What are realistic expectations for the 2021 New York Jets?

new york jets, zach wilson

The New York Jets undoubtedly became a better team over the past eight months. But are they a playoff team? ESM’s experts discuss.

The 2020 New York Jets left the franchise’s immediate and long-term future in a rare state of optimistically macabre: after the Jets sunk to the depths of the football underworld…plummeting to dubious valleys that even the cursed Rich Kotite era managed to avoid…any move the team made in the offseason could’ve been seen as an improvement.

With both the Stanley Cup and Larry O’Brien Trophy…not to mention every medal at the Olympic Games in Tokyo…earned and bestowed, it’s officially socially acceptable to start forecasting the 2021 NFL season. The metropolitan arrivals of so many elite new faces, of both the rookie (Zach Wilson, Alijah Vera-Tucker, Elijah Moore) and veteran (Carl Lawson, Corey Davis) variety have gotten fans excited, as has the hiring of head coach Robert Saleh.

But the ultimate question lingers: after a two-win season and now ensnared in the NFL’s longest active playoff, just how much improvement will the Jets show in the one place it matters…the standings, namely the win column?

ESM’s Jets experts ponder this quandary as the preseason opener against the New York Giants looms on Saturday (7:30 p.m. ET, WNBC)…

Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Geoff Magliocchetti

To take a page out of another New York sports decisionmaker Brian Cashman, let’s view Joe Douglas’ New York Jets from the perspective of the Death Star.

Ignoring the fact that the Star Wars-based superweapon is destroyed in each of its incarnations, Douglas does have a Death Star at his disposal. But it’s not the behemoth seen in A New Hope (and, by extension, Rogue One), nor is it the partially constructed but “fully armed and operational battle station” from Return of the Jedi. Rather, the Jets’ Death Star resembles the infantile version Vader and Palpatine look over at the end of Revenge of the Sith.

The Jets began this offseason with the hiring of head coach Saleh. In contrast to the Adam Gase hire, a transaction praised exclusively by modern hot take artists, the Saleh move was lauded by on-field participants both domestically and abroad. New York was and is by no means a football destination yet…one needs to establish a victorious on-field prescience before they become that…but the Jets were able to attract several names with championship experience, winners that were attracted to what Saleh was trying to build.

Douglas and Co. could’ve stood pat on the pass rush, a rare 2020 silver lining after the breakouts of Quinnen Williams, Foley Fatukasi, and John Franklin-Myers. They instead bolstered the unit by bringing in rising pressure artist Lawson and NFC postseason staples Sheldon Rankins and Vinny Curry. Elsewhere on defense, they prepared for Saleh’s reimplementation of the 4-3 with the arrival of linebacker Jarrad Davis, whose finest defensive days came in Florida and Detroit’s similar formations.

On offense, newly minted quarterback Zach Wilson’s arsenal appears to contain more firepower than anything Sam Darnold had to work with. Two-time Super Bowl participant Tevin Coleman is ready to work with potential day three draft gem Michael Carter in the backfield, while the upgraded aerial attack features Davis and Moore uniting with returnees Jamison Crowder and Denzel Mims. Mekhi Becton returns on the line with Alijah Vera-Tucker on Wilson’s blindside.

Yet…the playoffs remain a pipe dream.

The AFC East already appears to be under the control of a new potential dynasty in Western New York, so capturing the quartet for the first time since 2002 appears to be out of the question. The North could well send three teams to the postseason, while the West’s mighty Kansas City Chiefs show no signs of slowing down, even with the Los Angeles Chargers rising fast with Justin Herbert. Even with an extra playoff spot, it’s asking a lot for the Jets to establish themselves in the crowded conference.

Even if the AFC wasn’t packed to the brim with contenders, the Jets aren’t fully completed just yet. There were so many holes so fill, so much damage to repair from the Gase era that it was a guarantee that some area of the roster was going to be neglected. One look at the current depth chart shows that the secondary got the raw deal, as inexperienced options like Bless Austin, Ashtyn Davis, and Bryce Hall are set to assume primary roles. On offense, there are plenty of players that can become major contributors (Carter, Moore, Davis), but they lack the experience in the primetime situations they’ve been called upon.

