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AFC East Enemy Recon: The 2023 New York Jets

January 3rd, 2016: the last day the New York Jets and their fans had tangible optimism. They had just rattled off five straight wins, including a pair of overtime wins vs. the Giants and Patriots, and all they needed to make the postseason for the first time since 2010 was to beat a Buffalo Bills team that had nothing to play for. This team featured an exciting wide receiver trio of Brandon Marshall, Eric Decker, and a young up-and-coming Quincy Enunwa before injuries stole his career. Not to mention guys like Darelle Revis, Antonio Cromartie, Demario Davis, Snacks Harrison, and Mo Wilkerson on defense. Surely, they finished the job, made it into the postseason, and certainly wouldn't go on to get shut out in the fourth quarter of said game...right??? Right???

Many failed draft picks, free agent moves, coaches, and front office personnel later, this latest regime led by Robert Saleh and Joe Douglas, even with some bumps in the road, saw a vision of what their team could be. The 2022 Jets defense was one of the NFL's best, led by the Williams brothers, Quinnen and Quincy, and one of the best corner duos in football with D.J. Reed and First-Team All-Pro rookie Sauce Gardner. Even on offense, rookies Garrett Wilson and Breece Hall took the league by storm in year one. The one problem for the Jets, and stop me if you've heard this one before, is that they didn't have a quarterback.

All of two years ago, the narrative formulated quickly that BYU signal caller Zach Wilson was the stone-cold lock to be the second quarterback off the board behind Trevor Lawrence. Sure enough, the Jets selected him over Trey Lance, Justin Fields, or Mac Jones, and it didn't take too long to figure out that he was far from a sure thing. Benched midway through last year, it appeared the Jets were set to take yet another ride on the QB carrousel, but this would be a bit different than the rest.

Enter Aaron Rodgers: Super Bowl 45 Champion, multi-time NFL MVP, most sane conspiracy and psychedelics enjoyer, darkness retreat enthusiast, and noted family man. After the 2021 "Last Dance" parody the Packers ran, Rodgers' days in Green Bay were numbered. Clashes with the front office had been commonplace for some time, as word of him wanting a trade. Then, one faithful day on the Pat McAfee Show, Rodgers confirmed what had been rumored for most of early 2023. He wanted to be a New York Jet.

Getting him out of Green Bay and to New York took far longer than it should have, but the two sides sealed the deal the Monday before this year's NFL Draft. For the first time, the Jets have a true above-average quarterback. In what may be the best year on paper for AFC teams in at least several years, is this a Super Bowl contender, or will the 2023 Jets be a re-run of the 2011 Eagles "Dream Team"?

The 2023 New York Jets

Coaching Staff and Front Office Personnel -

- Head Coach: Robert Saleh (Third Year as Jets Head Coach) - Offensive Coordinator: Nathanial Hackett (First Year as Jets OC) - Defensive Coordinator: Jeff Ulbrich (Third Year as Jets DC) - Special Teams Coordinator: Danny Crossman (Eighth Year as Jets STC) - Notable Assistant Coaches: Todd Downing (Passing Game Coordinator), Keith Carter (Offensive Line Coach/Run Game Coordinator), Marquand Manuel (Defensive Backs/Safeties Coach), Tony Oden (Senior Defensive Assistant/Cornerbacks Coach)

- General Manager: Joe Douglas (Fifth Year as Jets GM)

Notable Additions - Free Agency: Allen Lazard and Randall Cobb (WR, Packers), Mecole Hardman (WR, Chiefs), Quinton Jefferson (IDL, Seahawks), Adrian Amos (SAF, Packers), Billy Turner (OT, Broncos), Dalvin Cook (RB, Vikings) - Draft: Will McDonald (EDGE, Iowa State) Joe Tippman (IOL, Wisconsin) - Trades: Aaron Rodgers (QB, Packers), Chuck Clark (SAF, Ravens, Placed on Season Ending IR after an ACL tear in OTAs)

Notable Subtractions - Free Agency: N/A - Trades: Denzel Mims (WR, Lions), Elijah Moore (WR, Browns),

2022 Offensive Team Ranks

- 17.4 Points Per Game (29th)

- 318.2 Yards Per Game (28th)

