New York Jets Season Preview: Can Jets Surprise in 2021?

What are the reasonable expectations for the New York Jets as they embark on a new era under first-time head coach Robert Salah and rookie quarterback Zach Wilson?

It’s been a whirlwind pace of change within the New York Jets organisation over the last nine months, ever since the 2020 campaign was put to bed. After two disastrous seasons, including a 2-14-0 campaign last year, the Jets fired head coach Adam Gase and hired San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator, Robert Salah, to replace him. 

Next the Jets bid adieu to quarterback Sam Darnold, packing the former No.3 draft pick to the Carolina Panthers in April, a few weeks before the 2021 NFL Draft got underway. Having eyed the crop of young talent coming up in this year’s draft class, the Salah’s newly assembled coaching staff had their sights on one particular quarterback – BYU’s Zach Wilson, who they picked at No.2 overall. 

Over the ensuing days of the NFL Draft, then in the months following, the Jets addressed countless weaknesses on their roster and brought in solid veteran and rookie talent to fill those gaps on both sides of the ball. 

However, it’s not just these additions that are generating positivity and optimism around the Gang Green this year. Everything harks back to general manager Joe Douglas’ decision to hire Robert Salah as the new coach. Salah is an alpha-dog and he brings a special brand of cultural change with him that’s practically intoxicating.

There’s a real buzz in New York, a cheery bonhomie that’s spread across the team, fanbase and, even, the media. The New York media is a tough lot to impress, which is just a testament to the impact Salah is already having by just oxidating the same air. 

Salah.41, is widely respected in the league by general managers, coaches, players and NFL reporters. He’s everything Adam Gase is not. Intense, passionate, inspiring, approachable, motivating, friendly….those are just some of the adjectives that have been brandished about the new Jets head coach with the imposing muscular physique. Then there’s Salah’s side-line celebrations, fist pumps and roars that mirror those of his players and make him instantly relatable and likeable by players and fans. 

Inasmuch as the foundations are solid, the future promising and hope is thriving within the locker room of a team that has long been the laughing stock of the league, success isn’t always instant. Pieces are in place, but the Jets aren’t complete. This is still predominantly a young team at the beginning stages of a complete redevelopment project under Salah and his staff. 

Of course, this doesn’t mean that the Jets can’t or won’t defy the NFL odds and lines that are currently trading with multiple top-rated sportsbooks. Anything is possible, but within reason. 

Arguably, the best spot for the Jets to defy the odds would be in projected season win totals. As this currently stand, the Jets are tipped to go Over or Under 6 wins in 2021. The Jets have the 19th toughest schedule according to Strength of Schedule rankings, which in layman terms means it’s going to be modestly challenging. Well, based on last season’s win-loss percentages of their opponents slated on the NFL schedule this year.

To look at the schedule closely, the Jets are set to face merely five 2020 playoff teams – the Buffalo Bills (twice), Tampa Bay Buccaneers, New Orleans Saints, Tennessee Titans and Indianapolis Colts. Most of the remaining schedule of 12 games features teams that struggled something awful last season. So, the Jets may well fancy their chances in those games. Perhaps, more so than they would against last season’s playoff contenders. Then again, no two seasons are the same and the Jets may well fancy their chances in most of these games, including against teams like the Saints and Colts who have major quarterback concerns going into 2021. On balance, there are enough winnable games that could see the Jets crack the 6-win total.

It’s not without some irony that the Jets will face off against the Carolina Panthers at Bank of America Stadium in their season opener this Sunday. It’s stroke of scheduling genius to pit these two teams against each other, knowing the quarterback backstory was one of the main talking points in the offseason. 

All eyes will be trained on the matchup between Darnold and  Wilson in this much anticipated Week 1 showdown. The. Battle of the “old” vs. “new.” The premium on the win couldn’t be any greater. Salah and his coaching staff will be intent on getting the win here, not only to start the season on a positive note but also, mainly, to justify their decision to set the Jets on a new course with Zach Wilson as the offensive pivot was the right one. Conversely, Matt Rhule and Darnold will be keen to win and prove the Jets otherwise.

If the NFL odds were any indication, books favour the Panthers as the -5.5 home chalk at the expense of the Jets. However, that may be a lot of points to be dishing out on a Panthers team that has yet to accomplish anything meaningful under Matt Rhule and that’s debuting its second quarterback in as many seasons of his tenure. To be fair, this is a game that the Jets could win. And if they do, watch if they don’t surprise more over the course of the 17-game 2021 campaign.