It is hard to believe, I know, but the New York Jets have reason to be optimistic, after defeating the Cleveland Browns 31-10 in Week 1 to start the season with a 1-0 record.
You can make the argument that the Browns are terrible – which they are – but just hear me out. There are a lot of positives to take away from this game going forward.
With Ryan Fitzpatrick starting at quarterback, things were far from perfect last Sunday. Fitzpatrick began the game relatively slow before finding receiver Eric Decker in the end zone just before halftime. His final line, 15-24 with 179 yards, two touchdowns and an interception, was not ideal. It was, however, enough to get the job done. Aside from one interception, he did not put the Jets in any awful situations throughout the game.
New York was able to dominate its first win with defense and its running game, a staple of the Jets mentally that first-year head coach Todd Bowles is looking to build. Chris Ivory led the rushing attack, receiving 20 carries and running for 91 yards and two touchdowns.
The Jets defense also forced a ridiculous five turnovers in the game. I am not saying that type of production can happen every week, but defense and running the ball can be a formula for wins in the AFC East, especially without an elite quarterback.
If Fitzpatrick takes care of the ball and the Jets win the turnover battle they will have a chance to win games, and that is all you can ask for in the NFL.
New York is also fortunate enough to have a relatively favorable schedule this year. The Jets nonconference matchups are against the NFC East and the AFC South, both divisions contain very winnable games. Games against the Texans, Titans, Jaguars, Redskins and Giants from those divisions all provide matchups that appear favorable. If the Jets can take advantage of that fact, they can set themselves up nicely to challenge for a wild card spot.
The tougher task will be games in the AFC East. Every team in the division has started off 1-0 and has belief that this is their year to make a run at the playoffs. The Buffalo Bills, led by former Jets coach Rex Ryan, as well as the Miami Dolphins have both reloaded this year, and there does not seem to be an easy game in the division. And, of course, the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots have not gone anywhere.
Having a winning record in the division will certainly be a challenge, but a 3-3 division record will most likely not be enough to make the playoffs. The Jets are going to have to find a way to protect their home field and steal a game on the road in the division this season.
New wide receiver Brandon Marshall had a solid debut, catching six passes for 62 yards and a touchdown. For the Jets to be contenders this year they are going to rely heavily on Marshall as their true number one receiver. It has been a long time since the Jets had a dominant receiver that can win one-on-one matchups consistently.
It will be imperative for Marshall and whoever is playing quarterback to develop chemistry as the year goes on. Marshall has a history of becoming frustrated with quarterbacks when he is not producing. New York will have to avoid that situation altogether by looking to Marshall early and often.
The biggest question mark will be the quarterback position this season. So far, Fitzpatrick has been serviceable as a replacement but he clearly has his limitations when it comes to throwing the ball down the field. It is no guarantee that Geno Smith will become the starter again when he returns from injury, and rightfully so. He certainly gives the Jets no reason for undying loyalty.
Although Smith does have the better arm to utilize New York’s downfield weapons, he has been careless with the ball for most of his career, as he has more turnovers than touchdowns in his career. And everyone knows turnovers cost games in the NFL.
The Jets have one of the oldest teams in the NFL, so their window to win is right now. If they can achieve stability at quarterback this season, they will have a chance to make a run at the playoffs.