- 219 Pass Yards and 99.2 Rush Yards Per Game (15th and t-26th)

- 34.6% Conversion Rate on Third Down (28th)

- 43.5% Red Zone Conversion Rate (31st)

- 23 Turnovers (t-8th)

2022 Defensive Team Ranks

- 18.6 Points Allowed Per Game (4th)

- 311.1 Yards Allowed Per Game (4th)

- 189.4 Pass Yards and 121.6 Rush Yards Allowed Per Game (3rd and t-16th)

- 38.1% Conversion Rate Allowed on Third Down (11th)

- 47.8% Red Zone Conversion Rate Allowed(4th)

- 16 Takeaways (t-29th)

The Artist Formerly Known as "The Bad Man"

Although it would be a farce to say that Rodgers is a complete shell of himself, we saw far from his best work last year. Looking at the numbers, 2022 could be the worst of his Hall of Fame career. He put up his worst passer rating ever at 91.1, threw double-digit picks for the first time in over a decade, and threw for the second-least touchdowns in his career with 26* (*-While healthy).

A good chunk of this can certainly be chalked up to Nathanial Hackett splitting town for Denver and trading away Davante Adams, but there were more than a few occasions where Rodgers looked flat-out bad or didn't feel as engaged as he should have been. With that in mind, I wanted to watch five of his games from a year ago to see if my thoughts had merit. Those five were the two games against the Lions, then against the Patriots, Giants, and Dolphins. I will tell you what I liked about Rodgers in those five games. I will tell you what I didn't like about Rodgers in those five games.

The Good

The most important thing to mention right out of the gate is that Rodgers can still win you football games. The fastball probably isn't hitting the high 90s anymore, but it can get the out, in a sense. A pretty good indicator of that was his play against top 10 defenses last season. The Packers went 2-4 against such teams a year ago, but his numbers weren't all that bad, especially given the highly balanced nature of that offense. 209.6 yards per, 12 TDs to 4 INTs, 65.2 completion percentage, and a passer rating of 101.7 in those six games (New England, Washington, Buffalo, New York Jets, Dallas, and Philadelphia, the latter of which he left early).

Specifically, Rodgers eviscerated the Cowboys on just 20 pass attempts and came close to a perfect passer rating. These were the two throws that jumped out the most from that tilt.

One perfectly fair criticism of Rodgers over the years is forcing the issue and going deep on third down when he only needs a few yards to move the sticks. This right here is not the case. On this 3rd&1, Rodgers' primary read, Allen Lazard, gets bracketed on an in-route and is out of the equation. The problem is that Christain Watson, who's effectively clearing out space for Lazard, has one-on-one coverage and has some afterburners on him. This is a perfect ball by Rodgers in every sense of the word, and this play ultimately unlocked the Rodgers-Watson connection for the rest of the game and season. Horrible job by the cameraman here cutting away before the backflip, however.

The second play here is another touchdown to Watson, but it's a gotta-have-it play. 4th and 7, down 14 in the fourth quarter. Even more than the throw, Rodgers' ability to move around in the pocket is still there, even in some of the lowlights, which we'll get to shortly. Great job here, though, of buying himself some extra time and unloading one on the screws to start this fourth-quarter/overtime comeback the Packers made.

Another good sign for the Jets, other than Rodgers still being able to move around well in the pocket, is that his ability to create outside is still there. Just watch this play to Aaron Jones against the Bears in Week 2.

The Bad

Before this point, it must be said that Rodgers is not the first QB to shun a rookie receiver after one bad game, and he certainly won't be the last. But for all the talk over the years that the Packers have drafted him zero help (which is propaganda), to see him ghost Watson for the first two months of the season was jarring. Yes, the Week 1 drop against the Vikings was brutal, but for a lifeless passing offense for most of the year, Rodgers needed all the help he could get.

From Weeks 1-9, Watson suited up for six games and got just 13 targets after that first drop. A third of those were touch-pass jet sweeps, so that number goes to just nine downfield pass attempts, zero of which ended up as drops. Coincidentally, the Packers lost, five straight between Weeks 5-9 when Watson was ignored, then won 5-of-8 when Rodgers gave him the time of day. The point I'm trying to make is this. Say early in the year, Garrett Wilson, who I think will be First-Team All-Pro sooner than later, doesn't come up with a grab, and Rodgers gets passive-aggressive about it. Is he going to ignore him on the field for a multi-week stretch? That would easily be my biggest fear if I were a Jets fan.

