So guess it’s time to talk about the New York Jets.
Everyone else is, so why not us?
Covered by the media ad nauseam, they’ve already been featured on HBO’s “Hard Knocks” and you’ll be seeing plenty more of them on your TV with five prime-time games (not including the Black Friday turkey hangover prime – or is that Amazon Prime – couch-invite time slot).
Not bad for a team that collapsed down the stretch last season by losing its final six games, failed to score a touchdown on its final 32 offensive drives – the longest such stretch by any team last season – and owns the longest active playoff drought in the NFL.
Of course, if they actually had a serviceable quarterback on their roster, they likely would’ve reached the postseason for the first time since 2010. (Sorry, Mike White, Joe Flacco and Zach Wilson, but your QB ratings of 75.7, 75.2 and 72.8 ranked 34th, 35th and 36th of the 36 quarterbacks with a minimum of 175 pass attempts last season, make Jets fans wonder what could’ve been.)
Enter, Aaron Rodgers.
Rodgers comes to New York with four league MVP trophies, 475 passing touchdowns (196 more than the entire Jets franchise since he took over the reins in Green Bay in 2008) and a slew of one-liners, as seen on “Hard Knocks.”
He also reunites with offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett, whom he won a pair of MVPs with in Green Bay, and a couple of former wide receivers with the Packers – Allen Lazard and Randall Cobb.
Despite the major upgrade at quarterback, our NFL projection model isn’t in love with the Jets as much as the rest of the mainstream media.
Our model predicts the Jets to finish with 8.2 wins and in second place in the AFC East, and we’re giving them a 37.1% chance of making the playoffs and a 2.5% chance of reaching the Super Bowl.
It’s much higher on that other team that will be taking the field at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, on the first Monday Night Football game of 2023 on ESPN. It’s also easily the top-rated game of the week in terms of excitement level, according to SmartRatings. With an 85 rating, it’s the only game that fall in the “great game” category.
The model gives the Buffalo Bills the third-best odds of winning it all in 2023 at 14.3%, behind only the two teams that played for last year’s Lombardi Trophy – the Philadelphia Eagles (19.3%) and the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs (14.7%).
The projections are pegging Josh Allen and the Bills with 11.4 wins and giving them a 73.9% chance of winning a fourth straight AFC East title – the highest probability of any team to win its division. (The Jets have a 13.3% chance of winning the East).
Buffalo is heavily favored to return to the playoffs – its 88.7% chance of playing in the postseason is the highest in the AFC – but Allen struggled and the Bills lost in their last trip to Meadowlands as an 11.5-point favorite.
Allen threw a pair of interceptions, was sacked five times and compiled a 46.8 passer rating in Buffalo’s 20-17 loss in NFL Week 9 last season. (The Bills managed to rebound from that defeat, only losing once more in the regular season, while the Jets only won once more after that victory.)
Can Rodgers and the new-look Jets pull off another upset of the Bills to kick off the 2023 season?
While the TV broadcast will put much of its focus on the two star quarterbacks – and with good reason – we’re going to take a look at the players lining up behind Rodgers in New York’s backfield. The Jets have one of the more intriguing running back tandems in the league in Breece Hall and Dalvin Cook.
Cook has rushed for 1,000 yards each of the last four seasons as a member of the Minnesota Vikings while being named to the Pro Bowl each year. Hall, meanwhile, was on his way to a 1,000-yard rushing season and was a frontrunner to win AP Offensive Rookie of the Year before tearing a knee ligament in Week 7.
The Jets never were able to recover after the explosive Hall got hurt last season, going 2-8 after he tore his ACL following a 5-2 start.
Not surprisingly, with Hall in the lineup, New York was much more productive.
Quite the drop off in production.
The defense stepped up after the injury, allowing an average of 17.9 points and 308.5 total yards in the final 10 games after yielding 19.6 points and 314.7 total yards in the first seven, but the offense couldn’t overcome the loss of Hall.
