The New York Jets have played doormat roles in the AFC since 2016, winning just 21 games in four seasons.
But it may change in 2020 with an improved Sam Darnold, a top-ranked defense, and improvements along the offensive line and receiving units.
No, this isn’t a team you should bet on to make the playoffs. But this is a stronger version of a Jets team that finished 7-9 just a year ago.
And it’s one you can consider betting the over and live on the edge with. So, if you enjoy taking risks, this article is for you!
With more talent on this team than last season, especially on offense, you can believe the Jets may fly high over their 7-game over/under win projection.
Here are five reasons to believe in Gang Green Nation in 2020.
1. The NFL’s Most Under-the-Radar Defense
Okay, so losing Jamal Adams in a trade to the Seattle Seahawks hurt the Jets. But realize 2019’s seventh-ranked defense is still among the best in the game, second in rushing defense.
Fast forward to 2020 and the Jets return eight starters on defense, with Leonard Williams leaving in a mid-season trade back in 2019, so that’s nine if you include him. The other departed Jet is Darryl Roberts, who started 10 games and appeared in 13.
The Jets return all three starters on their defensive line in Henry Anderson, Steve McLendon, and Quinnen Williams. McLendon’s leadership is what a young team like the Jets need, and Williams is one of the league’s hottest up and comers. They acquired Anderson in 2018 in a trade with the Indianapolis Colts and found his niche in a 3-4 defense.
The Jets own depth at linebacker, which injuries decimated in 2019. Prize free agent C. J. Mosley appeared in just two games, and Avery Williamson missed the season after what the media called a “friendly fire” injury to his ACL.
Despite losing Mosley for the year because of an opt out, Williamson returns, which will help at least recover from some loss regarding Adams.
The team is also rich in depth. James Burgess Jr. is good enough to start for at least half the league’s teams and played well in a reserve role in each of his NFL stops.
He is an accomplished journeyman linebacker.
Neville Hewitt was third on the team in tackles while Burgess finished second. Hewitt started 12 games and over the past two seasons, played well enough to the point where he too could start for multiple teams in the league.
The duo of Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye were one of the most underrated in football. Adams was a stud, but Maye is a steady player who will hold down one of the safety positions.
It could come in the form of Bless Austin, who logged six starts at the position in 2019 or rookie third-round draft pick Ashtyn Davis.
Pierre Desir is one of the NFL’s most underrated corners, but he is another one who played well over his first six seasons. If he stays healthy, he is a top cover man with outstanding ball skills.
The Jets must fill the opposite end with either Brian Poole, Nate Hairston, or fifth-round pick Bryce Hall. Hall is the favorite, as many scouts had a first-round grade on him, but college injuries depleted his draft stock.
Quarterbacks Ryan Fitzpatrick and Cam Newton are aging and are only stopgaps for Tua Tagovailoa in Miami and either Jarrett Stidham or anyone else the New England Patriots acquire. The jury is out on Josh Allen, who struggled in Year 1 and improved somewhat in Year 2.
Either way, the Jets face a weak quarterback crop because of the lack of offseason workouts and the preseason, meaning opposing offenses within the division must be ready for the Jets who open the season at Buffalo.
2. The Wide-Open East
For the first time in 2 decades, the AFC East is open. The Jets haven’t won the East since 2002 and with the Tom Brady-Bill Belichick divorce all 4 teams have a shot. In a normal season, this is still the Patriots division to lose.
They must contend with a Patriots and Buffalo Bills defense that ranked first and third, respectively, in 2019.
- However, the Patriots lost 6 defensive starters. 2 of these starters remain with the team but opted out because of the 2020 issues while the Bills lost defensive tackle Star Lotulelei for the same reason.
- Another positive is the team improved from 4-12 to 7-9 in 2019, finishing 6-2 over the final 8 games.
With most starters returning and free agent and draft additions to an offense that struggled in 2019, it poises the Jets to make a leap in 2020.
Sure, the 2020 conundrum will prevent them from showing off their acquired talent until Week 1. But the upside is they have 2 proven NFL veterans starting at wide receiver while tight end Chris Herndon IV knows the system.
Sam Darnold improved as the year progressed and he built chemistry with receivers good enough to start in the NFL. Keeping receiver Robby Anderson would make life easier, but signing Breshad Perriman is a decent trade-off if his stock continues to grow.