Decision-making and touch with the football were two wildly inconsistent areas for Rodgers in 2022. The first of four examples here is Rodgers testing his luck against a specific matchup and getting burnt after going back to it too quickly.

On this first play, Rodgers has a couple of layup quick options on out route and hits a solid pass to Allen Lazard, who's working on Patriots corner Jack Jones. Good execution on their end here, and not a horrible recovery job by Jones on the tackle. The issue here is that six offensive snaps later on a new drive, Lazard is on Jones again working an even deeper out route, and Rodgers tried force-feeding it to him, something he was guilty of a ton last year. Considering Jones' postgame comments, the fact five plays separated these two, and the execution of driving down on this ball, he was 100% sitting on it like a down-low-breaking ball. Rodgers probably would have had Robert Tonyan for a big play over the middle if Rodgers had given him a look, so that stings a bit.

Circling back to force feeding it/forcing the issue to Lazard, who is on the Jets now, in case you were wondering, this final real play that the Packers ran against the Giants. This is a 4th and 2, down five, with the game clock at just over a minute and the play clock under 10 seconds. Additionally, the Packers have two timeouts available. There are not one, but two (2) Giants defenders on the LOS, both of whom Rodgers catches glimpses of, correctly calling out that this is going to Lazard. At that point, that should have been the easiest timeout ever taken. Not even mentioning that he was facing a jailbreak blitz either. This is simply a horrible job on Rodgers' end, not understanding the situation and trying to force something that's not there with the game on the line.

Keeping the training moving with bad decisions, this not only goes on Rodgers but also Matt LaFleur. 4th and Goal in a 0-0 game, and they go for it with a designed bootleg that is supposed to go back across the field to David Bahktiari. Now, surprisingly, the play is there. Bahktiari is all by his lonesome on the left side of the endzone. The problem is, outside of this being a horrendous play design, Rodgers commits every single quarterback cardinal sin (throwing off back foot, across the field, all while falling away), on top of the fact this is simply an inexcusably lazy throw with a severe lack of touch.

So, when you talk about touch and more timely bad throws, here's an even better example. In a win-or-go-home game against Detroit, no less. These two plays below against the Lions in Week 18, happening back-to-back, encapsulate that. There were more than a few instances where plays like this popped up, but given that this was a win-or-go-home game where the Packers had zero touchdowns to this point, let alone the fact they missed the ensuing field goal try, these were especially bad in hindsight.

Play No. 1: So you have a pair of in-routes up at the top of the screen, then a couple of go routes down low with Aaron Jones and Christian Watson, then Mercedes Lewis on a hitch. This feels like the exact look Green Bay was looking for, Watson being the primary read. His crucial mistake here is that he's more or less staring at excellent Lions rookie safety Kerby Joseph from the jump, who's responsible for either Watson or Jones based on the play here. Once Rodgers looks off Watson, he drives on Jones at the perfect time, picking up a PBU, and quite frankly, should have been a pick. There's no guarantee this is a touchdown if Rodgers puts some extra air under it, but that would have been better than what could (should) have happened.

Play No. 2: Two plays in a row, the Packers get a great look defensively, with man this time instead of zone. Randall Cobb and Romeo Doubs got themselves wide open on slants, but Rodgers puts the ball at the latter's ankles on a huge 3rd and 7. If he puts it on the numbers, this is probably a first down on a drive where the Packers were moving as it is. You have to give your guy a chance, and on more than one occasion, this was an issue for Rodgers in 2022.

In Conclusion

If you are strictly basing Rodgers on his play from 2022, he was more bad than good, with the bad costing him another shot in the postseason at the literal finish line. He still can be a good quarterback in the NFL. However, if you expect him to be on the level of guys like Mahomes, Burrow, Allen, or even guys Lawrence or Herbert, you're expecting too much. His decision-making was highly suspect in spurts, his overall touch on passes wasn't as good as you'd expect, and in the biggest game the Packers played last year (Lions Week 18), he disappeared. That's not even getting into all the negative vibes off the field he invites in, either. Packers fans can tell you all about that.

Even with all that said, if you can set things up to where Rodgers isn't consistently throwing for nearly 40 passes a game, and you have the big boys up front to keep him upright, he's still an above-average quarterback that can win you games. The Jets are, in theory, just that team. Assuming their offensive line can hold up, of course.

Aaron Rodgers Positives:

- Maneuverability In and Around the Pocket is as Good as Ever. Still Can Throw on the Run

- The Ball still Comes Out Pretty Well, and He's Still Mechanically Sound. Can Still Fit Passes in Relatively Tight Windows When Needed, and the Deep Ball is Still There for the Most Part

- Is Back with an Offensive Coordinator He won an MVP with (more on that momentarily)

Aaron Rodgers Negatives:

- Vibes

- His Touch on his Throws is a Bit Shakey in Spots

- Decision-Making was Largely Suspect. LOVES to Chuck it Deep on 3rd and Short. Will Occasionally Stand in the Pocket for a Second or Two Too Long

- Gets Tunnel Vision on Occasion and Will Force Feed it to a Specific Receiver No Matter What (Allen Lazard mainly)

The Rodgers-Hackett Connection

The three years that Rodgers and Hackett spent together in Green Bay ('19-'21) may go down as the best three-year stretch of the former's career. A pair of MVPs, First-Team All-Pro selections, and NFC Championship Game appearances. In addition to three consecutive seasons of 4000-plus yards, with a TD-INT ratio of over 8-to-1. Not too bad. No one let Sean Payton know.

Looking at the numbers of Hackett's Green Bay offense, the play-action game should translate very well to East Rutherford, New Jersey, based on Rodgers' 2021 play-action numbers. 73.5 completion percentage, 1160 yards, 19 TDs, and 0 INTs. Those 140 attempts Rodgers made also come closely in line with what the Broncos did last year, just five shy under (mostly) Hackett's watch. Most of that should translate to the Jets IF the line can win consistently in the run game because New York has the horses in the backfield to catch teams off guard with Breece Hall and Dalvin Cook. If not, that's a major element of this offense taking a backseat.

Red Zone and third down production are other areas where Hackett should, in theory, help out the Jets. In those three seasons with the Packers, they ranked 8th, 1st, and 19th in red zone conversion rate. Oddly enough, Hackett's had a similar trajectory in his three years prior with the Jaguars ('16-'18), where they ranked 11th, 2nd, and 31st (Leonard Fourtnette missed half that final season). It's hard to say if there are any parallels between the multiple-year three fall-offs, but either of the year one and two ranks would be the best for the Jets in several seasons. Same case for third-down production. Last season, the Jets converted a meager 34.5% of their third down attempt, but 42.1% of their preseason conversions would have ranked top-10 in the NFL last season. A small sample size for sure, but I wouldn't expect the Jets to be a bottom-five red zone offense again.

While it's hard to gauge this offense since Rodgers only took about a half-dozen preseason snaps, here's what I've taken away about Hackett. In addition to how he'll run this offense looking over these preseason games. 1) Hackett will try and maximize the usage of tight ends C.J. Uzomah and Tyler Conklin and receivers and blockers. 2) Hackett hasn't been shy about getting his running backs involved in the passing game, which tracks given two of his three years with Green Bay and last year in Denver. 3) This is an offense that has some very high play-action upside. And 4) Jets fans should be mortified over this specific interaction with Hackett and Zach Wilson. Horrifying behavior when you're mic'd up on the greatest network of our time, HBO.

Personal Protection Plan

Comfortably, the biggest red flag with the Jets team is the offensive front. This group has looked rough for most of the preseason, and that's with guys getting healthy as the summer has progressed. This isn't a perception issue, either. Head coach Robert Salah, in a surprisingly calm tone given the messaging, lit up the entire group in front of the whole team on a previous episode of Hard Knocks.

Although this Jets line has gotten healthier as the summer has moved along, they're far from a sure thing. Starting left tackle Duane Brown just turned 38 years old. If you believe in PFF grades, then those would indicate that Brown's play has declined over the last few years, which feels right, given his age. Also worth noting is that Brown racked up six penalties in just 12 games last season, his most since 2015. He's typically been reliable on the left side of the line, but how much can you depend on a 38-year-old at maybe the second most important spot on the roster?

