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3 NY Jets opponents who could be easier than expected

Bryce Huff, NY Jets, Josh Allen, Bills
Bryce Huff, New York Jets, Josh Allen, Buffalo Bills, Getty Images

Which opponents on the New York Jets’ 2023 schedule might fall short of expectations?

Yesterday, we broke down three opponents on the New York Jets’ 2023 schedule who could end up being much better than most people currently expect. Today we will look at the other side of the coin. Which currently-feared Jets opponents have the greatest chance of turning out worse than expected?

Here are three teams I’m keeping an eye on.

Buffalo Bills (Week 1 @ NYJ, Week 11 @ BUF)

The Bills have established themselves as consistent Super Bowl contenders over the past three seasons. They have recorded three consecutive seasons with at least 11 regular season victories and at least one playoff victory. Buffalo also led the NFL in point differential in each of the past two seasons.

It seems foolish to bet against a team with that resume. And, in all likelihood, the Bills will prove me wrong and have another dominant AFC East-winning season.

However, I see some red flags that have me thinking the Bills might have a down year. That’s not to say I think they will be a bad team – they’re far too talented for that – but I could see the Bills winning 9 or 10 games instead of the 13 they won in two of the past three seasons.

First off, the Bills’ offense enjoyed phenomenal injury luck in 2022. According to Football Outsiders’ Adjusted Games Lost (AGL) metric, the Bills ranked second-best in the NFL with a measly 9.0 AGL on offense. They had eight offensive starters who missed no more than one game and 10 starters who missed no more than three games. Will they be this lucky again?

It’s important to recognize that this metric does not account for Josh Allen’s elbow injury, which seemed to hamper him in the second half. Still, outside of that, the offense remained incredibly healthy throughout the season.

In fairness, this was balanced out by terrible injury luck on defense. Buffalo’s 59.1 AGL on defense was the second-most. However, the Bills still managed to field the league’s fourth-best defense according to DVOA, so even if their defensive injury luck normalizes, there is not much room for improvement on that side of the ball. There is a lot more room for regression on offense if their injury luck normalizes.

The Bills also had some good luck in close games last year. Overall, they went 6-3 in one-score games. While succeeding in close games can sometimes be viewed as a skill, it can also be a product of luck, and that might be the case here because of one thing: field goal luck.

For the season, Buffalo’s opponents only made 75.0% of their field goal attempts, which was the fourth-lowest rate in the league. This is a part of the game that is one hundred percent up to luck, yet it can have a significant impact on a team’s win total. There were two instances where Buffalo’s luck in this area directly contributed to a win. In two one-score wins – a four-point win against Kansas City and a three-point win against Detroit – the opponent missed a field goal.

Looking at Buffalo’s roster, it is impossible to ignore the fact that it is still one of the best in the league on paper. What concerns me is its age. The Bills have been consistently successful with much of the same core throughout the Sean McDermott era. Some of these players have been thriving in Buffalo since 2017. Now, these players are starting to reach the latter stages of their careers.

This concern is most apparent in the secondary. Buffalo’s safety duo of Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde has been anchoring the Bills’ defense together since 2017. They were the league’s best safety duo for many years, but going into 2023, both of them are now 32 years old. Poyer was in and out of the lineup with various injuries in 2022. Hyde missed most of the season with a neck injury he suffered in Week 2.

At cornerback, there are concerns with two-time All-Pro Tre’Davious White. In 2021, White suffered an ACL tear. He returned in 2022 to play six games but did not perform close to his previous standards. Is this a sign of who White will be going forward? Or did he simply need more time to recover and return to peak form? At 28 years old, White is in a gray area for cornerbacks. Some corners start declining around this age. Some still have plenty of years left. Ultimately, White is a mystery going into 2023.

There is also the question of what Buffalo will get from 34-year-old Von Miller after suffering the second ACL tear of his career. While the Bills’ defense was already elite before he got there, he was crucial to Buffalo’s success when he was on the field in 2022. His 8.0 sacks tied for the team lead despite missing six games. Will Miller remain a top-end pass rusher in 2023? Will he even be ready to play against the Jets in Week 1? These are pivotal questions that we will not know the answer to until the games are played.

The Bills are too talented to be a “bad” team. I cannot envision them having a losing record barring catastrophic injuries. But there are enough question marks for me to wonder whether it’s a surefire guarantee they will be the same world-beating juggernaut we’ve gotten used to seeing. The Jets might not be as far off from the Bills as many think.

Dallas Cowboys (Week 2 @ DAL)

While Dallas’ season ended in playoff disappointment once again, the Cowboys had another excellent run in the regular season.

Dallas went 12-5 while ranking fifth in point differential and sixth in overall DVOA, marking their second consecutive 12-5 season with a top-five point differential. With much of the same roster returning, the Cowboys remain a team that should be respected from September through December. They look like a difficult road opponent for the Jets in Week 2.

The Cowboys have been a consistently successful regular season team since 2005, ranking eighth-best in the NFL with a .576 win percentage over that span and never posting back-to-back losing seasons. However, they’ve shown a tendency for having an occasional nightmare year following a string of .500+ seasons (2020, 2015, 2010). I have a hunch that 2023 could be one of those years for Dallas.

My concern with the Cowboys is that a lot of their success in 2022 hinged on factors that are unsustainable.

Dallas was an elite team because of its defense. The Cowboys only ranked 15th in offensive DVOA, but the defense ranked second.

