5 Reasons to Be Optimistic About the New York Jets in 2013
With the intense amount of drama and off-the-field attention surrounding the Jets—including media lightning rods like Rex Ryan, Mark Sanchez, Bart Scott and Tim Tebow—there was not quite enough talk about on-the-field action in New York.
As a result, some wide gaps developed between the opinions of statisticians and experts as compared with the rants of some of the more vocal on-air personalities. The most quantifiable difference came in the betting lines, where the Jets were favored more often than not in 2012. Meanwhile, the Jets were picked to lose most of the time in popular media.
The truth came somewhere in between, with the Jets going 6-10.
This offseason is sure to be full of complaints and further on-air rants about how the Jets should clean house and cut everyone. Of course rants like those ignore basic things like the salary cap and the need to actually put players on the field. But I will leave those issues aside for now.
In August, when the 2013 regular season looms, I expect this same discrepancy to pop up again. More likely than not, gamblers will once again be putting more faith in the Jets than on-air personalities will.
So why do people plunk down money, expecting the Jets to contend?
Here are the five key reasons Jets fans should be optimistic about seeing their team in the playoff hunt in 2013.
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Too Valuable to Lose
One knock on the Jets as constructed is that they lack depth in certain areas. That is a legitimate complaint, though it is one that nearly all NFL teams suffer from.
The Jets simply cannot function properly without future Hall of Fame cornerback Darrelle Revis. There is no depth behind him that can compare with what he does. In the two games in which Revis played in 2012, the Jets were 2-0, outscoring two divisional rivals by 23 points. The rest of the season, they were 4-10.
It is an understatement to say that Revis is the most valuable and most important player on the Jets. The Jets defense in 2010 and 2011 ran crazy defensive formations, predicated on the assumption that there was no chance of Revis being beaten in 1-on-1 coverage.
With Revis sidelined by injury this season, the Jets defense became boring. They blitzed less, got less pressure, ran less press coverage and could not force turnovers.
The biggest reason to be optimistic about 2013 is that the Jets' one historically great player should be back.
In his last full season in 2011, Pro Football Focus did not only rate Revis as the most dominant cornerback in the NFL based on total per-play impact. They rated him as one of the most dominant players at any position.
Graded with an overall rating of 24.6, the next closest cornerback was Brent Grimes of the Atlanta Falcons at 17.2. That jump of 7.4 points is astronomical compared with the fractions that usually separate top-level players. It represents wins and season-changing performances.
In the modern NFL—where defending the pass is harder than it is has ever been—Revis is the only player left who can be legitimately called a cover corner. He is the only defensive back to can go 1-on-1 against any wide receiver in the league and be assured to shut him down every time. When Revis is on the field, the game of football is 10 vs.10, and a big chunk of the field is missing.
ACLs Are Not the End
Peterson in particular returned from a nasty ACL injury to have the best year of his career. Revis has enough time before the 2013 season that he could potentially be back to top form.
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Let us start with the bad about controversial head coach Rex Ryan. He truly does not handle public relations and the local media very well. He is loud, animated and honest, which provides a substantial amount of material for the media. He also jokes around in most of his press conferences. Some of these jokes have been taken a tad too serious.
Throw in foot fetishes and tattoos, and there is no shortage of TMZ-style material to be gossiped about. Ryan also does not seem to care a whole lot about putting on a persona for the media. He is an emotional guy who generally is far more truthful in interviews than your average NFL coach.
The best reason to be optimistic about Rex Ryan as a head coach is that football games are not won in newspapers or press conferences. They are won on football fields, and that is where Ryan is effective.
After 10 years of coaching a historically great defense in Baltimore and earning himself a Super Bowl ring, Ryan came to the Jets in 2009. He took a defense that had greatly struggled the year before and turned it into the far-and-away best defense in the NFL.
He also took a team that had missed the playoffs the year before to the AFC Championship Game, despite losing Brett Favre and replacing him with a rookie Mark Sanchez.
The rosters Ryan has been given in his four years with the Jets have not been world-beaters. His winning record—in both the regular season and the playoffs—is a testament to how he gets the best possible efforts out of all of his players.
Obviously, Woody Johnson—the Jets' owner—has full faith in Ryan and is glad to have him as head coach.
