The wait continues for Jets fans, who saw their team miss the playoffs last season by losing the regular-season finale in Buffalo. It was a torturous loss for the Jets, falling to their former coach, Rex Ryan. And in some ways, it spoiled many of the good feelings that had built up throughout a 10–6 season in 2015.
The Jets still have not made the playoffs since 2010, when they reached their second of two straight AFC title games under Ryan. But 2015 gave them reasons to hope, as general manager Mike Maccagnan and head coach Todd Bowles — both rookies in those jobs — made promising debuts.
Now, it’s playoffs or bust for these Jets in 2016, as they face a more challenging schedule. Conquering the Patriots in the AFC East won’t be easy, so the Jets could again find themselves clawing for a Wild Card berth in Week 17. But after winning eight, six, eight and four games, respectively, from 2011-14, they at least now have something to build on.
The Jets have an uncertain quarterback situation, with Ryan Fitzpatrick remaining unsigned. Ideally, the Jets would have Fitzpatrick return as their starter in 2016, even though he’s too old, at 33, to be their quarterback of the future. Geno Smith gives them a game-tested backup. It would probably be bad news if the Jets were pressed into playing rookie Christian Hackenberg in 2016. They need time to develop him.
Wide receiver Brandon Marshall remains a dominant factor in the red zone, and Eric Decker can exploit mismatches with slower players while thriving in the slot, as he did last season. Can the Jets find a consistent No. 3 receiver? Quincy Enunwa gives them a big body in that role, but he’s unproven.
With running backs Matt Forté (a prominent free-agent signing) and Bilal Powell, the Jets have two guys in their backfield who are skilled pass catchers. That could be a big asset for offensive coordinator Chan Gailey, who leaned heavily on Powell with screen passes late last season.
The Jets’ offensive line is aging. Center Nick Mangold, 32, is still effective. But for how much longer? Right tackle Breno Giacomini, 30, stunk last season. Left tackle Ryan Clady, 29, arrived via trade after D’Brickashaw Ferguson retired. Clady has struggled with injuries in recent seasons. Can he stay healthy?
The Jets got basically nothing from their tight ends in 2015, but now third-year pro Jace Amaro is returning after missing all of last season with a shoulder injury. He is a potential weapon in the passing game if he can clean up the drop issues that plagued him at times during his rookie season.
The Jets saw a huge upgrade in their offensive performance in 2015, especially in the red zone. They finished third in the NFL in red zone percentage last year, compared to last in 2014. Whether that continues depends largely on the quarterback situation. Even if Fitzpatrick is back, can he repeat his career-year success from 2015?
The Jets have one of the NFL’s best defensive lines, with Muhammad Wilkerson, Sheldon Richardson and Leonard Williams. Don’t forget, though, that nose tackle Damon Harrison was a huge run-stopping factor for this team last season, and now he’s with the Giants. Steve McLendon, his replacement, appears to be on the next tier down from Harrison among nose tackles.
Inside linebacker Demario Davis was terrible in coverage last season, so the Jets elevated his backup, Erin Henderson, to his starting spot, while letting Davis sign with the Browns. And they also drafted linebacker Darron Lee in Round 1. Bowles hopes Lee’s speed and athleticism will help the Jets in passing situations.
Edge rusher is a huge uncertainty for this team. The Jets will need Lorenzo Mauldin, a second-year pro, to develop into more than just a pass-rushing specialist. Don’t be surprised if third-round pick Jordan Jenkins factors in immediately at outside linebacker.
Cornerback Darrelle Revis showed signs of declining last season, particularly in the Houston loss when DeAndre Hopkins toasted him. The Jets opted to cut Antonio Cromartie and will move slot cornerback Buster Skrine outside to replace him. This is not a sure-thing move, as Skrine has typically played better in the slot. Look for Marcus Williams to take on a bigger role, probably as Skrine’s replacement in the slot.
While Revis is not the player he once was, he still had five interceptions last season. He’ll be 31 when this season starts. It is an important season for him to show that he still has command of his position — at least to some degree.
This season could be the year when strong safety Calvin Pryor, a third-year pro, makes a huge jump forward. He looked so much more disruptive while playing near the line of scrimmage (his natural spot) last season after floundering at times in coverage as a rookie, because the Jets needed him there due to cornerback deficiencies.
The Jets were among the NFL’s best defenses in 2015 (fifth in the NFL in Football Outsiders’ defensive DVOA ratings). There’s no reason to believe that won’t continue, as Bowles remains one of the NFL’s top defensive minds.
Nick Folk returns for his seventh season as the Jets’ kicker. He has made 81.3 percent of his field goals while with the franchise. The Jets are starting over at punter after letting the ineffective Ryan Quigley leave for the Eagles in free agency. They’re going to have a competition between two Australian-born rookies: Lachlan Edwards (a seventh-round draft pick) and Tom Hackett (an undrafted free-agent signing).
The return spots are up for grabs. Jeremy Ross and Dri Archer, both of whom signed with the Jets this offseason, figure to be the primary competitors for those jobs.
Overall, the Jets need to upgrade their special teams, which have struggled in recent years. Bowles fired special teams coordinator Bobby April following just one season on the job.
Yes, a lot depends on the quarterback situation (and the performance at the position, once the situation itself is settled). But the time has come for the Jets to take a step forward and get back into the playoffs.
It won’t be easy. Five of the Jets’ first six opponents in 2016 made the playoffs last season —Bengals, Chiefs, Seahawks, Steelers and Cardinals. From Week 2 through Week 9, the Jets face a tough eight-game stretch that includes just two home games. But if they’re able to weather all of that and be in position to make the playoffs again, they’ll get a chance to exorcise the demons of last season, because they play the Bills again in the regular-season finale — this time at home.