Jets DE Muhammad Wilkerson was a Pro Bowl snub in 2013. He plans to be back with a vengeance in 2014 with fellow lineman Sheldon Richardson.
At No. 23 in the fanatix NFL power ranking is the New York Jets. Despite his third straight season without a trip to the playoffs, the Jets are extremely optimistic that they are a team on the rise and with the addition of some key offensive free agents the team may be in a position to challenge for a playoff berth.
Recap of 2013
The Jets alternated wins and losses for the first 10 games of 2013, getting their first 5 wins by a combined margin of 19 points – three of them on game-winning FG kicks by Nick Folk – while suffering through blowout losses to the Titans, Bengals, Bills, Ravens and Dolphins. A Week 15 loss to the Carolina Panthers put them at 6-8 on the season, but the team rallied behind head coach Rex Ryan to win their last two games and finish 8-8, saving Ryan’s job in the process.
Recap of 2014 Offseason
The Jets retained and signed beloved head coach Rex Ryan to an extension despite missing the playoffs for this third straight year. However his extension is mostly contingent on playoff production and the team could release him in 2015 with very little lost money if he doesn’t produce a winner this year.
In the free agency period the Jets skipped out on signing big defensive names and focused on the offense, acquiring RB Chris Johnson, WR Eric Decker, OT Breno Giacomini and QB Michael Vick to push Geno Smith. But the Jets were very stingy with their money and did not try to spend more on the marquee players like WR Desean Jackson, CB Darrelle Revis, S Jairus Byrd or OT Branden Albert. While the team has plenty of cap space to potentially give DE Muhammad Wilkerson an extension down the road, they missed a big opportunity to add game-changers on both sides of the ball.
In the draft the Jets focused on their secondary, taking S Calvin Pryor 18th overall and CB Dexter McDougle in the 3rd round. The addition of TE Jace Amaro gives the offense a great security blanket – Amaro led the NCAA in receiving yards among TEs in 2013.
Position of Strength: Defensive Line
The Jets defensive line is easily one of the best in league, and could very well be the best in 2014. The line is led by Second-Team All-Pro DE Muhammad Wilkerson, who led the team with 10.5 sacks in 2013 – a team best under Rex Ryan. Undrafted 3rd-year NT Damon “Snacks” Harrison was one of the biggest surprises in terms of positive production and was rated as the best run-stopping defensive lineman in the league in 2013. Last but not least is former Defensive Rookie of the Year Sheldon Richardson, who showed an incredible ability to rush the passer but also run down players in the open field. With Wilkerson playing at a Pro Bowl level and Harrison and Richardson only getting better, the Jets successes and failures will ultimately lie with them.
Position of Weakness: Secondary
Many people saw CB Antonio Cromartie as a liability in coverage and when former rookie CB Dee Milliner was named Defensive Rookie of the Month in December, the team felt it could part ways with Cromartie and his bloated contract. But while the removal of Cromartie has been seen by some as “addition through subtraction,” the Jets failed to address the position well in free agency or the draft – taking oft-injured CB Dimitri Patterson but passing on stars like Aqib Talib, Alterraun Verner, Darrelle Revis, Brandon Browner and Dominique-Rodgers Cromartie. Injuries in the preseason have not helped – 3rd-round draft pick Dexter McDougle is out for the year with an injury and now Dee Milliner is also injured for at least several weeks, forcing the Jets to throw darts at a wall hoping one will be able to fill the void.
Best Case Scenario
The generally anemic offense of the Jets should have few problems moving the ball against some of their 2014 opponents – only their division rivals and the Chiefs had top 10 defenses in 2013. Assuming the Jets can make it through a difficult first half of the season with about a .500 record, the Jets finish the season with games against the Bills, Vikings, Titans, Patriots (at home) and two games against the Dolphins, including a finale on the road. With such an manageable schedule to finish the year, the Jets could easily back into the playoffs as a wild card team. And once in the playoffs, the Jets have a history under Rex Ryan of performing much better, and anything is possible there.
Worst Case Scenario
With one of the hardest schedules in the league the Jets could easily struggle to string together wins in 2014 – especially when they have a gauntlet of high-octane passing offenses with the Packers, Bears, Lions, Chargers, Broncos and Patriots in a 6-game stretch at the start of the season. If the secondary is not up to speed, the team could easily start with a losing record by the time they reach the slightly easier home stretch in December. The team could be all but mathematically eliminated from playoff contention by the bye week and the front office may even be tempted to fire Rex Ryan if the team is eliminated after the Monday Night game against the Dolphins.
Prediction: 2nd place in AFC East, no playoffs