Until Saleh’s group proves otherwise on the field, their dire straits are more indicative of just how poorly the Gase era went. Gase might be gone, but the dark spirits of his tenure will linger over the Jets’ facilities until the fruits of Saleh’s process appear in the win column. A good season in 2021 would be to at least double the two-win tally from last season and perhaps earn an upset win over an elite opponent, a similar process to what the Chargers went through last year with Herbert.

Record Prediction: 6-11

new york jets, zach wilson
Mandatory Credit: New York Jets/Handout Photo via USA TODAY Sports

Brendan Carpenter

The New York Jets have a lot of hype leading into the season and for good reason: rookies Wilson and Moore highlight a revamped offense. Lawson adds a much-needed pass rush to a defense that needs it with unproven corners.

The Jets, however, are not a playoff team just yet. Aside from their own play, they find themselves in an increasingly brutal AFC East. Each team is improving, but, at the moment, Gang Green finds themselves behind Buffalo and, most likely, either New England or Miami…maybe even both.

Yes, the future is bright and fans should be excited. All of the excitement should be taken with a grain of salt, though. There need to be reasonable expectations for this season. So, realistically, look for this team to win about 6 games of the newly-implemented 17 game schedule.

Record Prediction: 6-11

carl lawson, new york jets
(Photo: Getty)

Dylan Price

As the Jets head into a season filled with promise, I want to make one thing clear before I begin: I do NOT expect the New York Jets to make the playoffs.

I expect the team to take a significant step up and approach the 7-9 win territory. With that said, I foresee hiccups along the way: Wilson will likely experience significant growing pains early as he leaves Brigham Young University and acclimates to the bright lights of Broadway. I firmly expect struggles from both sides of the ball early as they look to establish a new identity under a new coaching staff. Lastly, I have a bad feeling about the secondary, but guys like Hall and Michael Carter II will likely get better as the season progresses.

On a lighter note, I foresee a strong debut in green and white for Lawson, Rankins, and Davis. Lawson is a legitimate threat to finish in the top ten in sacks, while Rankins and Davis will likely be impact contributors if they can stay healthy. Finally, look for rookies, Michael Carter (the running back) and Alijah Vera-Tucker to make names for themselves early, although the story will be Moore, the budding star receiver.

Record Prediction: 7-10

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags 

NASCAR Cup Series Preview 2021: Front Row Motorsports

Veteran endeavors and rookie debuts will lead the way from Front Row Motorsports’ 2021 NASCAR proceedings.

2021 Front Row Motorsports Driver Chart
Driver Car No. Crew Chief Primary Sponsor(s)
Michael McDowell 34 Drew Blickensderfer Love’s Travel Stops
David Ragan (part-time) 36 Derrick Finley Select Blinds
Anthony Alfredo (R) 38 Seth Barbour DUDE Wipes/MDS Trucking

History

Despite relatively conservative settings, Front Row has been one of the Cup Series’ modern staples, regularly fielding cars since 2009 after first arriving five years earlier. The late John Andretti was the first full-time driver of the car, with names like David Gilliland, Josh Wise, and Brett Moffitt all assuming the titles in years since. Renowned part-time names include Terry Labonte, Jeff Green, and Joe Nemechek.

Front Row earned the ultimate triumph in the spring of 2013, when Gilliland pushed David Ragan to a victory at Talladega, allowing FRM to sweep the top two sports. Three years later, the team made a brief appearance in the NASCAR playoffs, earning a spot when Chris Buescher won a rain-shortened summer race at Pocono.

2020 in Review

2020 was a breakout year of sorts for FRM, as the team earned a personal-best seven top ten finishes between Michael McDowell and Rookie of the Year contender John Hunter Nemechek, their best being the former’s seventh-place posting at Indianapolis. Nemechek had respectable efforts but he left at the end of the year to take over one of Kyle Busch’s Tundras in the Camping World Truck Series.

