Divisional improvement can help convince the Jets they’re moving
The confetti has been swept up, the trip to Disney World has been made, and the Vince Lombardi Trophy has been hoisted. NFL fans need little provocation to celebrate and pop the champagne, but a new NFL new year is officially underway.
The immediate Super Bowl aftermath presents a rare lull on the NFL schedule, as this season has done nothing to stifle the league’s quest to dominate all dozen months on the modern calendar. Amateur and professional observers haven’t stopped their respective grinds and obsessions toward the defense of the 100-yard field on autumn Sundays, particularly those close to the 30 teams that did not partake in the recent championship proceedings.
One of the furthest teams from that Super Bowl discussion is the New York Jets, who are ensnared in what is by far the NFL’s longest playoff drought at 11 years, one extended with a 4-13 mark last season.
Nonetheless, an aura of cautious excitement lingers amongst those who bleed green thanks to the presence of some promising young talents and a surplus of offseason capital (headlined by two draft picks within the first ten).
Ending that extended streak of futility might still be a little too much to ask for, but there are some realistic new year’s resolutions the team is capable of keeping.
Win an AFC East game
The Jets’ most fervent rivalries aren’t much of rivalries anymore, if only because such a concept is partly defined by two contesting parties exchanging the sense of dominance in their get-togethers from time to time.
New York’s past two years against the Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins, and New England Patriots have created a dirty dozen. The team dropped each of its 12 AFC East contests from 2020-21.
Tom Bardy’s divisional departure has done nothing to soothe the Jets’ fortunes, as four more losses to the arguable GOAT’s successors have pushed the Patriots’ winning streak to 12 in the classic New York-Boston rivalry.
This latest rebuilding period could go by a lot more smoothly if the Jets were able to fiddle with the fortunes of their greatest enemies. It’s bad enough that the Jets failed to take advantage of New England’s post-Brady reconstruction but they shouldn’t become the divisional doormat just because they’re trying to work some things out.
Nothing would energize the fanbase more as they work out a new era and forge a new identity than providing a supposedly embarrassing loss to one of their rivals. While it’s ridiculous to assume that they’re ready to dethrone what’s become a budding Buffalo dynasty, that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have a little fun along the way.
Get out of the basement
To that end, the Jets also need to end a streak of poor finishes within the East. They’ve been at the bottom in five of the last six seasons and couldn’t even enjoy the one outlier. That was the purgatorial 2019 campaign where the Jets won a seemingly respectable seven games to mask an absolutely dreadful 1-7 start, coupled with the fact that the victories mostly came against equally, if not somehow more doomed competition.
While (Western) New York undoubtedly owns the division until further notice, there’s a prime time for the Jets to move forward.
Miami is in a period of rebuilding with an uncertain quarterback situation (passing on Justin Herbert in favor of the rollercoaster antics of Tua Tagovailoa) and a controversial firing of Brian Flores (owner of the team’s best win percentage for a full-time head coach since Dave Wannstedt), putting the Jets in a prime position to help undo whatever good the Dolphins generated over the past three years.
The Patriot problem seemed to be extended upon the emergence of Mac Jones, but some have questioned the Alabama man’s long-term prospects after a late-season swoon cost New England the division title and culminated in a one-sided playoff defeat at the hands of the aforementioned Bills.
Depending on what the Jets are able to do in the offseason, there’s a prime opportunity to move up. Of course, climbing the AFC East ladder partly relies upon beating their divisional compatriots – but we covered that already.
If the Jets were fighting for positioning in the College Football Playoff’s polls, they’d be in somewhat decent shape for a losing team thanks to wins over both the AFC’s top seed (Tennessee) and its eventual champion (Cincinnati). Alas, style points for victories don’t carry much weight in the NFL’s standings.
That was a lesson the Jets learned the hard way. They followed up the overtime win over the Titans with a listless London loss to Atlanta. True to the Jets’ star-crossed nature, they had barely any time to enjoy the win over the Bengals, as their annual Thursday night lingered in the immediate aftermath. That game produced a historically poor defensive performance in Indianapolis before Mike White-mania came to a crashing halt in a one-sided loss to Buffalo the following weekend.
The Jets need to not only string together a winning streak next season (one of at least three games would be preferable) but they should build it before all is lost.
For example, the most recent example of consecutive Jets victories was a two-game output in 2020, which came only after they were mired in an 0-13 hole. The last trio of victories obtained by the Jets at a “relevant” period on the schedule (so, not counting the three earned after the aforementioned 1-7 opening in 2019) was in 2017, when they rattled off three to stand at 3-2.
To date, that’s the latest schedule period the Jets have had an above-.500 record since their cursed 2015 endeavor two years prior.
Move up in the offensive ranks
The modern NFL is one ruled by a fantasy football deity and one that, while they’d never admit it, glorifies the offensive side of the ball. Such a revolution has, alas, left the Jets behind.
Over the past three seasons, the Jets are the only team to be on the wrong side of three shutouts, making up 20 percent of the league’s goose eggs in that span (only Houston and Miami are likewise been victimized multiple times).
Save for a Ryan Fitzpatrick/Brandon Marshall-induced outlier in 2015, the team also hasn’t placed an offense in the upper half of the league’s rankings in the last decade, with its otherwise best placement being 23rd in 2018 (a ranking inflated by four non-offensive touchdowns).
By what’s obviously no coincidence, the Jets haven’t made the playoffs once in that span.
The Jets believe they have the right personnel in place thanks to the draft class of 2020. Zach Wilson is the latest to don the cape of New York franchise quarterback and his play over his final five games back from an October injury (no interceptions, five total touchdowns) proved inspiring.
Fourth-round rookie Michael Carter brought over his dual-threat talents from Chapel Hill. Two rounds earlier, the Jets found their potential homegrown big-play receiver threat in Elijah Moore, who became one of the NFL’s premier first-year targets despite having his year bookended by injury.
Unlike the defense, which will likely see a semi-drastic makeover this offseason, there are presumed long-term pieces in place; players who have showcased potential to stick around for the future. It shouldn’t be much to ask to, at the very least, place an effort that’s no worse than 16th in next season’s offensive standings.
Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags