A year after finishing with the sixth-worst record in the NFL, the Jets are expected to be among the league's worst teams in 2017. How bad are they supposed to be? Maybe not historically bad as some suggest, but they are still in a rebuild.
5-11, last place AFC East
QB Josh McCown, LT Kelvin Beachum, LB Demario Davis, CB Morris Claiborne, S Jamal Adams, S Marcus Maye, WR Jermaine Kearse, WR Jeremy Kerley
DL Sheldon Richardson, QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, LB David Harris, WR Brandon Marshall, WR Eric Decker, CB Darrelle Revis, S Calvin Pryor, WR Quincy Enunwa (injury)
When will the Jets switch from McCown to Christian Hackenberg at quarterback?
Don't be fooled by anything you see or hear. The switch to Hackenberg will happen at some point, unless his practice reps are just so bad that the Jets decide he's a complete bust. Assuming that doesn't happen, they need to see if their 2016 second-round pick has any shot to be their future franchise quarterback before they head into next year's draft. It's hard to justify taking a quarterback in the first round in 2018 if they've never seen their 2016 second-rounder even play, so you can bet by midseason Hackenberg will be leading the team, unless there's some sort of McCown Miracle and the Jets are on some improbable first-half run. Even then, the Jets should make the switch because this season is about the future. The real problem is there's no soft spot in the second half of the schedule. Best guess: Week 9 at home against the Bills.
ROOKIE TO WATCH
S Jamal Adams. He didn't have a huge impact in the preseason, but he impressed his teammates and coaches in practice with his intelligence, his confidence and his leadership. Sure, there may be a few rookie bumps along the way, but everyone who's watched him seems to agree he'll be a huge upgrade at that position for the Jets this year.
In a word, yuck. There isn't much here and there are hard-to-refute predictions that this will be one of the worst offenses of all time. That's probably extreme, but a 38-year-old journeyman quarterback, a receiving corps with a couple of middling veterans and a bunch of unproven talent, and a still-growing offensive line isn't a recipe for NFL success. They should be able to run the ball, though, so if McCown is on -- and if new receivers Kerase and Kerley can help -- they may be able to move the ball slowly and efficiently. Don't expect the Jets to win any high-scoring shootouts, but maybe you don't have to brace for a disaster, either (even though the potential is definitely there).
It was probably a little rosier before the Richardson trade, when the Jets had the potential to be dominant up front. They can still be pretty good up there with Muhammad Wilkerson and Leonard Williams. And while the secondary remains challenged, it should be better than last year. They are young behind the defensive line and learning, so it will be a work in progress. But there is speed and talent, and there are enough good players that the defense should keep the Jets in more than a few games.
THE JETS WILL MAKE THE PLAYOFFS IF ...
I honestly don't know what to say here. They'll make the playoffs if the NFL decides to open them to everybody, maybe? I suppose they make it if McCown, at 38, suddenly channels his inner Tom Brady and Kearse becomes a smaller version of Julio Jones. Other than that, it would take the Jets beating perhaps the longest odds any team has ever faced in the NFL. They are 1,000-to-1 in some places, and they still won't get a lot of action on that.
THE JETS WILL MISS THE PLAYOFFS IF ...
A miracle doesn't occur. Let's face it: The Jets aren't making the playoffs. It will be stunning if they approach .500, and if they win five games Todd Bowles might get Coach of the Year consideration. This is a rebuilding team starting at rock bottom. It would take unforeseen spectacular performances by everyone on their roster and unrealistic collapses by a lot of other AFC teams for a playoff spot to even be remotely in play.
Pain. There's really no way around it. No pain, no gain for the future. But I really don't think it'll be the historic pain that some are predicting. I don't think the Jets are good, but I don't think they are one- or two-win bad, either. That's probably not good news if the goal is the No. 1 pick in next year's draft. But it might be their reality.
They do have enough players on defense to keep the team in more games than expected, and they have a decent rushing attack (and two good running backs) that should help, too. That won't help them win a lot in this pass-happy era, but it will be enough to keep the score down in some games, and slow things down to the point where one turnover or one game-changing play can make all the difference.
Yeah, maybe they won't be the ones making those game-changing plays most of the time. But they will some of the time, at least as long as McCown, a decent veteran, is healthy enough to be at the helm. The schedule gets brutal late in the season when Hackenberg is most likely to play. But in the first nine games, the Jets see the Browns, the Jaguars and two of the four non-New England teams in the AFC East.
They should be OK enough to win three of those games. Maybe
4-12, last place in the AFC East, and a top 5 -- but not No. 1 -- draft pick.
AFC EAST PROJECTION
1. New England Patriots: 12-4 -- I don't care what happened Thursday night. Don't overreact to Week 1. The Patriots are an unstoppable force when the division is good, but this year the division stinks. They will run away with the AFC East. Their non-division schedule is relatively tough, so they might lose a few of those. But otherwise it's the same old, same old with the Patriots. See you in the AFC championship game, and don't rule out the Super Bowl, too.
2. Miami Dolphins: 7-9 -- They were a team on the rise with Ryan Tannehill at QB and maybe -- maybe -- even a threat to the Patriots. But Tannehill's injury made them turn to Jay Cutler, who hasn't been a top quarterback in years, was terrible in his five games last season and was retired until one month ago. He's going to walk out of the broadcast booth and save them? I don't think so.
3. Buffalo Bills: 6-10 -- Their rebuilding hasn't been as dramatic as the Jets', but make no mistake: They are rebuilding. They were a dysfunctional mess under Rex Ryan, so that should change. But Sean McDermott is not going to end their incredible 17-year playoff drought in Year 1.
4. New York Jets: 4-12 -- They are a team in transition and the transition will get more dramatic whenever they make their QB switch to Hackenberg. Their best hope is to show improvement as the season goes along and give their fans some hope for next year.