Then you move to the opposite side of the line with Mekhi Becton, who, since being drafted at 11th overall in 2020, has started only 14 games, and by the time we get to Week 1, will be one day shy of two full years between starts. To Becton's credit now, he's worked extremely hard to slim down his 6'7 frame and has been spoken of highly by those in the Jets building, including Rodgers recently. Assuming he can stay healthy and handle a full workload per game, he should be more than fine, but that's been a massive question mark for Becton as he enters year four.

Moving inside, things become much clearer for New York. Their guard duo of Alijah Vera-Tucker and Laken Tomlinson is much more stable. The latter hasn't missed a game since '17, nor a snap since '18. That alone is huge, given just about everyone else around him. AVT ended up missing double-digit games last year with a torn triceps. To that point, he didn't make that second-year leap that Jets fans would have hoped for, but not too far off his rookie year. I thought AVT had a handful of rough snaps against the Giants, but you can give him a pass since he's still working his way back.

The only question mark as to who gets the start lies in the dead middle of the Jets offensive line. Joe Douglass took Wisconsin's Joe Tippmann at 46th overall in this year's draft, but when it was time for Rodgers' dress rehearsal, Connor McGovern (not to be confused with the Bills guard of the same name but zero relation) was the man in the middle. Tippmann has gotten some rave reviews this summer, and not just for his mullet, but the Jets are in the rare position where they could reasonably redshirt a non-QB top 50 pick. If Tippmann gets in there at some point, that shouldn't be shocking, but McGovern getting the opening stint feels like a good call.

A couple of other quick notes to close things out. Firstly, this unit struggled this preseason with outside/zone run blocking. Maybe things get better with Hall and Cook in there, but they consistently couldn't sustain blocks outside the hashes. Secondly, if one of the tackles get hurt, and Saleh doesn't like what he sees from Billy Turner or Max Mitchell, the Jets could kick out AVT to tackle and then go Tippmann at right guard should they deem that necessary. This line may be slightly better than you think, but not by much. Lots of volatile pieces here, for better or worse.

The Garrett Wilson Effect

What feels like many moons ago, I did a scouting piece on Ohio State Tight End Jeremy Ruckert, who ironically ended up on the Jets a season ago. During those film sessions, one guy on that Buckeyes' offense consistently jumped off the screen throughout the several games watched, and that was none other than Garrett Wilson. Although I was shocked that he was as good as he was given the suspect QB play he had to endure all of last year, his season in a vacuum didn't come off as a surprise.

Wilson's best two-game stretch in year one came against the Vikings and Bears, and even though they gave him free releases close to every snap (it was maddening watching it back), he put on a pair of clinics in route running and generating yards after the catch. No catch here, but look at him putting Patrick Peterson on skates here. If Mike White puts this on the money, this is probably going for six and the lead. Got to give Wilson credit here, though. He did everything right.

You may also be noticing that this isn't the first time Rodgers has had a top option wearing No. 17, something he's mentioned multiple times this offseason, but this quote about a Wilson-Davante Adams comp stood out.

“[Wilson's] ability to kind of get in and out of his breaks. There’s another 17 I played with for a long time who does it better than anybody. The explosiveness, in and out of breaks, to the 17 here, is pretty similar.”

Just to reiterate, Wilson had over 1,000 yards working with Zach Wilson, Joe Flacco, and Mike White last year. To say his upside is through the roof is putting it lightly, but it's on Rodgers to give him quality looks. I mentioned this earlier, but it's inexcusable if what happened to Christian Watson last season ends up going down with Wilson.

Gotham City SWAT Team

Last but certainly not least, it's time to talk about this Jets defense. Do you want star power at all three levels? New York has you covered. Do you want the ability to send four better than any team in the NFL? Check that box off as well. How does having perhaps the best man-to-man cornerback duo in the league sound to you? Because the Jets have that too.

All this is much more impressive when you remember that the Jets were one of the worst defenses in the 2021 NFL season. So what changed? Billy Stephens breaks this down very well in-depth, but outside of heavy secondary reinforcement, the key fixes were the following. Saleh ditched running single high safety in base sets, saving that for third downs, coming out in mainly two deep looks last year. He incorporated more man-to-man looks to put Sauce Garnder and D.J. Reed in the best position to succeed. And as a by-product of the improved play on the backend, the big boys up front ate against the run and pass, mostly with just four. It's hard to overstate how big that is when you can sacrifice an extra body up front to play in the middle third or secondary. It's game-changing if you have the pieces, and the Jets are tailor-made for just that.