“Last year, we feel like we made a pretty big gain just from overall competitiveness and speed in our race cars,” said McDowell, whose 23rd-place finish in the standings was FRM’s best posting since Buescher reached the playoffs. “I feel like we have the potential to be more competitive this year than we even were last year, but you just never know until you get to the racetrack.”

Meet the Drivers

Michael McDowell

Experience: 13th full season
Career Cup Victories: 0
2020 finish: 23rd
Best standings finish: 23rd (2020)

It’s a shame that McDowell’s season was mostly remembered for his get-together with Bubba Wallace at the All-Star Open event at Bristol in July. Having worked with low-budget teams for most of his career, McDowell put up the best numbers of his Cup Series career, earning a career-best four top-ten finishes, each of them coming away from superspeedways. Prior to that, McDowell had one such result, coming at Homestead in the 2016 finale. This season will be his fourth in the No. 34 Ford.

“It’s a lot of fun because on those good days where you sneak out a top 10 or a top five you really feel like you’ve accomplished something,” McDowell said of competing with a mid-budget team. “Then you obviously have those ups-and-downs, on those days where you run twenty-something you can kind of brush it off and get ready for the next week. But just seeing the steady progression for us is what I think is the motivator. Last year, you always have high expectations, but when you actually go out there and perform we started to feel like, ‘Hey, we can do this. We can run 15th every week and we can beat two or three of these big teams and do it on a weekly basis.’ So that was a lot of fun and very rewarding and hopefully, we can keep that going into 2021 as well.”

Even McDowell’s crash with Wallace at the Open led to some good in the end. The pair auctioned off the bumper from Wallace’s downed No. 43 for the non-denominational Motor Racing Outreach, a religious organization that provides service and worship opportunities for drivers on the NASCAR circuit. Such an endeavor raised over $20,000.

David Ragan (part-time)

Experience: 16th season
Career Cup Victories: 2 (Last: Talladega, spring 2013)
2020 finish: N/A
Best standings finish: 13th (2008)

Ragan will once again briefly end his retirement to run the Daytona 500, doing so last year in a collaborative effort between FRM and Rick Ware Racing. Daytona is the site of Ragan’s other Cup Series victory, which came in July 2011 in Jack Roush’s No. 6 Ford. Ragan finished fourth in last season’s 500, his first top five since subbing for an injured Kyle Busch in 2015.

Anthony Alfredo (Rookie)

Experience: 1st season (No prior Cup Series starts)
Career Cup Victories: N/A
2020 finish: N/A
Best standings finish: N/A

Alfredo already has a lot to prove, even before he makes his first Cup Series start. Choosing the Connecticut native to take over for Nemechek in the No. 38 was a surprising decision considering he hasn’t run a full Xfinity Series season yet. He has some short track success to his name, finishing in the runner-up slot in the CARS Late Model Tour with Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s team.

“It’s a huge step for myself and my career and to be competing against childhood heroes of mine, guys who have been racing not only in their career but in this series since before I was born or maybe one years old. I think guys like (Ryan) Newman have been in the series since I was one or two, so there are a lot of veterans out there and I know that they have a tremendous amount of experience in general in racing, let alone just this level, so I’m looking forward to learning from them.”

“It’s going to be a challenge to compete with them on a regular basis, but that’s what probably has me most psyched about this year.”

Alfredo did show some strong potential while sharing Richard Childress Racing’s Xfinity ride with Myatt Snider and Kaz Grala. He earned top tens in five of his first nine starts (including a fourth at Homestead) and closed his tenure out with a third-place showing at Texas. The No. 38 will be one of two Rookie of the Year contenders on the Cup Series level, squaring off against Chase Briscoe and Stewart-Haas Racing’s No. 14 Ford.

Outlook

Contending at non-superspeedway events might be a tad too much to ask for from FRM’s perspective, but putting a car in the top 20 in the standings is a realistic goal.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags