Why the New York Jets Will Avoid the NFL Cellar in 2013

Joe DiglioCorrespondent IJuly 20, 2013

ORCHARD PARK, NY - DECEMBER 30: Head coach Rex Ryan and Mark Sanchez #6 of the New York Jets walk off the field after losing to the Buffalo Bills 28-9 at Ralph Wilson Stadium on December 30, 2012 in Orchard Park, New York.  (Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images)
Rick Stewart/Getty Images

The New York Jets won't be terrible in 2013.

Will they be great? No. Will they be good? Unlikely. I'd more likely describe them as subpar. But they shouldn't be among the five worst teams in the league. They shouldn't be terrible.

That's not what many others think about the Jets, though. NFL.com's power rankings have the Jets at 28th overall in the league, or fifth worst. Bleacher Report's Justin Onslow has them at 29th. Meanwhile, Business Insider ranks them 30th in the league.

And ESPN, which obsesses over Mark Sanchez and his "butt fumble" (which still reigns as their "worst of the worst" highlight), says the Jets are the worst team in the NFL.

However, the facts simply don't support this. Let's start by looking at the Jets' schedule. Strength-of-schedule numbers will change as the 2013 season progresses, but as we head into the season, they can still provide a look at what type of challenges a team will face.

In 2012, the Jets finished as the 24th-ranked team in the overall NFL standings. They did so with the 11th-hardest schedule in the league. This year, their schedule ranks as just the 19th most difficult. With an easier slate of opponents, the Jets' record is bound to improve, if not at least avoid getting worse.

That is, of course, assuming their personnel isn't significantly worse. Football Outsiders ranked the Jets 27th in overall efficiency last season, just outside that bottom-five threshold. Will they avoid a drop?

Offensively, the Jets struggled to do much of anything. While the running game ranked a respectable 12th in yards per game, the passing game was 30th and the team as a whole averaged just 17.6 points per contest.

The easiest person to blame for this is Sanchez. As Bleacher Report's Scott Kacsmar illustrated, Sanchez has proven himself to be statistically one of the worst quarterbacks in NFL history. What Kacsmar noted is that Sanchez has started more games than all of his terrible contemporaries but one, which has allowed him to accumulate these terrible stats.

When a coach is fighting for his job, which Rex Ryan will likely do this season, there is often a quarterback dilemma. Should he go with the aging veteran who can win now or the young guy who is clearly the future of the franchise? The soon-to-be fired coach often sticks with the veteran for his own benefit but to the detriment of the team's long-term goals.

But with the Jets, the young guy, Geno Smith, is likely both the future and the better current option.

Besides, it's not like Sanchez could do any worse, right? At a minimum, the Jets should have similar quarterback play to last year, regardless of who is under center.

The improvement comes around the quarterback position, where he will have better options than last year. Santonio Holmes, who went on injured reserve four weeks into last season, may start this year on the PUP list but should still provide more than he did in 2012.

Stephen Hill has also dealt with injuries, missing five games in his rookie season. If he and Holmes stay healthy, they will provide much-needed help to Jeremy Kerley, who was thrust into the No. 1 receiver role last year.

The Jets should also see more production at tight end. Dustin Keller missed half the season and is now gone, and Jeff Cumberland doesn't provide much in the passing game. While Kellen Winslow isn't nearly what he used to be, he's an upgrade over a combination of Cumberland and an injured Keller.

The team also brings in running back Chris Ivory, for whom the Jets traded their 2013 fourth-round pick. Ivory averaged 5.1 yards per carry in 24 games over three seasons in a crowded New Orleans backfield. As the lead back in New York, he could really flourish.

Defensively, the Jets don't have too many issues. Critics will point to the Darrelle Revis trade as a huge loss, but this defense played 14 games without him last season and did just fine, finishing with the second-best pass defense in the NFL.

When it came time to fill Revis' shoes, Antonio Cromartie proved he was up to the task. Football Outsiders said the Jets were fifth best in the league when it came to shutting down an opponent's top receiver in 2012.

Many will expect rookie Dee Milliner to actually replace Revis, but that won't even be necessary. Simply providing a solid option opposite Cromartie would be enough from him for now.

Of course, those stats can be misleading when you have a poor run defense that encourages opponents to simply hand the ball off time and time again. The Jets improved that aspect by drafting Sheldon Richardson, who, along with Muhammad Wilkerson and Quinton Coples, can form the core of a solid front seven for years to come.

When you look closely at this 2013 Jets squad, things aren't as bad as they first seem. Sure, they still don't have a solid quarterback, let alone an elite one. The receiving corps is unhealthy and lacks depth. The defense needs to find a consistent pass rush.

But the schedule ahead isn't as bumpy. They aren't losing as much from the 2012 team as it originally appeared and could actually end up gaining much more. They still have a long way to go, but the 2013 Jets will clear the low bar others have set for them with room to spare.