It's funny looking at the Chiefs' unsuccessful Chris Jones contract talks from a Jets perspective. Having a legitimate game-wrecking interior guy is a franchise changer. The Giants, Rams, and Titans can tell you about that right now on top of KC and the Jets. Just look at Quinnen Williams, who got a big bag of $96,000,000 over four years this offseason. Having a guy like him is really what makes things tick here. It also helps when you have guys off the edge like Carl Lawson, John Franklin Meyers, plus Jermaine Johnson.

There's also rookie Will McDonald, but I wouldn't anticipate him being anything more than a spot pass rush specialist in year one. Johnson last year didn't get over 35% of the Jets' defensive snaps until Week 10 and hit 25 or more snaps three times. That feels like a good barometer, but something else that hurts McDonald is that he's underweight as far as edge rushers go. He clocked in at 239 lbs before the draft, which is in the third percentile and is only two pounds heavier currently. I have a hard time imagining him getting a ton of snaps in run situations with that said. Felt like there were some better edge rushers on the board when New York took McDonald (Nolan Smith, Myles Murphy, Felix Anudike-Uzomah, B.J. Ojulari, and Keion White, in that order), so this certainly feels like a pick for the future.

Pair the front and secondary with a linebacker duo of C.J. Mosely and Quincy Williams, and it's not hard to see why this Jets unit had the success they did in 2022. Now, a couple of anecdotal notes on this Jets defense. As good as they were last year, this is not a team nor core that has been prolific at creating turnovers. There are just two teams in the league averaging under a takeaway per game in the last two seasons. One is the Jets, and the other is the Raiders. Odd, given how good they were last year, but against some of the teams they have on the schedule this year, that won't cut it. The other note is that this was the best fourth-quarter and second-half defense a season ago. So this isn't a bunch you want to play from behind against.

How Do the Patriots Match Up

Of the three AFC East teams to play the Jets, no one saw a bigger dip in offensive production from '21 to '22 than the Patriots. They went from averaging 39.5 points a game to 16 and 405.5 yards per game to 292.5. The combination of Matt Patricia and the defensive changes/upgrades for the Jets was the perfect storm. Also helping New York was that the Patriots were rolling out James Ferentz at center and Marcus Cannon at right tackle in game one, making rushing four all the easier. They did, however, send five guys on the opening play of the Week 11 game, and that went about as you'd expect.

Given just how bad the offensive game plan was in both Jets games, especially the second one, I instead wanted to see how other teams found success against the Jets to get an idea. The two games I settled on were the Jets vs. Jaguars and Jets vs. Lions. Both teams didn't score at will but gave the Jets their two highest yards against totals all season. Specifically, both were successful in the quick passing game, working the shallow part of the field and letting their pass catchers do damage after the catch. 171 YAC yards in total, 128 of which came on 10 combined receptions by Evan Engram and Travis Etienne. Much can be said of that Lions game as well. Two-thirds of Jared Goff's yards against the Jets were via YAC, 47 from this game-winner to Brock Wright.

Talked a little bit about Cover-1 looks being a bit of an issue for the Jets in '21, but here it was the right call. 4th and inches, seven in the box, and a stop wins you the game. According to C.J. Mosley, this was man-to-man the entire way, and to the Jets' credit, their corners played this perfectly. The problem is neither linebacker accounts for Wright (this is on Quincy Williams more than Mosley, if you ask me). This one play encapsulates one of the two issues with this Jets defense. They're not great against tight ends, allowing the fifth most catches and sixth most yards to them in '22. They also are more than willing to give you the shallow part of the field, which is understandable given how efficient their pass rush is at forcing pressure and how good they are at covering downfield.

Now that the Patriots have the personnel to pull this off, the offensive gameplay from a passing standpoint should follow a few tenets. The quicker you can get the ball out, the better. Get the tight ends involved early and often. And know that the shallow/flat part of the field is usually open for business. If you can force them to get out of that two-high safety look, that's a bonus.

