In a two part blog series I will look at two teams who were formerly laughing stocks, and why we should all be buying stock in them making pushes for the playoffs. First up, the New York Jets
It’s hard to justify any sort of “playoff” team in the AFC East when the New England Patriots are sitting atop the divisional standings, but as far as divisional competition don’t be surprised if the J-E-T-S Jets Jets Jets! make a push for the ‘next best’ slot.
Their divisional competition could dictate their success next season. Both the Buffalo Bills and Miami Dolphins have noticeably gotten worse. The Bills have lost their starting quarterback, Tyrod Taylor in a trade with Cleveland, while bringing in backup QB AJ McCarron as their apparent starter. As well, personal issues have emerged around young receiver Zay Jones who may not be ready to start the season.
The Miami Dolphins are attempting a culture change and have lost two major pieces, one offensive and one defensive. Stud receiver Jarvis Landry, who is a target vacuum, was traded to Cleveland. This will create a massive hole in the offense of Miami who will be without their sure handed slot receiver now, with QB Ryan Tannehill returning from injury. The Dolphins also cut Ndamukong Suh, their controversial pass rusher. While consistently living in the grey areas of football, Suh was a QB’s nightmare, pushing O-linemen back on their heels closing the pocket.
The kings will remain kings in the AFC East with the probable Super Bowl contender New England Patriots atop the division. However, this doesn’t discredit a playoff push coming from the Jets. The Jets will most likely need a minimum of nine wins to be in wildcard contention, a far cry from their five from the previous season – but those four wins could be helped along with divisional play.
The Jets divisional record last season was 2-4-0, losing to the Patriots twice, Miami twice, and sweeping the season series with Buffalo. Miami will be taking a step back, quote me here. Buffalo, unless hitting on gems in the draft, will also be stepping back. The Jets can capitalize on lesser divisional competition to boost their play off hopes, and who knows maybe even put up a fight against the Pats too.
So why will the Jets be better? Well for starters they aren’t starting from nothing. Last season one of the biggest surprises was that “holy shit, the Jets are actually winning games!” This deflated into a 5-11 season, losing four out of their last five games, but still an impressive start for a team perceived to be tanking the season away.
Their biggest attribute is the explosive passing game due to three big pass catching options. Jermaine Kearse, the wide out from Seattle was acquired before the 2017 season in a trade for defensive star Sheldon Richardson. A year out from free agency, the Jets capitalized on his value and brought in the reliable receiver who contributed to their surprising offense and offered sure hands in the slot.
Robby Anderson is the next impressive talent for the Jets. His break away speed, and ability to turn three catches into 100+ yards and multiple touchdowns is insane efficiency. He adds the ‘big play’ variable to the Jets offence and is a key member of their possible uptick in play.
Bilal Powell is the third and final member of this passing game. Believe it or not, this back was more valuable that their QB, as Josh McCown failed to flash brilliance, but instead was reliably predictable. Powell, who rushed well last season, has breakout ability in the passing game with screen pass proficiency, and break away ground speed.
So why am I betting on the Jets take the next step in 2018? They have had a brilliant off season so far! Starting with a deal that has yet to have ramifications, the Jets traded their 6th pick along with two 2018 second round picks, and a 2018 second round pick to the Colts to move up in the draft to #3. The Jet’s are undoubtedly looking for that elite, top prospect QB in the draft and have payed a massive price for that opportunity. Should they get their man, their offseason additions (to follow) will allow for him to wade into the league and not get thrusted into action immediately.
But before QB’s lets look at how the Jet’s have added strength to their offence outside of their signal caller. Firstly, Isaiah Crowell has been added as a starting running back. Starting is a finicky term because of Powell’s importance to the passing game, but Crowell adds veteran stability and will probably relish any opportunity outside of playing for the Browns.
The Jets also added gadget player Tyrelle Pryor in free agency. He adds a ton of value to the passing game, adding another elite receiving option that opposing secondaries will have to factor in to their coverage. Pryor is also useful in his applicability. I described him as a gadget player because, as shown in his Cleveland years, he can act as a rusher in end-arounds, a deep threat as a wide out, or even throw the ball. The Jets will probably fashion a trick play or two around Pryor’s skills which makes him a valuable add, even more so than he already was.
The final piece the Jets have added that makes them better than last year is signing beloved former Minnesota Viking QB Teddy Bridgewater. Drafted to be their franchise QB, Teddy exploded his knee in a non-contact injury in pre-season training to a horrific extent in 2016. His teammates were crying and praying for him, and two years later it has factored into him being moved on from by Minnesota. Bridgewater still has high value, and over Josh McCown could provide a more explosive talent at QB instead of a game manager.
With McCown also signed on with the Jets, the Bridgewater move is even better. Teddy is convinced he is a starter but the lingering effects of his injury could possibly dampen that. The Jets have reliable stability behind him and in doing so they don’t gamble an important year for their team away on a high-risk free agent signing.
The Jets may not be a sexy pick for a playoff team, but Joe Flacco has made a career and won a Superbowl off of being reliably ‘just good’ and offensively unsexy. The Jets have breakout potential and could see an influx of bandwagon support, especially with their cross town rivals the Giants being a mess on the field. The success the Jets can have is reliant upon their free-agents meshing well, their offensive players to take the next step, and their draftees making an impact. Sure, that is a long list of things that need to happen, but what will help is a weakened AFC East division outside of the Pats.