Although it seems like a distant memory, the wound is still fresh when thinking about how the Jets’ 2015 playoff hopes were squashed Week 17 at the hands of Rex Ryan and the Buffalo Bills. After what has felt like forever since then, we are about a week away from the 2016 season, which means Gang Green has an opportunity to right last year’s wrongs and fight for a chance to make the postseason for the first time since 2010.
The Jets’ 2016 offensive outlook would have looked pretty grim had they not struck a deal with Ryan Fitzpatrick literally right before the start of training camp. We all know what a season with Geno Smith at quarterback would have looked like. Last season, Fitzpatrick produced the best season of his career, throwing for 3,905 yards and 31 touchdowns. Sure 15 interceptions is hardly ideal (and Football Outsiders would argue he should have had more), but his football IQ made him an asset to the team. It’s hard to imagine a scenario where the Harvard graduate surpasses last year’s numbers, but I think his regression will be a lot milder than others intend it to be. He is still surrounded by a plethora of offensive weapons and he plays in a system that has allowed him to excel in the past.
I’ll throw some attention to the backup quarterback competition, although I believe it has gotten way too much attention this preseason. Bryce Petty and Geno Smith have performed evenly if you factor in practices and preseason games. I understand that an experienced backup quarterback is ideal, but if Fitzpatrick goes down will Geno Smith really help us win? My guess is no. Petty has shown that he has the potential to be a successful NFL quarterback and I believe, if released, another team would scoop him up before the Jets could sign him to their practice squad. Ultimately, I think the Jets end up keeping four quarterbacks on roster, but the best case scenario would be to trade Geno Smith, with Dallas being a possible suitor.
Moving to the receiving corps, where would Fitzpatrick be without the dynamic duo of Eric Decker and Brandon Marshall? Last season, Decker and Marshall combined for 2,529 yards and 26 touchdowns. They are the best receiving tandem in recent memory and I expect these two to continue wreaking havoc on opposing defenses in 2016. As for the running backs, one of the newer members of this Jet offense is Matt Forte, who is one of the best dual threat backs in the league. Since entering the league in 2008, no running back has accumulated more yards from scrimmage than Forte. He and Bilal Powell are perfect fits for Chan Gailey’s offense, which loves utilizing running backs as pass catchers.
The offensive line will see two noticeable changes to start 2016 due to D’Brickashaw Ferguson’s retirement and Breno Giacomini’s injury. It’s tough to replace a guy who has been the cornerstone of your team since 2006, but bringing in Ryan Clady will definitely help. A former four-time Pro Bowl selection and two-time First Team All-Pro, Clady has struggled with injuries in the past, but will look to return as one of the league’s best tackles this season. The competition for right tackle will be between Brent Qvale and Ben Ijalana, who both have a chance to permanently win the role after Giacomini’s inauspicious 2015 season.
No matter how you look at it, the Jets’ defense was easily a top 10, and maybe even a top 5 unit in the league last season. They ranked 3rd in the league in takeaways (30), fourth in yards per game (318.6), and allowed the second fewest rushing yards (83.4 per game) and rushing touchdowns (4). To make Mando happy, they also had the 5th highest DVOA rating in 2015. With no major downgrades, this defense looks to replicate, if not better, their 2015 success.
Stout interior defense is a vital component to the Jets’ winning formula and the main men responsible for this are Muhammad Wilkerson, Sheldon Richardson, and Leonard Williams. After losing Damon Harrison, the Jets brought in Steve McLendon to take over nose tackle duties. Although listed as a primary 3-4 defense, the Jets will also utilize the 4-3 to get their best d-linemen on the field. This D-line has looked great this preseason and if there were any doubts that Mo wouldn’t be the same after breaking his leg, that was put to bed on Saturday against the Giants.
The linebacking corps proved to be the achilles heel to the defense last season. So what did the Jets do? They used their first and third round draft picks to invest in young talent: Darron Lee and Jordan Jenkins have both stood out this preseason. At first, Jenkins will see more time than Lee- as he is currently listed as the starting OLB- but the former Ohio State star has a lot of people excited due to his blazing speed that not many linebackers posses.
The secondary will look about the same as last year, minus Antonio Cromartie. And when you consider how bad Cro played, he shouldn’t really be considered a loss. Buster Skrine will line up across from Revis with Marcus Williams- who had six interceptions last season- most likely in the slot. Skrine played well during the first half of last season, but wasn’t the same after injuring both his shoulder and hand against the Patriots in Week 6. Lining up across from Revis, he should be very busy this season. Moreover, Dee Milliner is another player who finds himself in a do-or-die year. The ninth overall pick in the 2013 NFL draft has yet to live up to any such standards and has been plagued by injuries, but he’s in a contract year, so he’s one of the more interesting players to watch for Gang Green. Overall, I’d expect similar production for a Jets pass defense that ranked 13th in 2015.