Jamison Crowder played well, logging 78 receptions, and rookie second-round pick Denzel Mims is one to watch, though he needs to adjust on the fly.
Bell is a complete back and even if his yards per carry continues to disappoint, he is still a worthy pass catcher.
While they aren’t the league’s best team by any stretch, they are also in the best position to win more often in 2020 and even take the division. Look for the Jets to grow upon their 2-4 finish in the AFC East from a season ago.
3. Sam Darnold Turning the Corner?
Darnold’s numbers weren’t great in his 13 starts, but they improved from Year 1. He finished with a 61.9-percent completion percentage, 3,024 passing yards, and 19 touchdowns to 13 interceptions. He went 7-6 as a starter and pulled out 3 close games at the end of the season.
2 of those close games coming against division rivals. His only loss in the final 4 games came to the Baltimore Ravens.
Fast forward to 2020 and Darnold has a better supporting cast. While losing Robby Anderson hurt, Breshad Perriman will contribute fast. Also, Chris Herndon IV, who spent 2019 on injured reserve, returns. And don’t forget about Denzel Mims, who brings size to the unit.
The Jets are higher on Herndon than perhaps any other skill position player. He is an all-around tight end the team drafted in the fourth-round in 2019 who most experts labeled a steal.
On the line, the team drafted Mekhi Becton, a 363lb mass monster who fills a hole at tackle. He is the plug and play tackle teams place at the position for a decade. Also coming to East Rutherford are Connor McGovern and George Fant, 2 proven players who can lead the line.
And most winning teams in football start with at least consistent play from the quarterback.
4. The AFC East’s Weakest Schedule
First, let’s look at the obvious pitfall. No one wants to play the AFC or NFC West and the Jets get to play both along with the rest of the AFC East There isn’t a single team in either division figuring to finish lower than 8-8 in 2020, though chances are someone will.
But the point is each of the 8 teams the Jets face in those divisions has the talent to pull off a winning record, or at least .500.
While New England throttled them in both meetings, things are different without Tom Brady and a decimated defense. It is unlikely the Patriots achieve the same results without the benefit of a true preseason to get the new players to a viable playing level.
More good news in 2020 is by finishing third in their division in 2019, the Jets also get to play the 2 teams finishing third in the AFC North and AFC South: The Cleveland Browns and Indianapolis Colts.
The Browns are on a 2-year winning streak against the Jets, but the first game in 2018 coincided with Baker Mayfield’s impromptu debut, which ended a 19-game losing streak for the hard luck club. The teams met again in 2019, but Sam Darnold missed the fun with mono.
This season, the Browns have a new coaching staff. The Browns must scramble to learn new systems while the Jets have continuity even if the fan base wants head coach Adam Gase gone.
Meanwhile, the Colts are putting their faith in a 38-year-old gunslinger named Philip Rivers, signed this offseason. While Rivers knows coach Frank Reich’s system, he must work fast to develop chemistry with his players.
The Jets have an advantage in both avenues.
5. Sleeper Receivers
You must commend the team’s receiving units. Jamison Crowder, Denzel Mims, and Breshad Perriman would excel if they had Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger, or Tom Brady throwing them the ball.
With Sam Darnold, they are solid even if they won’t overachieve. If the team held onto Robby Anderson, the confidence level in the Jets would surge.
But they have three receivers who can play in the NFL and start on most teams. Then, there are tight ends Ryan Griffin and Chris Herndon IV. Griffin isn’t a full-time starter, but he is underrated as a receiver and a mauling blocker.
As Darnold improves, so will Griffin’s numbers. Herndon is the one to watch. He missed 2019 with an injury, but coaches love him.
And often, tight ends make their leap in Year 2. Herndon is an interesting player to watch.
The Jets still aren’t a good team. Put a marquee quarterback in place of Darnold and they are in the playoffs.
He finally has an offensive line capable of blocking with new signees and a monstrous left tackle. They won’t allow 52 sacks like they did in 2019, which ranked 29th among all 32 teams.
The defense kept them in games in 2019 and is stronger in 2020, with added depth and returning starters despite losing Jamal Adams.
So, while it is premature to bet online at NFL sites for the Jets as a playoff team, they are a legitimate over bet in win projection. If they take advantage of a weakened AFC East, they are almost a shoo-in to clear their over/under.
What are your plans with the Jets? Do you believe they can fly over their projection in 2020?