Williams.
The Jets got younger, added more depth and speed with the selections of Lee, Jordan Jenkins, Juston Burris and the signings of Bruce Carter and Jarvis Jenkins. Yes, they lost Damon Harrison but veteran Steve McLendon should adequately be able to replace his 50% of the defensive snaps. Players like Leonard Williams, Sheldon Richardson, Lorenzo Mauldin, Calvin Pryor and Marcus Gilchrist all have the arrows pointing up at this stage of their career.
On special teams, how could the Jets not improve? They were 25th in DVOA last year and made a host of changes to all their ineffective positions. “Punter” Ryan Quigley will be replaced by 7th round pick Lachlan Edwards or UDFA Tom Hackett. Veteran kicker Nick Folk returns healthy after the missing the back half of last season and will be pushed by UDFA Ross Martin. At returner Jeremy Ross and Jalin Marshall will battle to replace the Jeremy Kerley, Zac Stacy, Antontio Cromartie messy mash up. Additions like Carter, Lee, Jenkins, Burris, and a healthy Mike Catapano should help round out the units. New coordinator Brant Boyer will not have big shoes to fill after the job Bobby April did last season.
We referenced potential offensive issues earlier but Fitzpatrick may be able to approximate 2015 closely enough, where there isn’t a notable drop off for the entire unit. If given the chance, Geno Smith has the physical ability and knowledge of Chan Gailey’s offense to potentially exceed expectations. H-Back/Chess Piece Quincy Enunwa should continue to progress, while Jace Amaro returns from injury at tight end. The Jets running back trio should be an improvement over last year’s trio and give them more versatility in the passing game.
There is a fair case to be made both ways when it comes to the Jets regression next season. Ultimately, it is most likely to come down to their internal health, the health of their opponents and the ability to sustain consistent, competent quarterback play. If they can improve in close games, their expected drop off may not occur.
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