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.
Every football season is guaranteed to have a few unexpected events that occur for various reasons. While fans often make predictions before the season, there are plenty of developments waiting to happen. Some storylines such as Geno Smith's resurgent season, will last the entire year, while others such as the Jacksonville Jaguars' late run into the playoffs, might last around a month. With five weeks remaining before the season, it's only appropriate to make a few hot takes going into this season.
Note: This article is part of a doubleheader that will also include NFC predictions.
1. Justin Herbert Will Win MVP
In just three years with the Los Angeles Chargers, Justin Herbert has already cemented himself as a franchise quarterback. He set numerous rookie records and since then, he has thrown the fourth most touchdowns among active players since 2020. Last year saw Herbert guide the Chargers to their first playoff appearance thanks to a late surge at the end of the season. Although the season ended in a shocking collapse to the Jaguars, big things are on the horizon for Herbert.
I think he's not getting enough attention as a possible MVP candidate going into next season. Granted it's hard to earn recognition with Patrick Mahomes in the division, but there's a good chance Herbert will win the award. The first reason is that while Herbert might be a top 10 quarterback, he still has plenty of potential. It's worth mentioning he's only 25 years old, and likely has plenty of spectacular years ahead. Herbert will also not have to worry about playing for a new contract, as the Chargers extended him for five years and $260 million.
In addition, Herbert, along with his supporting cast will be a lot more healthy going into next season. Herbert played every game but some of those were with fractured rib cartilage. It also didn't help that besides Austin Ekeler, Herbert dealt with injuries to most of his receivers as well as the offensive line for much of the year. This season, the offense should be healthier and a little younger with the selection of receiver Quinton Johnston.
2. The Jaguars Will Make The AFC Championship Game
After winning a combined four games in the previous two years, the Jacksonville Jaguars are now way ahead of their rebuild following a stunning division title, and a thrilling comeback win in the wild card round. The centerpiece of their success is Trevor Lawrence who took a significant step in becoming the franchise quarterback the Jaguars envisioned him to be. Lawrence threw for over 4,000 yards and 25 touchdowns, while leading the Jaguars to a five game win streak en route to their first playoff berth since 2017.
However, Lawrence isn't doing it all by himself. He has a talented group of skill positions, which includes wide receiver Christian Kirk and running back Travis Etienne. Both players totaled over 1,000 yards from their respective positions. The receiving group, will be more dangerous with Calvin Ridley coming back from a year long suspension for gambling. Ridley might be rusty at first, but with Kirk, Etienne, and Evan Engram also requiring attention from opponents, it won't be long before he shakes off any rust.
Defensively, the Jaguars aren't suffocating but they force plenty of turnovers. With an up and coming secondary, Jacksonville was tied for fourth in takeaways last season. They could make an even bigger jump if Devin Lloyd and Travon Walker begin to emerge as focal points during their sophomore year.
Despite their late run, this team is still somewhat under the radar but that should change. Every rebuilding team eventually puts it all together, and the Jaguars already managed to successfully do that. Now they will be off and running.
3. Sauce Gardner Will Win Defensive Player of the Year
A big part of the New York Jets' improvement on defense last year, was the amazing season from Ahmad "Sauce" Gardner. While I might be biased in saying he had arguably the greatest rookie season for a cornerback, it's hard to argue against it. Gardner played at a high level against some of the top receivers in Ja'Marr Chase, Tyreek Hill, and Justin Jefferson. By the end of the year, Gardner had only allowed one touchdown pass and led the league in pass deflections. He was awarded with a pro bowl selection, first team all-pro, and defensive Rookie of the Year.
While Gardner had a decent case to win Defensive Player of the Year, recording just two interceptions was a big reason why he didn't get more votes. In Gardner's defense, most quarterbacks didn't target him much, but that's unfortunately something the voters don't always look at.
That being said, it doesn't mean that Gardner will never get interceptions. He is still very young and will only continue to improve from his rookie campaign. "You always have something to work on. I got a lot of things I can work on that's going to get better coming into my second season," said Gardner about elevating his performance. Plenty of shutdown cornerbacks still proceed to get a solid number of picks each year, and that should certainly be the case with Gardner.
