Mapping out the New York Jets’ final stretch of 2021
After 11 weeks, the New York Jets sit at 2-8 with a myriad of questions to answer before the season ends.
Thankfully, New York has the perfect set of matchups ahead of them to build some momentum after a difficult start to the season.
New York’s remaining opponents have a combined win percentage of only .432, ranking as the fifth-easiest upcoming schedule in the NFL. The Jets’ opponents to this point have a combined win percentage of .551, giving New York the third-toughest schedule in the NFL.
The softest part of the Jets’ remaining schedule is directly in front of them. Each of their next five opponents has a losing record, and those teams combine for a win percentage of .340.
Robert Saleh and Jeff Ulbrich‘s defense will have a good opportunity to bounce back as the next five games feature three teams near the bottom of the NFL in total offense and points per game: 32nd-ranked Houston (15.0), 30th-ranked Jacksonville (15.9), and 26th-ranked Miami (18.3). Additionally, the 17th-ranked Saints have fallen to 0-4 with only 20.3 points and 315.5 yards per game since losing starting quarterback Jameis Winston.
As Zach Wilson makes his return against Houston this week, the Jets’ offense is in a much better place than it was in Week 7 when Wilson got hurt.
Newly-acquired right guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif looked like a massive upgrade over Greg Van Roten in his starting debut. Mike LaFleur has also increased his usage of three-receiver and four-receiver sets while altering his play-calling to be far less predictable.
After a slow start to their careers, Michael Carter, Elijah Moore, and Alijah Vera-Tucker are arguably the Jets’ three best offensive players now.
The results have spoken for themselves as the Jets lead the NFL in yards per game since Week 8 (435.8).
With these changes and improvements, the offense has averaged 24.5 points per game over its last four contests compared to 13.3 over its first six.
Against a soft schedule with an improved offensive infrastructure around him, how many wins can Wilson help the Jets claim over the final seven weeks?
Let’s take a look at each upcoming opponent to answer that question.
Week 12 at Houston Texans
The Houston Texans have been one of the worst teams in the NFL. However, in four games started by Tyrod Taylor, they’re 2-2 while averaging 22.3 points, including a road win over the top-seeded Titans last week. Without Taylor, Houston is 0-8 while averaging 7.6 points.
The only notable weapon on the Texans’ offense is deep threat Brandin Cooks, who has been Taylor’s favorite target (9.5 targets per game with Taylor).
Additionally, Taylor is a respectable rushing quarterback. He is averaging 26.5 rushing yards per game and has three rushing scores over his four starts.
Houston’s offensive line has been shuffled weekly which resulted in improved pass protection against the Titans but the unit has still struggled overall this season and misses Laremy Tunsil, who has been out since Week 6 following thumb surgery.
The Texans are equally inept on defense, ranking 29th in points allowed (27.1), but it is important to keep an eye on their ability to force turnovers. They’ve racked up five takeaways in each of their last two games. The Jets have struggled to protect the football, so they need to focus on limiting turnovers if they want to win.
At the end of the day, the Texans are a bad team. For a normal team, this would be a cakewalk, but for the Jets, a complete game is needed to head home with a win.
The loss of Michael Carter against the Texans’ 31st-ranked run defense is devastating, but the Jets should be able to pull out the win as long as Wilson limits turnovers. The Texans are 2-0 when they take the ball away at least two more times than they turn it over. They’re 0-8 otherwise.
Week 13 vs. Philadelphia Eagles
The Philadelphia Eagles have been an intriguing team this year. Led by dual-threat quarterback Jalen Hurts, they are sitting at 5-6 with wins in three of their past four games.
Philadelphia’s offense is eighth in points per game (27.0) and second in rushing yards per game (153.4).
Rookie wideout Devonta Smith is a big factor in the Eagles’ offensive success. Smith has come into his own over the last three weeks, tallying 13 catches for 243 yards and three touchdowns.
Tight end Dallas Goedert is another name to watch after recently inking a massive contract to stay in Philly. Goedert is one of the best young tight ends in the NFL and can make an impact as both a receiver and blocker. He is Philadelphia’s second-leading receiver behind Smith with 49.1 yards per game.
Running back Miles Sanders also returned to the lineup last week, which should further boost the rushing attack.
The Eagles’ offensive line has taken a step back from years past, but over the past four weeks, it has played at an extremely high level resulting in 218 rushing yards per game.
On defense, the Eagles have aging stars in defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, cornerback Darius Slay, and safety Anthony Harris. Young corner Avonte Maddox joins forces with Slay to form a strong duo, while Javon Hargrave, Josh Sweat, and Derek Barnett combine with Cox to build a solid pass rush.
Despite the talent on paper, the Eagles still rank 21st in scoring defense (23.6 points per game).
New York’s offensive line will need a big game against one of the better defensive lines in the NFL while Wilson needs to be smart against an opportunistic secondary. I have faith in the Jets’ offense to succeed, but the Jets’ run defense is going to need to improve quickly for the team to have an opportunity to defeat the run-heavy Eagles.
Week 14 vs. New Orleans Saints
The New Orleans Saints are another solid team with a 5-6 record despite losing Jamies Winston and Michael Thomas for the season.
The Saints’ offensive line is still one of the best in the NFL and gives running back Alvin Kamara plenty of space to work with. However, the offense has struggled to get going since Siemian took over.
Deonte Harris leads the Saints in receiving yards with 418 on the year although no wide receiver is the clear-cut No. 1 option with Thomas out.