Bill Belichick was mic'd up for the Patriots and Packers game in 2018, and this soundbite feels prevalent.

Watching that game and then last year's, that philosophy upfront felt the same, and those Packers lines were much better than this Jets line is now. Keep him inside, try to get those interior guys back up into Rodgers, and hopefully get some bad throws. His completion percentage numbers in those two games would indicate that the plan mostly worked. Rodgers can get the ball out quickly, but if the timing can be manipulated, you'll have chances to force some bad plays/misses.

Moving on to ideal corner-receiver matchups now. The Patriots gave Garrett Wilson a steady dose of Jonathan Jones in game No. 2 last year, with Jalen Mills getting the second most snaps on him. It shouldn't shock Patriots fans if that's the plan again, but I wonder about Christian Gonzalez. Conventional wisdom would tell you that he should be on Allen Lazard since he's Rodgers' go-to guy, and the size matchup is good enough. However, one of the knocks on Gonzalez coming out of Oregon was his lack of core strength and, in turn, his lack of productivity against the run. That might be a no-go against Lazard, who perhaps is the best-blocking wide receiver in the NFL at 6'5 and 227 lbs. I think that's the matchup they want for Gonzalez, but keep that in mind going into both Jets' games.

While the Patriots haven't faced Breece Hall, they saw Dalvin Cook less than a year ago and put him in the Steiner Recliner upfront. 22 carries, 44 yards, and his longest carry that evening was six yards. It wasn't always the case that Belichick overloaded the box, it was just that holes up the middle were few and far between, and Cook had no room to operate. You'd like to think the Patriots have that in their notebook for when the time comes. The Patriots match up well with the Jets on paper, given their personnel on both ends. Whether or not they execute to their full potential remains to be seen, but they have the pieces in place and a reasonable OC now.

The Bottom Line

Very few teams in the NFL this season have a wider gap from ceiling to floor than the Jets. The biggest reason among the few would be their schedule because things are rough, and right off the bat, we'll know a lot about this team. Their first eight games, in order, are against the Bills, Cowboys, Patriots, Chiefs, Broncos, Eagles, Giants, and Chargers. The Jets also have to play the Dolphins on a Friday just days after their second matchup with the Bills, and then the Browns on a Thursday after playing the Commanders, both of which come in the final seven weeks of the season, as do five road games in the last eight weeks.

While there is real reason to be optimistic about a good majority of this team, namely the defense, running backs, Garrett Wilson, and the good side of Aaron Rodgers, I don't think this is a sure thing of a team just yet. This team is asking/hoping for a lot of a 38-year-old tackle and an admittedly fantastic player, albeit injury-ridden in Mehki Becton, to lead an offensive line for a Super Bowl-aspiring team. Maybe it works out, but I have serious doubts. The Jets' schedule is also rough because they have a ton of good tight ends to match up against, and they didn't fare well in 2022.

In short, there are two ways this goes for the Jets. Ending No. 1 is that they win the Super Bowl despite all their flaws and the cutthroat competition in the AFC. No. 2 is that this ends like any number of Jets seasons in the last half-century. Zero in-between, and we'll probably know the answer sooner rather than later. Not that this team doesn't have the talent, far from it, but beyond some clear trouble spots, it's going to take a village to break the 50-plus-year stigma of simply being the New York Jets. On a final note, and this is strictly the fan in me talking, that first still shot of Fireman Ed during a close loss/blowout loss is going to be ethereal.

Defined Jets Strengths and Weaknesses


- Aaron Rodgers

- Top-3 Outside Cornerback Tandem in the NFL at Worst

- Have the Ability to Get Home Consistently Rushing Four

- Well Above Average Running Back Tandem

- Great Blend of Youth and Veteran Presence


- Aaron Rodgers

- Most Volatile Offensive Tackle situation in the NFL

- Just One of Two NFL Defenses to Generate > A Turnover Per Game in the '21 and '22 Seasons

- Receiver Depth beyond Garret Wilson is shakey in light of Corey Davis' Retirement

- Struggled to Defend Tight Ends a Season Ago

Jets Seasonal Outlook

Record Ceiling: 13-4

Record Floor: 6-11

AFC East Finishing Position Prediction: 4th

Team MVP: Quinnen Williams

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