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Today: The New York Jets
Last Year: 8-8 (2nd place in AFC East)
Don’t let the Jets’ 8-8 record fool you — this was a bad football team last season. Despite somehow eking out eight wins, the Jets finished the season with a -97 point differential. The Cleveland Browns finished with a -98 point differential, but only won four games. The Minnesota Vikings finished with a -89 point differential, but only won five games. The Pittsburgh Steelers and the Dallas Cowboys — both .500 teams — finished with positive point differentials.
In other words, the Jets’ 8-8 finish was extremely lucky and fluky, and, more importantly, was not indicative of the how well the team played. In truth, the Jets played much shittier than most 8-8 teams.
Let’s look at the schedule first. Six of their eight wins came against the Bucs (needed a stupid personal foul penalty to win), Bills, Falcons, Oakland, Cleveland, and Miami.
Their average margin of victory was just 6.6 points. Their average margin of defeat? 18.8 points. In other words, the Jets managed to win a lot of close games against other shitty teams, and, in their other games, they lost pretty handily.
Now, let’s look at the statistics. Defensively, the Jets finished as the 11th best team in total defense. But, as is the problem with most Rex Ryan coached teams, the offense was dreadful. The Jets’ offense ranked 25th in yards per game, mainly due to having the second-worst passing game in terms of yards. As far as scoring goes, the Jets were even worse, ending the season as the 29th ranked team.
So, how did the Jets win eight games? Mainly due to stingy defense — it was nearly impossible to run the ball on them— and by beating bottom-dwelling teams. But, can they win eight games again using that recipe?
Last Year’s Stud: Sheldon Richardson
The Jets’ run defense last year was a sight to behold — it allowed just about 88.3 yards per game — and Richardson was a big reason why. The 2013 NFL Rookie of the Year Award winner spent most of his time in the backfield. In total, Richardson went for 78 total tackles, 3.5 sacks, and 12 tackles for a loss — the most on the team by far.
Runner-up: Muhammad Wilkerson
Last Year’s Surprise: Damon Harrison
Not only was Damon Harrison undrafted, but he didn’t even record a tackle in 2012. However, with presumed starter Kenrick Ellis hobbled with a bad back and with a strong showing in the 2013 preseason, Harrison earned his fair share of playing time. Harrison continued to exceed expectations when he finished as the team’s highest scored defender on Pro Football Focus (29.0) and recorded 66 total tackles and seven tackles for a loss. Along with Richardson, Harrison was a strong factor in the Jets owning a superior run defense.
Runner-up: Chris Ivory
Last Year’s Disappointment: Geno Smith
Smith was drafted in the second round, but played quarterback like he didn’t belong in the NFL. Compiling just a 55.8 percent completion percentage, averaging only 6.9 yards per attempt, and throwing only 12 touchdown passes — and oh yeah, he also tossed 21 interceptions, good enough for a 4.7 percent interception rate — Smith often looked dazed and confused out on the field.
The Jets brought in Michael Vick to mentor Smith this season, but fans have to be wondering if it’ll be Vick starting at some point in the season.
Runner-up: Santonio Holmes
The Jets’ biggest need is fixing their offense, but they spent their first-round pick on a safety. But that’s okay, because they spent that pick on Calvin Pryor out of Louisville. Branded as more of a run stopper than a playmaker against the pass, Pryor should help make the Jets’ run defense more dominant than it already is. He’s known as a big hitter, but Pryor will also help bolster the Jets’ suspect passing defense. He’s fast enough and instinctive enough to play the role of centerfield. The Jets could’ve went offense with their first pick, but they picked up a sure-fire starter at safety.
Despite not spending a first-round pick on the offense, the Jets still drafted tight end Jace Amaro in the second round. Amaro will offer whoever the Jets’ quarterback is a reliable pass catching option coming out of the tight end position. He’s not known for his blocking, he’s known for bringing in passes.
In free agency, the Jets signed Eric Decker. While Decker’s numbers are certainly inflated due to having some guy named Peyton Manning throwing passes to him the past two seasons, he’ll be the team’s best wideout.
Other notable pick: Tajh Boyd
This Year’s Stud: Calvin Pryor
Runner-up: Sheldon Richardson
This Year’s Surprise: Michael Vick
Hear me out on this one. I don’t think Geno Smith develops into the kind of passer that the Jets hoped when they drafted him in the second round. While reports that he’s struggling with his accuracy in OTAs are probably overblown, it doesn’t exactly bode well for the future. I’d be shocked if Smith isn’t starting week one. But, if he posts numbers that resemble last season’s statistics, it doesn’t seem too far-fetched to think Vick could be handed the keys to the offense.
Runner-up: Shaquelle Evans
This Year’s Disappointment: Chris Johnson
The way Chris Johnson and his coaches are talking, Johnson is going to run for at least 1,500 yards. The only problem with that notion is that Johnson might be the second best running back on the team. Chris Ivory averaged 4.6 yards per carry last season for the Jets. Chris Johnson averaged 3.9. If your expectation for Johnson is to see him split touches with Ivory then you won’t be disappointed. But, if you’re expecting the Johnson of 2009, you’re going to be disappointed.
Runner-up: Eric Decker
Draft early: N/A
Good value in the middle rounds: Eric Decker, Chris Johnson, Chris Ivory
Don’t draft: Geno Smith, Michael Vick
What Vegas Is Saying (LVH Sports Book): 7 wins
What We’re Saying: 6-10 (4th place in AFC East)
It’s tough to win games without a good quarterback. And, with Geno Smith under center, the Jets don’t appear to have a good quarterback. I like Vick as the better option, but Vick has only posted a completion percentage over 60 percent just once in his career. He’s also 34 now and can’t out-maneuver defenders like he used to be able to.
I also don’t think Eric Decker sees the same success in New York that he saw in Denver. Going from Peyton Manning and an offense that also featured Wes Welker, Demaryius Thomas, and Julius Thomas, to Geno Smith and an offense that doesn’t really feature any proven targets isn’t really a good situation for Decker.
I think the dual-threat running game will be just fine and the defense doesn’t have to worry, but, when it comes down to it, this team shouldn’t have won eight games last season. If it plays similar to how it played last year, it’s bound to regress.
Now, let’s take a glance at the schedule. The NFC North isn’t going to be favorable for the Jets. Playing Green Bay and Chicago back to back in weeks two and three isn’t exactly the best way to start the season, as both teams feature offenses that the Jets can’t keep pace with. Taking on the Patriots for two games is never likely to produce wins, neither is playing against the Broncos, Chargers, or Chiefs.
The Jets were lucky to scrape out eight wins a season ago. I don’t think they’ll be as lucky this year.
[genericon icon=twitter] Follow Sean Wagner-McGough on Twitter @seanjwagner