I try to keep everything relative. I cover one team for isportsweb, but to say one team definitively will or will not make the playoffs ignores what the other fifteen teams in their conference are doing. Maybe a middling team has out-of-nowhere success (this tends to happen every year) and robs a playoff spot my New York Jets are vying for.
But I’m here to write about the Jets, not the whole conference. So the following list is not of five reasons why the Jets will make the playoffs, but rather reasons why they can.
1. Geno Smith the sophomore > Geno Smith the rookie
The biggest disparagement I’ve heard aimed at the Jets all offseason isn’t about their pathetic-looking secondary. It’s “They’re going nowhere with Geno Smith playing quarterback. He was awful last year” and “You just know Michael Vick will have to play at some point, and then it’ll be a mess.” I guess every athlete who had a rough rookie year never grew as a player and stayed terrible for the rest of his career. Obviously, that Peyton Manning guy will always and only be remembered for throwing a rookie-record 28 interceptions in 1998.
I’m not saying Geno Smith is Peyton Manning, but he already looks improved. The Jets’ second-year QB had a great August, making a small fraction of the number of bad mistakes he made his rookie preseason. He grew during his rookie season, as well. New York won three of their last four games in 2013, and in those games Smith threw for three touchdowns against just one pick, ran for three scores and had an average QBR of 87 (on a scale of 0-100).
2. New offensive playmakers
I’m talking about Eric Decker, Jace Amaro and Chris Johnson, in particular. Criticism abounds: Decker is a Peyton Manning byproduct, not a WR1; Johnson is a malcontent whose best days are behind him; Amaro “looked lost” at camp. But none of these men are being asked to shoulder the entire offense, which is particularly good news for Johnson, who had to do just that for the Titans. None of them will be superstars or fantasy football giants – they simply make their units better. Decker is the best receiver the Jets have had in years, and a backfield of Johnson, Chris Ivory and Bilal Powell is much better than a backfield of just Ivory and Powell. Don’t forget the addition of right tackle Breno Giacomini, which can help the Jets’ O-line jump from good to great.
3. The Hill is gone (and Patterson too)
The Jets parted ways with Stephen Hill and Dimitri Patterson in Saturday’s final roster cuts, moves I like so much that I think they deserve their own point. It’s clear now that the Hill situation was getting toxic, now that his agent came out and slammed the Jets for not giving him a fair shot at making the team this year. Hill, who’s only caught 45 percent of passes thrown to him in his two-year career, in fact played as much as any New York receiver this preseason, and the team rightfully hated what they saw. Couple this with the bizarre Patterson soap opera that has transpired over the last two weeks, and it looks like the Jets rid themselves of two bad locker-room situations.
4. The defense is seven-elevenths excellent
New York’s secondary is among the worst in the league, but their front seven is easily the most underrated. Sheldon Richardson rightfully won 2013 Defensive Rookie of the Year, while Muhammad Wilkerson has developed into an elite pass rusher. Wilkerson and outside linebacker Calvin Pace became the first Jet duo since the Mark Gastineau–Joe Klecko New York Sack Exchange to record 10 sacks each in the same season. Quinton Coples now has a year at the OLB position under his belt, and Jason Babin will only add another new layer and another veteran presence to the pass rush. And I’m sick of hearing “David Harris has lost a step and Demario Davis is nothing special.” People who say this are people who do not follow the team. The Jets had the third-best defense against the run last year, allowing only 88.2 yards per game, and they couldn’t have done it without Harris’s 124 and Davis’s 107 tackles, best and second-best on the team.
5. The AFC is the weaker conference
This is where that relativity, that consideration of other entities comes in. If the Jets played in the NFC, I’d be far more inclined to think they’d miss the playoffs. The AFC’s six playoff teams in 2013 were the conference’s only six teams with records above .500. The NFC’s wild card teams, San Francisco and New Orleans, went 12-4 and 11-5, respectively; the AFC had an overachieving Kansas City at 11-5 and San Diego at 9-7. The 2013 Jets went 8-8; is 9-7 a reasonable prediction for 2014? Tune back in Wednesday for my official season preview and you’ll see where I stand.