Like last year, Gardner will once again be tested with Hill and Stefon Diggs two times each, along with other premier receivers such as Ceedee Lamb and Davante Adams. If Gardner continues to shutdown opponents and finish with around five picks, he should be one of the favorites to win the award.
The NFL draft is a tremendous opportunity for upstart teams to make significant roster upgrades entering the following season. This year was different, however. Teams who overachieved, such as the Seattle Seahawks and Detroit Lions, along with the defending NFC Champion Philadelphia Eagles, have multiple first round picks. While it is still months before football, it is never too early to make judgements on whether some of these teams improved their chances of winning for the upcoming season.
Teams Who Improved
1. Seattle Seahawks
The Seahawks were one of the league's most surprising teams, due to the resurgence of Geno Smith and a bevy of young talent. Thanks to their decision to trade Russell Wilson to the Denver Broncos, they possessed multiple first round picks for the second straight year which were used on cornerback Devon Witherspoon and receiver Jaxon Smith-Njiba. Witherspoon may not be imposing at 180 lbs, but he's an aggressive cornerback with ball skills, and is not afraid to make a big hit. He and Tariq Woolen could be a formidable cornerback duo in the future.
As for Smith-Njiba, he's arguably the best receiver in the draft. With his fundamentally sound route running, terrific hands, and the ability to create after the catch, he gives Smith another target to throw to alongside DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett. While the Seahawks certainly have talent at both cornerback and receiver, they are valuable positions that can be built upon in the draft
2. Jacksonville Jaguars
Although the Jaguars didn't have multiple first round picks, they still managed to upgrade a roster that reached the divisional round despite being 4-8 at one point in the season. They traded down twice in the first round to select offensive tackle Anton Harrison. He might not have so many eye-opening plays, but he's a very patient blocker who does a great job staying in front of his opponents in pass protection. This was particularly a good pick because the Jaguars had to address the tackle position after the departure of Jawaan Taylor and a recent suspension for Cam Robinson. Harrison could give Trevor Lawrence even more protection from the blindside which would go a long way to a solid passing attack.
3. Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles have already solidified themselves as contenders following a Super Bowl appearance, but given they weren't expected to have a such dominant year, I felt it was still appropriate to put them on this list. With multiple picks in the first round thanks to last year's draft day trade with the Saints, they went all in on defense with Georgia standouts Jalen Carter and Nolan Smith.
Smith is a very instinctive player whose relentless pursuit allows him to make numerous plays in the backfield. Carter might be a defensive tackle, but his strength and quickness allow him to be just as effective as a pass rusher along with a run stopper. This is the second straight year Philadelphia drafted defensive starters from Georgia, as last year saw them get Jordan Davis in the first round and Nakobe Dean in the third round. The only difference is that Smith and Carter have more upside, which will be essential toward maintaining a very good front seven.
Teams That Missed Out
1. Detroit Lions
After finishing the season 8-2, the Lions had a solid free agency and an even better opportunity to make improvements in the draft having owned the Rams' pick. It would've made sense to use their picks on a cornerback or defensive tackle. Instead, they made two questionable decisions by drafting running back Jahmyr Gibbs and linebacker Jack Campbell. What's head-scratching about these moves is that running backs and linebackers are positions that can be addressed later in the draft. Detroit is still a strong candidate to make the playoffs this upcoming year, but this was a spectacular chance to establish a roster that could seriously contend.
2. New York Jets
The Jets already checked their biggest need at quarterback by acquiring Aaron Rodgers before the draft. To boost his protection, they were eyeing offensive tackles (Broderick Jones, Paris Johnson Jr., or Peter Skoronski). But after seeing each one taken, they selected edge rusher Will McDonald. To be fair, McDonald is a solid player who will line up outside opposing tackles much more than at Iowa St. This will allow him to utilize his speed and finesse off the ball. However, the Jets have plenty of edge rushers. While his playing time in 2024 will likely increase assuming Carl Lawson leaves in free agency, it's a bit of a letdown to see the Jets miss out on a bigger need even if it wasn't their fault.
