By Brad Carroll
This is a make-or-break season for the New York Jets, as the future direction of the franchise will be decided by just how well, or poorly, the team performs. If the Jets made a run at the postseason, there will be enough to believe the future is bright. If Jets don't challenge for a playoff spot, the team will most likely be searching for a new head coach, which means a brand new beginning, something no NFL fan should want to have happen.
There is reason to be optimistic this season. The offense should be miles better than they were a year ago. Quarterback Geno Smith had a tremendous summer and has shown flashes he can be a productive passer in the league. He'll have more weapons to work with as well, with Chris Johnson added to the backfield and Eric Decker to the wide receiver crew.
On defense, the Jets have the best defensive line in all of football and one of the best front sevens. Muhammad Wilkerson is a star and Sheldon Richardson is on his way to becoming one. Safety should be solid also, especially with rookie Calvin Pryor joining the fold.
It's not all good, however, as the cornerback position is beyond bare, ravaged by injury, head cases and a complete lack of attention paid by general manager John Idzik in the offseason. The cornerback position could be the downfall of the franchise.
Dee Milliner, who was terrible last year, played very well in the first preseason game, but got hurt and is a question mark for the season opener. Dimitri Patterson, a cheap free agent signing expected to start this season, went AWOL, skipping the Jets game with the Giants and was suspended by the team for the rest of the preseason. He should be released, but the Jets have little alternative. Kyle Wilson is a bust as a former first round pick. The Jets are in trouble on the outside of the defense.
The oddsmakers don't expect much from the Jets, but they are rarely right, anyway. Last year, we had the Jets finishing 9-7, one win off of their 8-8 finish. What happens this year? Here's our game-by-game preview of the Jets schedule with predicted winners of each.
Week 1: vs. Raiders, 1 p.m., Sunday
It's crazy to say the opening game of the season is must-win, but that is exactly what this is for the New York Jets. With a horrid schedule to come, against a who's who of the league's best quarterbacks, the Jets have to beat the Raiders. Luckily, Oakland is one of the worst teams in the league, with an offense the Jets can completely shut down. The Jets start with a win.
Week 2: at Packers, 4:25 p.m., Sunday
This is the first of a six-game stretch where the Jets will be tested by some of the best quarterbacks in the game. Aaron Rodgers, a perennial MVP candidate and one of the three best passers in the league, is first. Even if the Jets were considered by all to be title contenders, they would be given little chance to win here. Lambeau Field is just too tough, and the Jets fall to 1-1.
Week 3: vs. Bears, 8:30 p.m., Monday
Jay Cutler and his wide-array of offensive weapons is next on Monday Night Football. If the Jets still have question marks at cornerback, and it's a good chance they will, there is no way the defense will be able to keep Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall in check. Stopping one wide receiver would be one thing, but the Bears have too many weapons for the Jets to handle.
Week 4: vs. Lions, 1 p.m., Sunday
Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson are the next test for the Jets, and again, it won't be easy for the home team to come out with a win. But the Lions aren't on the same level as the Packers or Bears, with less playmakers on offense and a defense that is average. This could be a breakthrough game for Smith and the Jets offense. Jets win to even their record at 2-2.
Week 5: at Chargers, 4:25 p.m., Sunday
Say hello to Philip Rivers, another top quarterback in the league, and the Jets opponent in San Diego. The Jets have had a lot of success against the Chargers in the past, but going cross-country is a recipe for disaster for an East Coast team. The Jets and Chargers are pretty even on both sides of the ball, but the edge goes to the home team. Jets drop to 2-3.
Week 6: vs. Broncos, 1 p.m., Sunday
Just when you thought the Jets had faced enough of the best quarterbacks in the league, along comes Peyton Manning and the defending AFC champions to MetLife Stadium. The cruel joke played on the Jets by the schedule-makers will result in another loss, as Manning and the Broncos will be a juggernaut once again in the regular season. The playoffs are another story.
