Wondering if and how your NFL team can make the playoffs in the coming season? Adam Rank and Marc Sessler have you covered in this ongoing series, as they provide five reasons why each of the league's 32 teams will make an appearance in the 2018 postseason. Today, Rank examines the New York Jets.
Good news, New York Jets. At least you aren't the Buffalo Bills. Oh, boy, I can hear you now, Bills fans, hanging out at Canalside and saying, "But Rank, we made the playoffs last year. The Jets haven't made the playoffs in seven consecutive years, which is tied for the third-longest active drought." And I'll have to admit that the fictitious Bills fans I have conjured up in my mind are among some of the most-informed of fans. But let me ask you this question: You technically made the playoffs last year, but what good did it do for you? It gave you a false sense of security and made you trade up for a quarterback who is never going to be as good as the guy the Jets got at No. 3 overall, Sam Darnold. Congratulations.
1) Your quarterback starts the whole year
I'm a huge fan of Darnold, going all the way back to his time with San Clemente High School. (Go Tritons!) He's going to be a good one. And at one point during his NFL career, people are going to wonder why USC didn't win more games with Darnold and Bucs rookie running back Ronald Jones. Well, we're already wondering that out here in Los Angeles. The rest of the nation will follow suit.
But let me break down the best-case scenario for the Jets' quarterback situation: The guy who starts Week 1 starts the whole season. If it's Darnold, cool. If it's the vastly underrated Josh McCown, fine. Or even Teddy Bridgewater. Whomever. That quarterback needs to start killing it in Week 1, keep the mo' going through the season, pile up the wins and make the playoffs, easy-peasy.
The worst case would be for McCown to play a month, leading the team to a 1-3 start. Then coach Todd Bowles is pressured to start Darnold, and the rookie flames out. Finally, Bridgewater is brought in for Week 11, and that does nothing. The next thing you know, you're sending a 'sup text message to Christian Hackenberg at 2 a.m. We call this the realistic option. Kidding! I know Jets fans are probably all, "Why are you even writing this into existence? What's wrong with you, Rank?" Nobody knows.
My conjecture is that Darnold wins the gig and plays well.
2) The quarterback's skill guys come through
The Jets haven't had a 1,000-yard rusher or receiver since 2015 -- they are one of just three teams to suffer that dubious distinction during that span. Even though the greatest running back in NFL history -- Matt Forte -- is gone, the Jets aren't in bad shape. (And yes, I know. Don't feel like you need to @ me about it.)
The Crow plays. Like Isaiah Crowell. He's a great fit with offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates' zone-blocking scheme. The Crow flew under Kyle Shanahan's similar system earlier in his career and had eight touchdowns in 2014. I like him. (Yes, you can draft him on your fantasy team.)
If I'm keeping it real, I kind of dig the receivers room for the Jets. Robby Anderson established himself as a deep threat last year with six scores of more than 20 yards. In fact, as highlighted by Matt Harmon right here using Next Gen Stats, McCown became a more-than-capable deep thrower. He threw a touchdown on 22.5 percent of his pass attempts that traveled 20-plus air yards, finding the end zone at a league-high rate, according to Harmon.
Anderson could be that receiver who breaks the 1,000-yard drought. (Though it's fair to point out that, while he is clear of legal trouble after felony charges related to a January arrest were dismissed, he could still be disciplined by the NFL.) His talent is there for whomever is the quarterback of the Jets. Then you have Jermaine Kearse and Quincy Enunwa, and you've got a spicy receiving corps.
The Jets also added Terrelle Pryor, who did not work out in Washington. Like, not at all. The good news is, the Jets don't need him to come through. He's a luxury. Like the cousin of a groom at a bachelor party. If he comes in and mixes well with the rest of the group, that's an amazing bonus. If he becomes a problem, then you sit him in front of a video poker machine, excuse yourself to go up to your room to change out your pocket square and then disappear into the night.
3) Trumaine Johnson becomes an island
Johnson was the Jets' biggest free-agent addition of the off-season, and it was the kind of thing that can help Jets fans recall the halcyon days of Darrelle Revis. Like a reboot. Like "Battlestar Galactica." Johnson seems confident enough. He told reporters that he expects the Jets to have the best secondary in the league. And yes, that sounds like the typical hyperbole you'd expect from a new signee, the kind of thing you're supposed to say. Like the contestants on the "Price is Right" who have to clap at every over-priced prize in the Showcase Showdown. Like, are you really that excited for an expense-paid trip to Huntington Beach, California?
But he might not be far off.
Safety Jamal Adams was a success as a rookie last year. You'll look back at Adams and Darnold in back-to-back years and be very impressed. Fellow second-year safety Marcus Maye will continue to improve. And Morris Claiborne, the team's top corner from a year ago, looks like one of the best CB2s in the league.
The key will be to improve in turnovers. The Jets had just 11 interceptions last season, ranking in the bottom half of the league, and they ranked 21st in passing yards allowed. But they were 10th in completions allowed per game, which could be considered a good thing. Or maybe a reflection of the fact that they are giving up too many big plays. Still, all of that should improve.
4) Darron Lee is ready to step up
Bowles probably had visions of Karlos Dansby and Daryl Washington in his mind when the Jets chose Lee with the 20th overall selection in the 2016 NFL Draft (and passed on Myles Jack). But the linebacker has yet to really deliver. I mean, his second season was definitely better than his rookie campaign. And he had this nice run of games, as highlighted here by Pro Football Focus.
The Jets apparently have seen enough. Bowles has entrusted him to be the play-caller on defense and take on a leadership role. The early reports have been positive. He's still young (he won't turn 24 until October), so there is still a chance he develops into a nice player for the Jets.
Almost critical that he does.
5) The Patriots stop playing football
Listen, I can commiserate with Jets fans, my Bears having chased the Packers for a number of years. Though I haven't been brave enough to say this in front of Jets fan Dan Hanzus, so he can freak out and go, "It's not the same, Rank!" He would be right. Because what the Patriots have been able to do has been unprecedented in the modern era of the NFL (post-1985). The Patriots are your good-looking friend who is going to grab all of the attention when you go out to public gatherings. And you're just going to be left standing there, hoping that somebody is going to be impressed by your Boba Fett T-shirt. (Actually, I would be the cool kid now.)
So while it might be audacious to think you can challenge for the AFC East, sneaking into the playoffs on the AFC side really isn't that outlandish. I mean, the Bills got into the playoffs with a point differential of negative-57 last year. So, don't start thinking that you're out of this thing.
Follow Adam Rank on Twitter @adamrank.