Before the regular season, I decided to make three bold predictions for each conference. In a season filled with plenty of dramatic developments, I felt that it was only fitting to go back and evaluate each prediction. While a couple didn't age well, the majority were pretty respectable. Here are the final grades.
1. Von Miller will be the Final Piece Buffalo Needs: A-
Buffalo might have not made the Super Bowl, but that certainly didn't have anything to do with Von Miller's performance. The future Hall of Fame pass rusher was playing like the difference maker Buffalo paid him to be before tearing his ACL in week 12. While Buffalo's defense still played well without him, they clearly missed his presence in the playoffs as the Bengals' offense gashed them en route to a 27-10 victory. While it's not a guarantee Miller would've changed the outcome, it's a safe bet that the Bills would've been a much different team with him on the field.
2. The Raiders Won't Make the Playoffs: A+
This was one of my most accurate predictions as the Las Vegas Raiders would indeed finish with a disappointing 6-11 record. Even though wide receiver Davante Adams proved to be a terrific acquisition, it wasn't enough to overcome their inability to prevail in tight contests. It's worth noting that I stated teams who win a bunch of nail biters one year usually take a step back the following season, which is exactly what happened. The Raiders lost five games when leading at halftime, with four of those leads being by double digits.
3. Jets Will Have Two Rookie of the Year Winners: B
While the Jets did sweep the Rookie of the Year awards, I'm giving this a B because of who I predicted to win. On the defensive side, I correctly had Ahmad "Sauce" Gardner winning the award. He performed at an all-pro level and already has a legitimate case as the best cornerback in football. However, I had running back Breece Hall winning for offense, and while he was looking like the frontrunner in October, an ACL tear ended any hopes. The award instead went to fellow receiver Garrett Wilson who tallied over 80 receptions and 1,100 yards. Nonetheless this is a high honor given that the Jets became only the third team in NFL history to have two rookies win the award.
1. The Saints Will Have a Better Record Than the Buccaneers: D+
This prediction gets a D+ and rightfully so. I thought that the Saints will come back healthier and regain their status as division champions but I was certainly wrong. If anything, the Saints' championship window looks all but closed after having such a promising future. It's always difficult to replace a legend, and Dennis Allen got first hand experience after succeeding Sean Payton as head coach. The only reason why I'm not giving this an F is because I did mention that the Buccaneers will have a disappointing season, which was the case. They won their division despite finishing 8-9 and were later trounced by the Cowboys.
2. Justin Jefferson Will Win Offensive Player of the Year: A+
I believe this was my best prediction as Jefferson won an award that's difficult for receivers to win. From a statistical standpoint, Jefferson happened the exact way I said he could: by raising his numbers and leading the league in two out of three major receiving categories. Jefferson's touchdowns dropped slightly but his career highs in receptions and receiving yards were both good enough to lead the league. It also helped that Jefferson was the most important player on a Vikings team that won a bunch of close games on their way to a 13-4 record.
3. Trey Lance Will Outperform Jalen Hurts: F-
There is nothing whatsoever that was accurate about this prediction. Trey Lance was expected to be the future quarterback of the 49ers, but played poorly in the season opener before suffering a season ending ankle injury. To make matters worse, the 49ers looked a lot better whether it was Jimmy Garoppolo or Brock Purdy - the likely candidate to start next season - under center. In Philadelphia, Jalen Hurts had a terrific year showing dramatic improvement as a passer while maintaining his skills as a rusher. His play is major reason why the Eagles punched their ticket to the Super Bowl.
In 2022, the Jets actually gave their fans some reasons to be optimistic. They had plenty of young players such as Garrett Wilson, Quinnen Williams, Sauce Gardner, and Breece Hall (when healthy) who emerged as difference makers and helped lead the Jets to a 7-4 record. Unfortunately, none of the players are quarterbacks. In a league where that position is so vital, the Jets couldn't find an answer at the position, whether it was Zach Wilson (right), Mike White (center), and Joe Flacco (left). This ultimately led to a six game losing streak and a 12th year out of the playoffs.
