The story of the New York Jets' season has been well known up to this point. After a season in which they saw young players such as defensive tackle Quinnen Williams, cornerback Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner, wide receiver Garrett Wilson, and running back Breece Hall establish themselves as significant long term pieces, they went all in by acquiring future Hall of Fame quarterback Aaron Rodgers. With quarterback being the team’s most glaring offseason need, many believed this move would not only help the Jets break their 12 year playoff drought, but catapult them into contention.
Unfortunately, Rodgers only saw four snaps in their season opener before suffering a torn ACL injury. The Jets therefore had to trot out their former first round pick Zach Wilson who wasn't far removed from being relentlessly booed the previous season. To the team's credit, they managed to win that game as well as three other contests, but now their season is slowly sinking.
With the team having eight games to make a playoff push, one must wonder how much a healthy Rodgers would change.
One thing that's for sure is he would change the team's production on offense. Even without Rodgers, the Jets have still managed to be competitive thanks to their defense which is loaded with contributors at almost every position. They also neutralized high-powered offenses like the Chiefs, Bills, and Eagles which is why they are still in position to make a run toward the playoffs.
The offense has unfortunately been another story. So far, the Jets' offense has scored eight touchdowns despite playing in nine games. Their most recent touchdowns occurred in week six when the Eagles let Breece Hall score in the final minute, and following their bye week against the Giants where Hall turned a two yard checkdown pass into a 50 yard score.
This unit was supposed to take a huge step with Rodgers, and the Jets built their entire playbook, roster, and coaching staff around him. But because of his injury, the team has changed their entire approach on offense to benefit Zach. Even with Hall in the backfield, defenses are keying in on the run and their passing game has not done enough to keep opponents honest.
It's reasonable to think the Jets would be a much more balanced unit on offense with Aaron Rodgers. His presence alone would give more opportunities for Hall to make big runs and then if defenses are playing the run, Rodgers would have plenty of chances to connect with Garrett Wilson.
More importantly, their record would look a lot different with Rodgers. The Jets' defense has held opponents to less than 20 points a game, and it's hard to believe a Rodgers-led offense would not be capable of averaging more than 20 points. He may be 40 in a few weeks but Rodgers is the type of player who can elevate others around him. A healthy Rodgers likely would have guided them to wins in all of their one score losses against the Patriots, Raiders, and Chiefs - although that game was the team's best offensive performance. Instead they've had to ponder the what-ifs.
But when a team's starting quarterback goes down, it will likely reveal many flaws and this has been the case with the Jets. As mentioned, they have only scored eight offensive touchdowns this season and while this number would look a lot better with Rodgers, that's not excusing some of their self-inflicted wounds.
The Jets' offense often struggles in situations that most teams capitalize in. Their red zone and third down offense particularly ranks dead last in both categories. Most of this is a combination of bad play calling, poor execution, and a lack of discipline. The penalties have especially been a problem as the last two games have seen the Jets rack up 12 offensive penalties, which includes a holding call that negated a Breece Hall touchdown from last week. That comes down to offensive coordinator Nathanial Hackett. He was signed because of his work with Rodgers in Green Bay, but has struggled without him before as seen in Denver and it's happening again.
From a personnel standpoint, there is also a lot to be desired. They have not done a good job with their plans at backup quarterback. Zach Wilson needed this season to watch from the sidelines and while he's had a few decent games, signing a more experienced backup like Teddy Bridgewater would have been a better option. They look scared to put Wilson in positions to make big plays when they have a small lead, such as the Raider game where they didn't throw downfield until they were trailing.
Other issues include going into the season with a 38 year old Duane Brown at left tackle. He started only two games before a hip injury landed him on injured reserve. Allen Lazard - a signing meant to bring in Rodgers - has struggled to compliment Garrett Wilson with bad penalties and dropped passes.
While I believe Rodgers will certainly make a difference once healthy, the Jets can't simply run it back in 2024 regardless of what happens this season. They must address their weak links regarding tackle and receiver, along with having a better backup plan in case Rodgers suffers another injury.
There is some hope Rodgers will come back during the season. He claims to have made significant progress during his rehab and expressed confidence in a return during mid-December or even earlier. The question is whether it will be worth it depending on the Jets' playoff chances at that point. If things don't change in the coming weeks, Rodgers might be better off waiting until next year.
Halfway into the NFL season, there have already been plenty of ups, downs, and surprises. Just ask me how eventful this year has been as a Jets fan. Yet among the headlines that emerged through the first eight weeks, I paid close attention to some of the predictions I previously made for both the AFC and NFC. While the jury is still out for these predictions, that doesn't mean they aren't worth assessing at the season's midpoint. Here are my grades for the preseason predictions I made back in August.