The problem is that the defense’s dominance hinged largely on the ability to recover fumbles, which is an extremely random part of the game that is difficult to sustain from year to year. Dallas led the NFL with 33 takeaways, which was anchored by a league-high 17 fumble recoveries – four more than any other team. They were remarkably lucky when it came to falling on loose balls, ranking second-best in the league with a fumble recovery rate of 58.1% on defense. The league average was 46.4%.

Simply regressing to the mean in the fumble recovery department will deal a lot of damage to Dallas’ defense. But that’s not the only luck-based defensive category where the Cowboys were fortunate.

According to NFL Next Gen Stats, the Cowboys’ opponents had a drop rate of 6.8% in 2022, ranking fifth-highest in the league. They were handed a lot of gifts.

All of this suggests the Cowboys’ defense is due for regression, which means the pressure is on Dallas’ offense to pick up the slack.

Dallas has the weapons to forge an elite offense, but I’m concerned about the offensive line. Tyron Smith and Zack Martin are still the anchors of this unit, which is a troublesome sign. Smith has played 17 games in the past three years and will turn 33 this year. Martin will also turn 33 this year, and he may be on the verge of his declining phase after posting a career-low grade at PFF in 2022.

The line lacks any intriguing pieces outside of the two decorated veterans. Things will go south quickly unless Smith and Martin find the fountain of youth.

Since the Jets play the Cowboys in Week 2, we won’t be able to determine exactly who this Cowboys team is prior to the game. Dallas will still be considered a formidable opponent when the Jets march into AT&T Stadium. But when it’s all said and done, I think we might look back on Week 2 as one of the “softer” games on the Jets’ schedule rather than the other way around.

Philadelphia Eagles (Week 6 @ NYJ)

Like Buffalo, Philadelphia is just too talented for me to sit here and say they will have a bad season. But, also like Buffalo, there are enough red flags for me to think the Eagles may have a chance of being a wild card type of team instead of the elite team they were a year ago. They lucked out in a lot of areas last season.

Most importantly, they stayed tremendously healthy. Philadelphia had the third-fewest AGL of any team with 42.4.

What stands out the most is the health of Philly’s offensive line. The Eagles’ five starting linemen combined to start 82 out of a possible 85 games. As Jets fans know, there may not be any position where injuries hurt the team more than the offensive line (besides quarterback). Having their starters miss three combined games all season was a godsend for Philadelphia – especially since they have two starters over 32 years old (Lane Johnson and Jason Kelce). It’s tough to see the Eagles replicating this in 2023.

Another blessing for the Eagles was their cupcake schedule. Philadelphia had the easiest schedule in the NFL according to DVOA. While the Eagles only had to play two games against teams who were ranked in the top eight of DVOA (both coming against the sixth-ranked Cowboys), they got to play five games against teams in the bottom eight of DVOA – including each of the four worst teams in the NFL (Colts, Texans, Bears, Cardinals).

The Eagles also enjoyed above-average luck in multiple other categories, such as the ninth-highest opponent drop rate (6.2%) and the 11th-highest recovery rate on all fumbles (52.8%).

Philadelphia suffered some important losses this offseason. The Eagles lost their best interior pass rusher, Javon Hargrave, and both of their starting linebackers, Kyzir White and T.J. Edwards. They also lost offensive tackle Andre Dillard, who was a solid backup. The loss of Dillard could make matters worse for Philadelphia in the event their offensive line suffers from a regression to the mean with injury luck.

Everything broke Philly’s way in 2022. That was their year. While I don’t envision the Eagles missing the playoffs in 2023, I think there is a chance their window as the clear-cut top team in the NFC may have already closed. They could be a much more manageable opponent for the Jets than their 2022 performance would indicate, especially since the Jets are playing at home.

By the time Week 6 rolls around, the Eagles might be off to a strong start. Their first five games look very winnable: Patriots, Vikings, Buccaneers, Commanders, and Rams (although the whole point of this article and yesterday’s article is to debunk the idea that we know which games are “winnable” or not, but I digress).

That strong start might mask what is to come for Philadelphia. Starting with the Jets game in Week 6, the middle of Philly’s schedule appears daunting, featuring games against the Jets, Dolphins, Chiefs, Bills, and 49ers in the next seven games. I could see a scenario where the Week 6 trip to MetLife Stadium marks the beginning of an up-and-down stretch for Philadelphia over the final 12 games.

Who knows what’s going to happen?

And there you have it: three opponents that I think could be easier for the Jets than expected, and three that I think could be tougher. Each of the three teams I chose in this article is part of the Jets’ feared pre-bye stretch, and two of the three from my previous article are part of the supposed “soft” December stretch.

Could the perceived “soft” and “hard” parts of the Jets’ schedule turn out to be the reverse of what people currently expect? Don’t be shocked. This is often how it goes.

Remember when the 2022 schedule came out? The Jets’ pre-bye stretch was considered a gauntlet, while many people thought the Jets would finish strong in the second half. Instead, the Jets started 6-3 and then went 1-7 after the bye.

The pre-bye stretch included some wins over teams who were expected to be good but fell short of expectations, including the Browns, Packers, and Broncos. The post-bye stretch included some losses to breakout teams who had low expectations before the season, such as the Lions, Jaguars, and Seahawks.

Nobody knows which games will be easy or hard. In fact, things change so drastically in the NFL each year that it’s probably a safer bet to expect a game to be the opposite of what most people expect it to be.

Look for the Jets to steal some of the games they’re expected to lose – and look for them to lose some of the games that every fan has marked as a “W” in their predictions.

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Jonathan Richter
11 months ago

I think Philly also lost both O Coordinator and D Coordinator, didn’t they?