Now that the season is over, fans are already making their wishlists of possible quarterbacks. There will be many quarterbacks available this offseason and while any of them will be an upgrade, there are a variety of factors to consider. Some are easy to evaluate such as their stats, while others like their mental toughness will require more thought. With that being said, here are my preferred options for Jets quarterback.
1. Jimmy Garoppolo
Out of all the four quarterbacks I mention here, Garoppolo is certainly not the flashiest quarterback. He hasn't posted eye-popping stats and can be injury prone, as seen this year. Even with some of these question marks, he is still a productive quarterback who can be consistently relied upon. With a quick release, he is able to utilize the many skill positions the 49ers have. In addition, Garoppolo has climbed into a tie for fifth place for the most victories by a 49er quarterback, despite starting only 55 games since 2017. The 49ers may not need him as of now, but those numbers can't be ignored.
Perhaps Garoppolo's biggest attribute is his resilience. He's had to live up to a record $137 million contract extension in 2018, come back from multiple injuries, and face competition following their selection of Trey Lance in 2021. Despite these obstacles, Garoppolo has continued to perform at an exceptional level and has elevated his teammates in the process. Those qualities in particular make him a perfect fit to play in a big market like New York. The cherry on top is that Garoppolo is one of the cheapest options in free agency, which will make it easy for the Jets to sign him.
2. Aaron Rodgers
When it comes to throwing a football, few can do it better than Aaron Rodgers. He is a lock for Canton thanks to his ability to effortlessly locate the football wherever he wants. Time and time again, Rodgers has the impossible look routine from game winning drives to 70 yard bombs. His resume includes four MVP awards, and a Super Bowl championship. As for his status, the future Hall of Famer could be shipped this off-season and the Jets have been listed as one potential destination. The hiring of his former offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett to run the Jets' offense has only added more fuel to the possibility.
So with all that greatness, what could possibly draw the Jets back?
For one, Rodgers is on the older side. At 39 years old, Rodgers experienced some decline in his play. This year, he threw the most interceptions in his career since 2008, while his touchdowns took a deep dive. Although Rodgers' season would've been strong for any other quarterback, it is hard to ignore this drastic decline given his age. He also has the reputation of being a jerk who only cares about himself. Rodgers can be thin-skinned, which may not fly with the New York media. If Rodgers got away with throwing shade at the Packers' organization, New York would persecute him for those actions.
3. Lamar Jackson
Lamar Jackson is another talented quarterback on this list who's a possible option for the Jets. Unlike Rodgers, the 2019 NFL MVP is a dual threat QB whose legs are just as a dangerous as his arm. He has yet to throw for 4,000 yards, but Jackson's mobility has allowed him to make plays, whether it's throwing or running. Since being named the starter midway in his rookie season, Jackson has helped lead the Baltimore Ravens to the playoffs in four of the last five years. In addition, the Jets have had the best odds to land Jackson if he decides to leave in free agency.
However, getting him could come at a steep price regardless of how it's done. Before the season, Jackson bet on himself by denying a $250 million contract offer by the Ravens and although it didn't work, the Jets may still have to break the bank to get him in free agency. There's also the possibility the Ravens could franchise tag him, which would require a bevy of assets to acquire him. As talented as Lamar may be, it is always risky to invest most of your future in a quarterback who hasn't fully replicated his MVP year.
4. Derek Carr
While there's still a chance Jackson remains a Raven, it is certain that Derek Carr will not remain a Raider after he was shockingly benched in their last two games. What made this move so surprising was that he had a productive nine seasons with the Raiders. Carr can perfectly place any throw regardless of how short or long it may be. In addition, he has completed over 300 passes every year while throwing for over 4,000 yards in four of them. While many quarterbacks have done this, it is particularly impressive given the revolving door of coaches during his tenure.