On defense the Saints have studs in defensive end Cameron Jordan, cornerback Marshon Lattimore, linebacker Demario Davis, and safety Marcus Williams. They rank 10th in scoring defense (22.6 points per game).
Surprisingly the Saints have the 20th-ranked pass defense (251.8 yards per game) but that’s balanced by a second-ranked run defense (91.9 yards per game).
The Jets’ defense needs to enjoy a dominant game to help out the offense, which will be facing one of the best defenses in the NFL.
Week 15 at Miami Dolphins
The Jets will head to Miami on Dec. 19 for a rematch with the Dolphins.
Despite losing to Miami this past Sunday, the Jets will have another good opportunity to get a win when the two rivals meet up again.
Defensively, Miami remains 23rd in points allowed (24.5 per game). Cornerbacks Byron Jones and Xavien Howard have struggled to live up to their contracts. Christian Wilkins is a good player on the defensive line, but overall, generating pressure has been an issue as Miami ranks 26th with a sack rate of 5.0%.
Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa has made some progress in his second season, strongly assisted by the performances of tight end Mike Gesicki and rookie wide receiver Jaylen Waddle. Regardless, Miami remains 26th in scoring (18.3 points per game), largely due to a stagnant run game that ranks 30th in yards per carry (3.4).
The Jets should have a good chance to even the season series in front of the many Jets fans who always show up in droves when the team heads to Miami.
Week 16 vs. Jacksonville Jaguars
The last game in an easy stretch will be a big one against the Jacksonville Jaguars, featuring the first two picks of the 2021 NFL draft battling it out while each looking to close a disappointing season on a high note.
Jacksonville’s offense is led by rookie quarterback Trevor Lawrence and first-time head coach Urban Meyer. Through 11 weeks, they rank 31st in points per game (15.9) and 25th in yards per game (319.4).
The offense features playmakers in running back James Robinson, wide receiver Laviska Shenault, and wide receiver Marvin Jones but is held back by one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL.
On a defense that’s a far cry from the Sacksonville of 2017, edge rusher Josh Allen is the only true playmaker. No other player has over four sacks or one interception. The unit has shown some life the past few weeks with a big game against the Bills (6 points allowed) but overall still ranks just 26th in points allowed (26.2).
The Jets should win this one as long as they’re able to keep the pocket clean for Wilson and establish a run game.
Week 17 vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
It’s back to reality for the Jets as they face the reigning champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who will be finishing their final push for playoff seeding.
Led by Tom Brady and Bruce Arians along with the best receiving core in the NFL, the Bucs offense leads the league in scoring (30.9 points per game). There’s no team in the NFL with offensive talent like this, featuring four Pro Bowlers in Chris Godwin, Mike Evans, Rob Gronkowski, and Leonard Fournette. Antonio Brown may also be back on the field by the time this game is played.
With the worst defense in the NFL at the moment, the Jets will have a tough time slowing down this team.
On defense, the Buccaneers feature one of the best linebacker duos in the NFL with Lavonte David and Devin White. They also have an elite defensive line led by Shaquil Barrett, Vita Vea, Jason Pierre-Paul, and Ndamukong Suh.
Tampa Bay ranks ninth in scoring defense (22.2 points per game) and first in rushing defense (78.4 yards per game).
New York’s offense needs to put forth its best performance of the year to even keep up with the Buccaneers. It will be a good chance to see the Jets play a real contender after settling in.
Week 18 at Buffalo Bills
The final game of the season will be in Buffalo against a Bills team that will likely be fighting for the top spot in the AFC East and possibly the No. 1 seed in the AFC.
Buffalo’s offense is led by Josh Allen and Steffon Diggs, ranking second in scoring (29.6 points per game). Their run game is an afterthought as neither Devin Singletary nor Zack Moss has gotten the job done consistently.
The Bills have one of the NFL’s most dangerous passing attacks. Diggs, Cole Beasley, Emmanuel Sanders, Gabriel Davis, and Dawson Knox give Allen one of the deepest receiving groups in football. The Jets’ secondary cannot be burnt like it was in the first matchup between these two teams.
Defensively, the Bills are even better, ranking second in scoring defense (16.5 points per game) behind the best secondary in the NFL.
That elite secondary was led by cornerback Tre’Davious White, who is now out for the season with a torn ACL. Buffalo does still have arguably the best safety duo in the NFL with Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer. Linebacker is another strength with Matt Milano and Tremaine Edmunds.
The defensive line is the weakest link for Buffalo but it still dominated the Jets offense in the last meeting.
In the final game of the season, everyone on the Jets’ roster needs to show something positive that can be built upon in the offseason.
Final outlook and prediction
This stretch of games looks much more foreboding than it did earlier in the year, as the Dolphins and Eagles have played significantly better while the Texans have proven to be a far more capable team with Taylor in the lineup. The final two games are a brutal stretch to close the year and will likely show just how far the Jets must go to reach the promised land.
Over the final seven games, I see the Jets taking four victories, but more importantly, I think they will play competent football, which is something they have not done consistently enough to this point.
Wilson flashed top-end ability prior to his injury but needs to be far more consistent. Robert Saleh indicated he saw Wilson making decisions faster in practice throughout the week leading up to the Houston game, but we need to see it on the field.
Against a hot Texans defense, Wilson has a chance to begin an end-of-season turnaround that sets him in the right direction on his quest to become a top quarterback in the NFL.