Hall is healthy and so is Cook after he had offseason shoulder surgery, but it’s a giant mystery as far as what kind of impact the duo will have considering they didn’t begin practicing until late August and didn’t appear in a single preseason game.
They are both expected to play in the opener and the plan is for Hall to be the team’s predominant back, but Cook may play a larger role in the offense in the season’s early going as Hall works his way back. No. 3 running back Michael Carter will likely also see some time in the backfield as Hall and Cook get up to speed.
Getting the running game going obviously helps take some of the pressure off Rodgers, but the 10-time Pro Bowler also relies on his running backs catching passes out of the backfield to move the chains.
Running back Aaron Jones was second on the Packers in targets in each of the last four seasons, so Rodgers needs to be able to trust the hands of the backs lining up behind him.
Play action has also been a friend to Rodgers, with the future Hall of Famer compiling a well-thrown percentage of 87.0 on his 69 pass attempts out of play action – the third-highest rating among the 32 QBs with at least 30 such passes last season.
New York’s new-look backfield gets its first opportunity to show what it can do against a Buffalo defense that was stout against the run last season.
Except when it wasn’t.
The Bills had the highest rate of tackling ball carriers behind the line of scrimmage on running plays last season, stuffing 12.4% of all running plays.
Highest Percent of Tackles of Rushers for Negative Yards – 2022
- Buffalo Bills (12.4%)
- Tennessee Titans (10.8%)
- Arizona Cardinals (10.3%)
- Indianapolis Colts (10.2%)
- Houston Texans (10.1%)
Despite being the best at stuffing opposing running backs, they also were one of the NFL’s worst teams at allowing a running back to peel off a big play, with 14.0% of all opponent runs going for 10+ yards – the fourth-worst rate in the league.
So while the defense was susceptible to being gashed for a big run, it also was capable of bottling up a back before he even got back to the line of scrimmage.
It was a similar case last season for Hall, who was also boom or bust.
Hall was stuffed on 11.3% of his 80 attempts last season – the seventh-worst rate among the 38 running backs with a minimum of 60 carries through Week 7 last season – while his big-play rate of 18.5 ranked ninth.
Despite being burned for big runs, Buffalo’s defense still graded out high in defensive EVE against the run last season.
Defensive EVE Leaders Against the Run – 2022
- Tennessee Titans (-1.079)
- San Francisco 49ers (-1.045)
- Baltimore Ravens (-0.518)
- Jacksonville Jaguars (-0.287)
- New England Patriots (-0.278)
- Buffalo Bills (-0.254)
While the Jets begin the season with their run game as a work in progress, the Bills also open the year with their defense not at full strength.
Von Miller begins the season on the PUP list, as the former Denver Broncos and Los Angeles Rams star continues to work his way back from a torn ACL suffered in Week 12 of the 2022 season.
Buffalo’s run defense slipped a bit without Miller, but its pressure rate suffered the most, falling from 42.1 (eighth best through Week 12) to 36.0 (21st from Weeks 13-18), which is understandable seeing as Miller’s pressure rate of 20.8 was the highest among Buffalo edge-rushers last season.
Leonard Floyd will take the place of Miller to play opposite Greg Rousseau, while Ed Oliver and DaQuan Jones man the defensive front.
Both Oliver and Jones are strong against the run, but Hall and Cook would seem to be better off not running in the direction of Oliver if possible.
Oliver won 62.7% of his matchups while being blocked 1-on-1 on run plays last season, and also compiled a run disruption rate of 24.4 to rank 18th out of 62 defensive tackles with at least 125 plays against the run.
In 2022, the average run-disruption rate among interior defensive linemen was 19.4, and the average for winning 1-on-1 blocks was 49.0.
Jones also graded slightly above average in both metrics, registering a run-disruption rate of 21.6, while winning 50.8% of his 1-on-1 blocks on run plays.
While Buffalo’s primary objective will be keeping Rodgers in check in his first game as a Jet, New York’s unpredictable ground game could go a long way in determining the outcome in the final game of the opening weekend.