The Jets have not had a consistent starting quarterback for multiple years since Mark Sanchez from 2009-2012. That inconsistency has certainly costed New York, as they have had no playoff appearances since the 2010 postseason. But, in order to change that narrative, they traded up in the 2018 Draft to third and selected Sam Darnold from USC. The Jets have bolstered their roster in other areas as well. They added shutdown corner Trumaine Johnson from the Los Angeles Rams, and improved their backfield and receiving core.
Sam Darnold is the real deal and he is ready by the start of the year. His arm strength results in many big plays down the field to receivers Robby Anderson, who doesn’t get suspended despite legal troubles, Quincy Enunwa, who stays healthy after missing last year with a neck injury, and the newly signed Terrelle Pryor from Washington. In a professional system, Darnold cuts down on his turnovers, his biggest weakness last season, and he contends for Offensive Rookie of the Year.
Running back Bilal Powell ran effectively last year, averaging 4.3 yards per-carry with five touchdowns. He continues that success in 2018 behind a very similar offensive line. The additions of past starting backs Isaiah Crowell (Cleveland) and Thomas Rawls (Seattle) give offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates good options for different running back combinations.
With the addition of Trumaine Johnson, the Jets have their best cornerback since Darrelle Revis. The Jets have not had a player intercept more than two passes in each of the past two years. Through six seasons, Johnson has two or more picks in five campaigns. Second-year talents Jamal Adams (2017 All-Rookie) and Marcus Maye develop into formidable safeties and the secondary proves to be the best in the division.
On the schedule, there are just two 2017 playoff teams for the Jets to play through their first seven games. With that, they take advantage and get off to a hot start, which helps them gain momentum and confidence. They finish over .500 for the first time since 2015, and they sneak into the playoffs with a 9-7 record.
Darnold’s control is a major issue during the preseason, and Head Coach Todd Bowles goes with the veteran Josh McCown for most of the year. McCown set career highs in touchdowns and completion percentage in 2017, but at 39, he fails to repeat that success.
The offensive line struggles as they did last year when they gave up the fifth-most sacks in the AFC. Crowell and Rawls both had down seasons in 2017, and behind a suspect line, they struggle again. Wide out Terrelle Pryor fails to repeat the success he had in Cleveland in 2016, and he has another poor campaign as he had in Washington last year.
With the losses of longtime Jets Muhammad Wilkerson and Demario Davis (team leading tackler in 2017) the Jets run defense gets even worse. They gave up the ninth-most yards on the ground in 2017 and the most 40+ yard rushes. This causes the secondary to step up and stop runs before they turn into huge gains, which could leave them exposed on play-action plays.
New kicker Cairo Santos doesn’t return to his 2016 (fifth-best field goal percentage in the NFL) self after a groin injury held him out of much of last year.
Against division foes, the Jets get outmatched. The Patriots are 12-2 against New York since 2011. They continue their dominance with two wins against the Jets in 2018. The Bills and Dolphins take three of four against New York. Going 1-5 in division games puts the Jets in too deep of a hole to get out of. They go 5-11 for the second straight season, failing to contend for the playoffs or for the top pick.
Final prediction: 7-9