Many different scenarios could occur in the NY Jets’ 2023 season
This offseason, Robert Saleh boldly proclaimed that the New York Jets are one of the six to eight teams that are truly championship caliber. In doing so, he amplified the already massive target on the team’s back.
Aaron Rodgers is a polarizing figure who has fostered many haters in the media and among the Packers brass. Those people would love to see him fail, to write him off as the regular-season phenom who can’t win the big one.
The difficult part of this is that they could get their wish. Russell Wilson and Deshaun Watson were cautionary tales for teams looking to put themselves over the hump by acquiring the one last piece. Then there is the flip side of Tom Brady and Matthew Stafford winning championships in their first year with their respective teams.
Where will Rodgers and the Jets fall? There could be a few different answers.
Worst-case scenario: Stuck in the mud
The Jets went 7-10 in 2022. If things go very wrong, they could end up right back there in 2023. This could happen in one of a few ways.
If Sauce Gardner, Quinnen Williams, or D.J. Reed misses any significant period of time this season, that will be catastrophic for the Jets’ defense and potentially cost them games. The Jets face too many good teams in 2023 to sustain injuries and still pull out ahead.
Although there is usually turnover in strength of schedule expectations vs. reality, it’s fair to say that the Chiefs, Bills, and Eagles will be four formidable games. Not having any of their top players for those games greatly diminishes the Jets’ chances of winning.
Even a relatively short-term injury to Rodgers could end up with the Jets at 7-10. Zach Wilson is one of the worst backup quarterbacks in the league. The Jets cannot rely on winning anything with him on the field (despite their 5-1 start with him in 2022 against several backup and injured quarterbacks). If Rodgers misses even two or three games, the Jets can expect to lose all of them. If 10-7 is a common prediction for the Jets in 2023, then three Rodgers-less games could push them to 7-10.
Another way this could happen is if the offensive line falls apart like it did in 2022. This could occur due to injuries or simply ineffective play. There is a chance that four of the Jets’ starting offensive linemen (save Alijah Vera-Tucker) could play at a below-average level even if healthy. Duane Brown is 38 and rehabbing from offseason surgery; Mekhi Becton hasn’t played in two years and has been forced to focus more on rehab than improving his technique; Laken Tomlinson already had a subpar season in 2022; and if Joe Tippmann wins the center position, he will be a rookie starter.
Rodgers can compensate somewhat for poor offensive line play by diagnosing pressure and getting the ball out quickly. However, he has not been great when actually under pressure for several seasons in a row. Furthermore, as good as Vera-Tucker is, the running game is unlikely to survive mostly putrid blocking.
Even if Rodgers’ decline from 2022 was not injury-related and was his actual baseline, the Jets could still have a winning record. Their 2023 roster is superior to the Packers’ from 2022 in many ways, including receiving corps and defensive talent. Another season with 3,695 yards and 26 touchdowns would be one of the better ones in team history. If this is the case, I can’t see the Jets going worse than 8-9 assuming an average level of injuries.
Most realistic scenario: Playoffs
Making the playoffs is a baseline expectation for the Jets after acquiring Rodgers. If the season goes even mostly as expected, they will likely go at least 9-8. That was the Dolphins’ seventh-seeded position a year ago. Although their schedule is difficult from the outside looking in, Rodgers is good enough to catapult this team to victory.
Winning the division, though, is a difficult proposition. It’s fair to say that the Bills are still the team to beat in the division. Josh Allen in top form is one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL, and their defense has been suffocating for several years running. The Dolphins are also a significant threat with their elite receiving duo, and the Jets cannot overlook the Patriots after losing 14 consecutive matchups.
Path to the postseason
The path to the playoffs is pretty straightforward.
- Rodgers rebounds to post a strong season.
- The running backs perform reasonably well.
- The offensive line is average.
- The defense doesn’t regress too badly.
All of those are realistic. Breece Hall has a good chance to play well in his return based on the history of young backs with his athleticism. Garrett Wilson‘s arrow is pointing solidly upward. The Jets’ remaining cast will be elevated by merely competent quarterback play, which Rodgers provided even in his down 2022 season.
Once the Jets get in the dance, anything can happen. As a wild card team, the path to a championship would be even tougher. However, the 2009-10 Jets showed what a team on a run can do. Could the Jets win it all even in that position? It’s always possible.
I think realistic expectations for the Jets should be making the playoffs and winning one playoff game. It’s difficult to expect more than that from any team due to the vagaries of the NFL.
Best-case scenario: Super Bowl championship
If everything falls right for the Jets, this team has enough to hoist a Lombardi Trophy. Rodgers has gotten to the NFC Championship five times in his career and fallen short in four of them, three in overtime. That’s how narrow the margin of victory or defeat can be. The slate in the AFC is extremely tough.
The path toward being a Super Bowl contender is also simple, though.
- Rodgers plays at a Pro Bowl level (even if not his former MVP status).
- The Jets establish their running game.
- The defense becomes more opportunistic and forces turnovers.
It’s really that simple: elite Rodgers-to-Wilson, punishing running game, and more opportunistic defense, and the Jets could win the AFC East. That would make their path to a championship more manageable.
Of course, the vaunted Patrick Mahomes will be in their way, as will Joe Burrow and his elite receiving trio. I think the Jets could beat Burrow, as their cornerback trio could contain the receiving corps. The Jets could have won the 2022 matchup with a semi-competent quarterback. They went 0-for-2 in the red zone and had four turnovers, including two interceptions and two lost strip-sacks.
Mahomes is difficult to stop, but a Jets team with these characteristics could go toe-to-toe with him both offensively and defensively. It’s a lot to ask, but it’s doable. Additionally, there remains the possibility that some other team (the Bengals?) will knock him off before the Jets have to face him.
Once a team gets to the Super Bowl, it’s one game, one team, one time. I think the 2021 Rams demonstrated that. They were not the best team in the NFL that season, nor were they necessarily better than the Bengals. You’ve got to be in it to win it. This Jets team could get in it with a few key breaks—but those breaks are not nearly as unrealistic nor as plentiful as they were in the past.
In 2022, I wrote that the Jets’ best-case scenario was a wild-card berth. What a difference one year and one quarterback can make. This is shaping up to be the most exciting Jets season in over a decade.
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