1. Justin Herbert Will Win MVP: B
Herbert's enjoying another strong season so far. In his fourth year with the Los Angeles Chargers, he's thrown for 1,800 along with 13 touchdowns, while only turning the ball over four times. His ability to make perfectly accurate throws while also providing off-script plays has been on display multiple times, like in this sequence against the Tennessee Titans.
Unfortunately wins are a factor in the MVP race, and some of Herbert's performances like the one against Tennessee, came in a losing effort. The Chargers are currently 3-4 and it also hasn't helped that a fractured finger has somewhat hindered a few of Herbert's most recent outings. He did rebound with a three touchdown outing on Sunday Night against the Bears. To get in the MVP race, he'll need to have similar performances.
2. The Jaguars Will Make The AFC Championship Game: A-
After a 1-2 start, the Jacksonville Jaguars have picked up from where they left off last year winning their last five games. The most impressive part about their winning streak, is that Trevor Lawrence is even not the main reason why.
Lawrence's numbers are still solid this year, but it's the strong running of Travis Etienne and a slowly emerging defense that are the catalysts for Jacksonville's 6-2 record. Etienne is currently third in rushing with 583 rushing yards, and has also shown improvement as a receiver where he's only 50 yards from exceeding last year's total of 316 receiving yards.
Their defense has been able to repeat last year's formula of generating takeaways as they lead the league in that category. Darius Williams and Andre Cisco each have three interceptions and Josh Allen (the defensive end) already has nine sacks. These players have played a key role in holding opponents to under 20 points a game.
3. Sauce Gardner Will Win Defensive Player of the Year: D
This grade has nothing to do with Gardner's performance so far. The reigning Defensive Rookie of the Year is proving that his rookie season was no fluke. As of now, Gardner has allowed just 19 catches for 155 yards. He's a big reason why the Jets' defense has kept the team in the playoff hunt despite losing Aaron Rodgers to a torn ACL on their opening offensive possession.
The reason why I'm giving this prediction a D is because interceptions are a big factor in cornerbacks winning Defensive Player of the Year. Gardner has only been thrown at just 25 times. Having played six games that's on pace for 66 times this season. While Gardner has still had some opportunities such as a potential pick six that he dropped against Dallas in week two, it's impossible for anyone to record multiple picks if they're hardly targeted.
1. Micah Parsons Will Finish With 20 Sacks: C+
Make no mistake, Micah Parsons is still having another great season. He's often in the backfield every game and if Parsons isn't making plays, chances are he's creating opportunities for other players. He won Defensive Player of the Month for September, and his play has only continued to be praised from other players such as future hall of famer Aaron Donald. "I've watched him play fast," Donald said. "He does a good job of just playing relentlessly, playing fast, and always finding a way to be around the ball."
Parsons has also registered six sacks in seven games which is really good by all means.
But with the regular season being halfway over, Parsons still has a lot of work to do in order to finish with 20 sacks. It's not impossible, given Parsons is such a dominant force but he'll need to have either a full sack in almost every game, or a few outings with multiple sacks.
2. The Lions Will Break Their Winless Playoff Streak: A
This is looking like my most realistic prediction so far. All that hype surrounding the Detroit Lions before this year has come to fruition through the first eight weeks. Their 6-2 start is the best since 2011 and while that team had Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson, this team is much better.
Like the 2011 team, they also boost a potent QB-WR duo in Jared Goff and Amon-Ra St. Brown, but this year's team has a much better run game led by David Montgomery and Jahmyr Gibbs. Their defense is also a lot better thanks to Aiden Hutchson's strong sophomore campaign and an improved secondary that's allowed far less passing yards compared to last year.
What's particularly impressive, is the Lions are no longer a dark horse to make the playoffs and they're still finding ways to win. This postgame speech from head coach Dan Campbell after upsetting the defending champion Chiefs on opening night should tell you everything you need to know about where this team's confidence level is at.
3. Justin Fields Will Throw Over 4,000 Yards
With the Bears investing a lot into building around Justin Fields heading into 2023, expectations were high for Fields to solidify himself as the Chicago Bears' franchise quarterback. But this year has been a rough one for the most part.
Fields hasn't done much to prove his case. He tends to stare down receivers even if they aren't open which causes his progressions to take longer. Even when Fields does see an open man downfield, he's sometimes hesitant to throw to them.
Although Fields' last two full games did show improvement, that was halted by an injury early in their week six loss against the Vikings. At 1,201 yards through six games, Fields needs a number of 300 plus yard outings to exceed 4,000 yards and many more winning performances to prove he can still be the quarterback of the future.