Special Teams Outlook
This preseason, Ross Martin and Nick Folk battled it out for kicking duties, while the two Aussies (Lachlan Edwards and Tom Hackett) competed for the punting job. Martin had a good showing, but it wasn’t enough for him to replace the incumbent Nick Folk. Tom Hackett was actually cut before the start of training camp to make room for Ryan Fitzpatrick, so the job was all Lachlan Edwards’. The 28 year old Jeremy Ross will return kicks and punts for Gang Green. Ross was signed by the Patriots as an un-drafted free agent in 2011, and has since bounced around the league.
1. Leonard Williams, DE
Williams is coming off a very successful rookie campaign. Although his three sacks may seem a little underwhelming, he was a vital component to the Jets’ interior defense. In fact, New York allowed 4.8 yards per play when Williams was on the field, as opposed to 5.9 when he was not (ESPN Stats & Info). This preseason, Williams has looked faster, stronger, and more decisive than last season. The 22-year-old is poised for a year that will gain him the recognition he deserves around the league.
2. Jordan Jenkins, OLB
The former Georgia linebacker came into camp with a lot of hype around him and he’s been as great as everyone’s expected. Sheldon Richardson has been a big fan of Jenkins, saying “the guy has been hell on wheels since Day 1.” At 6-foot-3, 259-pound, Jenkins will bring versatility to a position formerly held by Calvin Pace. He boasts a high football IQ and is a proven leader. Not many rookies are bestowed such a great opportunity to start in one of the league’s top defenses, but Jenkins looks to be the real deal.
3. Calvin Pryor, S
After a shaky rookie season, Pryor came into his own in 2015 under Todd Bowles. He racked up 69 tackles, two interceptions, and one forced fumble. His success last season was certainly attributed to Bowles’ decision to have him return to his natural position at strong safety, which finally allowed Jets fans to see why Pryor was nicknamed the “Louisville Slugger” during his college days. Don’t believe me? Just ask Rishard Matthews. If Pryor continues to improve like he did from his rookie to sophomore year, there is no reason why he can’t establish himself as a top safety in the league.
Week 1: vs Cincinnati Win 20-17
I think home field advantage is the difference maker here, especially when you consider this game is on the 15th anniversary of 9/11. The Jets edge this one out for The City.
Week 2: @ Buffalo Win 24-10
Rex got the better of us twice last year, but I think his luck runs out with the whole country watching on Thursday Night. Let’s just hope they don’t bring back those “Color Rush” uniforms.
Week 3: @ Kansas City Loss 17-7
On the road against a tough Chiefs defense is a recipe for disaster. Alex Smith outplays Ryan Fitzpatrick, who throws one too many interceptions.
Week 4: vs Seattle Win 19-10
The Jets’ pass rush against an abysmal Seattle offensive line? Yes, please! I’m even going as far as to predict a safety in this game.
Week 5: @ Pittsburgh Loss 31-14
The Steelers have the best offense in the league. Even against a top defense, they are still a threat to put up a lot of points.
Week 6: @ Arizona Loss 21-17
On Monday Night Football, the Jets will give the Cardinals all they can handle, but ultimately come up short. However, they do prove they can hang with the NFL’s elite.
Week 7: vs Baltimore Win 28-14
After a tough first six weeks, I like the Jets to easily get past the Ravens in their first home game since Week 4.
Week 8: @ Cleveland Win 24-3
Maybe I’m not expecting a good showing from RGIII or maybe I’m still mad the Cavaliers won the NBA Finals. You decide.
Week 9: @ Miami Win 17-13
The Jets are always good for playing down to their competition a couple times a year. I’ll be optimistic and say despite that, they still grind out a win.
Week 10: vs Los Angeles Loss 14-3
Aaron Donald is a baaaaaad man. Despite LA’s poor offense, their defense will find them ways to win games.
Week 12: vs New England Loss 28-21
The Patriots will be feeling good after harpooning the 49ers the previous week, while the Jets come out flat after their bye. However, don’t be fooled, the game will still be close.
Week 13: vs Indianapolis Win 20-10
Andrew Luck’s offensive line might be worse than Russell Wilson’s. The D-line will be licking their chops.
Week 14: @ San Francisco Win 27-14
Not even Chip Kelly can help the 49ers. A better question would be if Colin Kaepernick is still sitting down for the national anthem?
Week 15: vs Miami Win 24-10
Sorry, Miami. You’ll be contemplating your draft strategy at this point in the season.
Week 16: @ New England Win 21-20
That’s right, Mando. The Jets will march into Foxboro and have Tom Brady hitting the ground more times than a kid learning how to ride a bike.
Week 17: vs Buffalo Loss 17-7
This time around, Rex Ryan’s Week 17 win isn’t enough to keep the Jets out of the playoffs. Wild card spot secured baby!