Ultimately, with many of the people in charge of scripting the narratives surrounding the NFL greatly disliking Ryan, he is not going to improve his public image any time soon. It is something New Yorkers will have to get used to.
Jets fans should be glad that at least on the football field Ryan knows what he is doing.
Easy Strength of Schedule
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One nice thing about losing in the NFL is that you are rewarded with an easier schedule the following season. The Jets' 2013 schedule should be the easiest one they have faced in the Rex Ryan era.
The Jets have the good fortune of playing in the AFC East. This used to be a tough division, but it is currently a fairly weak one. It contains the Buffalo Bills and Miami Dolphins—two of the perennially worst teams in the NFL. That is four games right there in which the Jets will most likely be favored.
Of course the New England Patriots are not a team you want to face. The Patriots have been tough for several years now. On the other hand, the Jets have managed to match up well against them in the Rex Ryan era. Over these years the Jets are 3-6 against the Patriots. Not stellar, but better than most.
While the Patriots will be the odds-on favorites to win the division, pulling off a split is a realistic possibility. A 5-1 division record is helpful for any team, and that is what optimists should be hoping for.
Out of Division
Due to finishing in third place, the Jets get to play a third-place schedule, something they have not done in recent years. This means games against the Oakland Raiders and Tennessee Titans. In fact, the Jets will only play three games out-of-division against teams that went better than .500 in 2012: the Atlanta Falcons, Cincinnati Bengals and Baltimore Ravens.
That is not a scary schedule at all. After a few years of facing challenging schedules, 2013 could be Rex Ryan's opportunity to enjoy a soft schedule and try to make the best of it.
Better Quarterback Play
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Let's be honest. There are legitimate arguments to be made that Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow were the two worst quarterbacks in the NFL in 2012 (from the set of quarterbacks who actually played).
I would not make that argument myself, due to the existence of John Skelton. But we can all agree that the Jets quarterbacks were awful in 2012.
The good news is that, in spite of all that, the Jets were in real playoff contention until Week 15. The combination of great coaching from Rex Ryan and a solid defense kept the Jets in the mix despite having a painfully bad passing game.
It follows from this that even an average quarterback should be able to take this Jets squad into the playoffs and perhaps further.
No one knows who will be playing quarterback for the Jets in 2013, but it is essentially guaranteed that it will be an improvement. It could be a new pickup, such as Alex Smith or Matt Flynn. It could be a rookie from the draft. It could simply be Mark Sanchez playing like he did in 2010 and 2011.
Regardless of what happens, it is hard to imagine the quarterback play being as bad as it was in 2012. And that is cause for optimism.
A High Draft Pick
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Just as the NFL rewards bad teams with easier schedules, it rewards them with high draft picks.
Picking ninth overall, the Jets have an opportunity to get a difference-maker. This is the highest draft pick they have had since the 2008 draft. It is perhaps worth mentioning that, in that draft, they picked Vernon Gholston, a historically bad draft bust.
Fortunately, the man who made that pick (general manager Mike Tannenbaum) was recently fired.
This draft happens to be packed full of high-quality outside linebackers, which is good for the Jets because they completely lack playmakers at that position. One of the biggest problems with the Jets defense in 2012 was the inability to turn quarterback pressures into sacks. Basically, they have a fantastic defensive line but are not able to get results from it.
According to Pro Football Focus, Muhammad Wilkerson recorded an impressive 22 quarterback pressures, but only five sacks on the season. Mike DeVito recorded 11 pressures, but only one (that's right, one) sack the whole year. Astoundingly, Calvin Pace recorded 25 pressures, but only three sacks.
Consider for comparison a defensive lineman who plays alongside great linebackers: J.J. Watt of the Houston Texans. He recorded 30 pressures during the season. That is solid. What is amazing is that 25 of those pressures resulted in quarterback hits. Even more amazing, 21 of those 25 hits were sacks. Basically, every time Watt got any sort of pressure, the quarterback had nowhere to go.
It is a challenge to find the best outside linebacker in the draft. However, with the ninth overall pick, the Jets have that opportunity. They will need to make the best of it.
If they can, then they are back to more or less the same roster that achieved back-to-back AFC Championship Game appearances.