Baker Mayfield
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Which New York Jets opponents will turn out to be substantially tougher than we currently expect?

Nania's Numbers

Every year, the NFL world is quick to judge the difficulty of a given team’s upcoming schedule based on the records of that team’s opponents in the previous season. That’s not how the league works, though. In a sport where seasons are a tiny 16-game sample, there is so much fluctuation from year-to-year. We have no idea how good any team is going to be.

From 2018 to 2019, the average team saw a change in its win total of 2.4. That total is equal to a win percentage of .150 – larger than the difference between New England’s No. 1-ranked strength of schedule (.537) and Baltimore’s No. 32-ranked strength of schedule (.438).

There are teams that currently look daunting that will actually turn out to be easily exposable. On the other hand, there are teams that every fan is quick to draw a green “W” over that will turn out to be serious contenders.

Tomorrow, we will look at a couple of teams that could turn out to be easier matchups for the Jets than anticipated. Today, let’s dive into the two teams on the Jets’ schedule that I think are the most likely to vastly exceed the expectations that most currently have for them.

Arizona Cardinals

2019 record: 5-10-1 (.344) – 25th

2019 net points: -5.0 (23rd)

2019 scoring: 22.6 (16th)

2019 scoring defense: 27.6 (28th)

2019 offensive DVOA: 13th

2019 defensive DVOA: 23rd

2019 overall DVOA: 20th

Key additions: WR DeAndre Hopkins (Trade – HOU), LB Isaiah Simmons (R1), OT Josh Jones (R3), DT Jordan Phillips (FA – BUF), LB De’Vondre Campbell (FA – ATL), LB Devon Kennard (FA – DET)

Key losses: DE Rodney Gunter (FA – JAX)

Arizona showed a lot of progress throughout the season on offense. Kyler Murray flashed legitimately exciting potential while Kliff Kingsbury‘s unique style proved to be capable of working in the NFL.

The Cardinals ranked fifth in scoring (29.7) over the final three weeks of the season, defeating the Browns and Seahawks before falling closely to the Rams for a 2-1 finish. Murray ranked 10th out of 33 qualified quarterbacks in adjusted completion percentage (accounts for drops, throwaways, etc.) over that span with a crisp mark of 75.7%.

Kenyan Drake proved to be an excellent mid-season trade pickup from Miami. Over the nine weeks he spent in Arizona, Drake ranked sixth in rushing yards (643), second in rushing touchdowns (8), and fifth in yards per carry (5.2).

With a full season of Drake and the potential of a Year 2 leap from Murray, the Cardinals already had plenty of offensive upside, but then they did the unthinkable. Steve Keim goated Bill O’Brien into giving up DeAndre Hopkins for the declining David Johnson, who was expendable after Drake’s breakout.

Arizona now boasts a receiving trio of Hopkins, Larry Fitzgerald, and Christian Kirk going into Murray’s second year. Hopkins is third in receiving yards (4,115) and first in receiving touchdowns (31) over the last three seasons. Fitzgerald has still got it. He ranked eighth with 668 receiving yards out of the slot in 2019. Kirk is only 23 years old and averaged 61.9 yards from scrimmage in his second season.

To boot, tight end Maxx Williams is one of the game’s best blockers, earning by far the best run-blocking grade from Pro Football Focus among tight ends (84.7).

So, the Arizona offense should be set for a leap into the top-10. The true determining factor will be how much progress the team makes defensively. Vance Joseph‘s defense ranked 29th with 2.37 points allowed per drive and landed at 23rd in overall defensive DVOA.

Linebacker was a major problem area for the Cardinals. Based on my findings, their linebacker group ranked 30th in the league and was the worst of any NFC team.

Plenty was done to address that weakness. The Cardinals were lucky enough to see do-it-all Clemson “linebacker” (the guy does too many things well to simply be called a linebacker) Isaiah Simmons fall to No. 8 overall. Simmons should greatly aid Arizona in coverage, where the Cardinals’ linebacker group was the league’s second-worst based on my aggregate rankings.

Arizona also added free agent assistance with former Falcon De’Vondre Campbell and former Lion Devon Kennard, but it remains to be seen whether those two will provide much of a boost in the passing game. Campbell allowed the third-most yards per cover snap among qualified linebackers (1.47). Kennard’s game is primarily built around pass-rushing, as he dropped into coverage only 8.9 times per game, but he did allow an incredibly solid rate of just 4.0 yards per target.

Expect the Cardinals offense to jump into the top-10. If Simmons, Campbell, and Kennard can reinvigorate the linebacker position and elevate the defense to respectability, Arizona will have a great chance of competing for a Wild Card in the NFC. The Jets will certainly not be playing a 5-win type of team when Arizona makes the cross-country trip to MetLife Stadium in Week 5.

Cleveland Browns

2019 record: 6-10 (.375) – 23rd

2019 net points: -3.6 (22nd)

2019 scoring: 20.9 (22nd)

2019 scoring defense: 24.6 (20th)

2019 offensive DVOA: 20th

2019 defensive DVOA: 22nd

2019 overall DVOA: 23rd

Key additions: RT Jack Conklin (FA – TEN), TE Austin Hooper (FA – ATL), QB Case Keenum (FA – WAS), DE Adrian Clayborn (FA – ATL), OT Jedrick Wills (R1), HC Kevin Stefanski

Key losses: LB Joe Schobert (FA – JAX), LB Christian Kirksey (FA – GB), S Eric Murray (FA – HOU), HC Freddie Kitchens

After a 2018 season in which they became the league’s darling breakout candidate, the Browns are back to being everyone’s favorite team to laugh at.

I think the Browns might be laughing back by the time this season is over.


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