When Tom Brady decided to leave the New England Patriots earlier this year to join the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the NFL universe suddenly came to a brief, grinding halt in mere astonishment and wonder. Ending the greatest tenure we’ve ever seen in NFL history, Brady’s departure completely transformed the playing field into something else entirely. Hopping across conferences to join the division that has been dominated by Drew Brees’s Saints for the past three seasons, Brady’s new chapter in the NFC South has also reshaped the very division he left behind (ESPN).
The AFC East has been under Brady’s thumb for well over a decade. And for the first time since 2008, is finally up for grabs (ESPN). After marking their legacy in the history books as one of the greatest franchises of all time, the Patriots have officially begun their very own, inevitable, post-Brady rebuilding process that simply won’t be solved this season, even with Bill Belichick still as their head coach. This is something the New York Jets have been waiting to capitalize on for quite some time, particularly since they are well underway with their very own rebuild ever since Sam Darnold was drafted two years ago (ESPN). And coming off an impressive turnaround last season led by a defense that was second in the league at stopping the run, the Jets have the talent to be a playoff team this year and potentially contest its divisional rivals for a chance at taking 1st place in the AFC East (ESPN).
However, there remain to be a handful of large challenges the Jets will need to overcome if they want to achieve any of these attainable goals set in front of them this season. And it all starts with their greatest concern and priority: the consistency and reliability of their offense. At the forefront of this precedence, lies third-year quarterback Sam Darnold, who has shown signs of growth but has struggled to establish consistency in his first two seasons, making 2020 a big next step for him. The good news is that the Jets really prioritized their offense during the draft and over the offseason to help their young quarterback. Signing George Fant, a tackle from the Seattle Seahawks and then Connor McGovern, a center from the Denver Broncos, the Jets also signed another offensive lineman in Greg Van Roten from the Carolina Panthers and drafted tackles Mekhi Becton from Louisville as well as Cameron Clark from Charlotte (ESPN). Moreover, the Jets also bolstered their wide receiver unit after losing both Robby Anderson and Demaryius Thomas to free agency (ESPN). Not only did the Jets acquire Breshad Perriman from Tampa Bay and Josh Doctson from Minnesota, but they also drafted Baylor standout Denzel Mims in the second round (ESPN).
This was certainly a must-needed step for the Jets and their offense. But the essence of their challenge, lies in the fact that there is so many new pieces to put together over the course of one year. The skill, talent and upside is all there; but chemistry development just takes time, particularly between wide receivers and a young quarterback. And to see such a brand-new offense come together and produce an attack that can provide their defense with an average of 22-23 points per game, remains to be a daunting feat for this Jets offense. Don’t forget, the Jets averaged only 17.3 points per game last season, second worst in the NFL (ESPN). A lot has surely changed since then, but progress has been slow for this Jets offense and this season will be their biggest test yet.
Although their offensive consistency still remains to be their greatest challenge, the Jets are still a part of a talented AFC East Division and overall, a star-packed AFC Conference. As of right now, the favorite to take 1st place in the division is the Buffalo Bills. Led by their young, breakout quarterback in Josh Allen along with a fearsome defense that was Top 3 in the league, the Bills went 10-6 and clinched a playoff berth last season (ESPN). And after bringing in Stefon Diggs over free agency, an already dangerous Bills passing offense just got that much better. Essentially, the Bills will be the toughest rival the Jets will need to overthrow to win the division, and doing so, will take more than just a season sweep. In addition, the Jet’s shouldn’t sleep on Miami either. After drafting Tua Tagovailoa and 10 other top draft picks (plus boosting their defense with former Patriots linebacker Kyle Van Noy and former Dallas Cowboys cornerback Byron Jones), Miami is certainly in a position to have a big turnaround season (ESPN). Although a lot has to go right for the Dolphins to contest the Jets for a playoff berth, Miami is another team that has added just a ton of bright talent to their roster that will position them as a feisty rival to overcome this year.
That being said, the greater concern lies around who the Jets will have to compete with outside of their division. With Buffalo, Baltimore, Houston and Kansas City favored to capture their respective divisional titles, this leaves only three other wild card slots up for grabs with the new NFL rule in place this season. That means the Jets will have to go up against teams like the Tennessee Titans, the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Indianapolis Colts, the Denver Broncos, the Las Vegas Raiders and potentially the Cleveland Browns. Not only is that a total of seven teams contending for only three slots, but all of these teams the Jets will have to go up against, contain plenty of talent offensively and defensively. With the wild card being so competitive, the Jets may have to push for a divisional title now more than ever, which is simply not an easy task. Although Brady is not in the AFC anymore, there’s still a ton of great teams the Jets have to outplay for them to make the playoffs this year. And for that to happen, a lot of pieces need to fall in place, which remains to be a big challenge for the Jets this season.
Lastly, the Jets were not blessed with any easy schedule this year. Starting off their first four weeks of the season with games against Buffalo, San Francisco, Indianapolis and Denver, the Jets will have to come out of the gates hot and ready (ESPN). They then verse Arizona, Buffalo again, and then Kansas City in Arrowhead before their bye come week 11, arguably their hardest stretch of games this season (ESPN). To cap off their schedule, the Jets will also face a scrappy Las Vegas team, Seattle, and then the LA Rams. For every single one of these matches, the Jets will need to bring near flawless performances to come out of them victorious, and that’s a hefty expectation to fulfill. Of course, the season hasn’t started yet, so it’s impossible to gage where all of these teams will be with their respective records when the Jets come to town. But the catch here for the Jets, is that they are coming off a solid 7-9 finish last year, and as a franchise, you want to build off of that progress. In other words, the Jets are in the vital stage of their rebuild where they need to push their franchise into the next phase of their development, and that starts with at least pulling out eight wins this year. Anything lower, is yet another setback the Jets can’t afford.
Whether the Jets will be able to overcome all of these big challenges this season, remains to be uncertain. Even after making the necessary changes for their roster, the Jets have to put that all together in a conference that’s packed with talent and with a schedule that is by no means a walk in the park. As a result, the Jets will have to make every, single game count if they want to reach the playoffs this season, something they struggled to do last year. Although they have the means to do so, the margin for error is far too slim for the Jets to come away with ten wins on the year; even securing nine would be fortunate. It’s important to understand that the Jets are getting closer to where they want to be as a franchise. But it may take another year for everything to come together. And consequently, clinching a playoff berth this season, seems just out of reach for the New York Jets.