Week 7: at Patriots, 8:25 p.m., Thursday
The Jets don't even get a full week to prepare for their latest challenge, Tom Brady and the Patriots. Not only will the Jets be playing their rivals on national television, they will also have to go against old friend Darrelle Revis. With a short week and all the questions that are sure to be asked leading into the matchup on Revis Island, the Jets will fall again, dropping to 2-5.
Week 8: vs. Bills, 1 p.m., Sunday
Finally, the Jets get a break, as the Bills comes into town with E.J. Manuel at quarterback. This is also the time the Jets need to start piling up the victories, as with five losses after seven games won't have anyone thinking playoffs. Smith had one of the best games of his rookie season against Buffalo at home and this matchup will be more of the same. Jets win.
Week 9: at Chiefs, 1 p.m., Sunday
Just like playing at Lambeau Field, going into Arrowhead Stadium is a daunting task for any team. Kansas City should be a sizeable favorite at home, but the Jets have a knack for coming through with a victory that nobody saw coming the week leading into it. This has all the markings of one of those games. The Jets get the surprising upset victory and improve to 4-5.
Week 10: vs. Steelers, 1 p.m., Sunday
While the Jets always seem to come up with a victory nobody saw coming, they are just as apt to completely lose that momentum the following week. And, you guessed it, this has all the markings of one of those games. In fact, the same scenario played out last year. The Jets upset the Falcons on the road in a shocker, then turned around and lost to the winless Steelers at home. The same thing happens again and the Jets are 4-6.
Week 11: Bye Week
Week 12: at Bills, 1 p.m., Sunday
The Jets are just 1-4 following a bye week under Ryan, and if history holds, they will likely lose this game and drop out of playoff contention. But there's a couple of factors playing against that. The Jets are simply better than the Bills, and this is the time Ryan typically gets the team to rally around him and the finish the season strong. The Jets get the victory.
Week 13: vs. Dolphins, 8:30 p.m., Monday
This will be a huge game for the Jets on Monday Night Football, going up against a heated rival with a chance to get back to .500. The oddsmakers have the Dolphins as the favorite to finish behind the Patriots in the AFC East, but we're nowhere near sold on Miami. The last time these two teams played, in last year's finale, the Jets beat a still-alive Dolphins squad with everything to play for. The Jets win again.
Week 14: at Vikings, 1 p.m., Sunday
By now it could be Teddy Bridgewater time in Minnesota, which means the season has spun out of control for the Vikings. That would obviously favor the Jets. Yes, Minnesota has Adrian Peterson, but the Jets can stop the run better than anyone, so that takes away the Vikings greatest weapon. The Jets handle the road crowd and win their third straight game, moving to 7-6.
Week 15: at Titans, 4:05 p.m., Sunday
The Jets have lost in Tennessee two straight seasons, with the 2012 loss eliminated them from playoff contention and ending Mark Sanchez's time as the true starting quarterback. Last year, the Titans routed the Jets which began a mid-season tailspin. While it would be poetic for the Jets to beat the Titans and make a run at the playoffs this year, history says otherwise. Jets drop back to .500 with a loss.
Week 16: vs. Patriots, 1 p.m.
The loss to Tennessee puts the Jets in position to win their final two games to not only make a postseason run, but to save Ryan's job as head coach. To make matters worse, the Jets have to beat their arch nemesis at home to start. Ryan and the Jets have had marginal success against the Patriots, but marginal is better than the rest of the league. Jets keep their season alive with a victory.
Week 17: at Dolphins, 1 p.m.
Ending seasons against Miami has had some epic moments. There was the game where Santonio Holmes was kicked out of the huddle as the Jets lost and were eliminated from the playoffs. Last year, it was the opposite, as the Jets beat Miami, knocking them out of the playoffs and then Woody Johnson announcing after the game Ryan would return as coach. The Jets make another memory here, a positive one to get to 9-7.
A 9-7 record should be good enough for the Jets to make the postseason. That would not only end the team's three-year drought of playoff-less football, but would also guarantee Ryan will return as head coach, which is a positive for the franchise. The oddsmakers may not agree, but this should be a successful season for what will be a surprising Jets team.