There are some downsides to Carr however. While he has often put the Raiders in a position to make the playoffs, he also plays a role in their downfall. Carr has lost more games and thrown more interceptions in December than any other month in his career. Considering that December was when the Jets unraveled, they may have to think twice about getting a quarterback who can be erratic down the stretch.
Every NFL season has seen some huge surprises, from injuries to unexpected turnarounds. Going into last year, no one thought the Cincinnati Bengals would narrowly miss out on a Super Bowl victory or that the Seattle Seahawks wouldn't come close to the playoffs. With this season getting closer by the day, here are my three hot takes for the AFC.
Note: This article is part of a doubleheader that will also include NFC Predictions.
1. Von Miller will be the Final Piece Buffalo Needs
The Buffalo Bills have established themselves as contenders during the last two years. With plenty of talent on both sides of ball, the Bills have gone 34-15 in the last three years, winning the AFC East twice in that span. However, they have yet to reach the Super Bowl, with a heartbreaking overtime loss to the Chiefs leaving a bitter taste. In free agency, the Bills successfully agreed to a six year $120 million contract with defensive end Von Miller.
While Miller is 33 years old, he still has plenty left in the tank after logging four sacks during the playoffs, en route to his second Super Bowl championship. What made his performance last year even more impressive was that he missed all of 2020 with a torn ACL. The Bills have a talented defense, but their pass rush lacks a difference maker which proved costly in their recent playoff losses. Miller will probably not play out his entire contract in Buffalo, but his experience and productivity is exactly what the Bills need to get over the hump to finally win it all.
2. The Raiders Won't Make the Playoffs
Last year's Raiders surprisingly made the playoffs with a 10-7 record before losing a tight contest to the Bengals. They then proceeded to make big offseason moves, signing defensive end Chandler Jones and trading for all pro wide receiver Davante Adams. These moves will make the Raiders competitive again this year, but in a stacked conference, it still might not be enough.
In their four game winning streak that propelled them to the playoffs at the end of the year, they beat two teams with backup quarterbacks and another whose quarterback didn't practice that week. That's not mentioning their four overtime wins as well. Teams who won a large portion of close games usually take a step back the next year which is why I'm not sold on the Raiders despite high expectations. I think that they simply won't be as lucky this year.
3. The Jets will have Two Rookie of the Year Winners
In the 55 year existence of the Offensive and Defensive Rookie of the Year award, only two teams had players from both sides win the award. However, I believe there's a strong chance my Jets will become the third team to accomplish this feat. While some of this prediction has to do with my fandom, plenty of other people applauded this year's Jets' draft.
Their notable selections are cornerback Ahmad "Sauce" Gardner, wide receiver Garrett Wilson, defensive end Jermaine Johnson, and running back Breece Hall. Gardner has a strong chance to win Defensive Rookie of the Year thanks to his tall, athletic frame, that allows him to excel in man coverage. He's also likely to make an immediate impact compared to many of the pass rushers selected. Offensively. Hall has a pretty good chance at winning the award. He'll have plenty of opportunities to succeed in a run-first offense and with only one quarterback taken in the first round, the award is wide open. As a franchise notorious for missing out on young talent in the draft, this kind of feat could hopefully change their reputation.
Every NFL season has seen a few players experience a breakout season shortly after their rookie year. Often, they have shown promise before eventually playing to their full potential the following season. Prime examples of last year's breakout stars include running back Jonathan Taylor and cornerback Trevon Diggs. With training camp underway, many players are ready to showcase their full potential after showing upside last season. Here are my four breakout candidates, not including quarterbacks:
1. Devonta Smith
Last season, Devonta Smith was one of the top rookie receivers for the Philadelphia Eagles, tallying over 900 yards and five touchdowns. While those numbers sound decent on paper, they are very impressive for a rookie receiver who was the only bright spot on one of the league's weakest receiving groups last season. Smith managed to turn short completions into long runs with his speed, and caught a ton of contested passes despite his small frame. With the acquisition of fellow receiver AJ Brown this offseason, Smith should see a lot more single coverage which will increase his production.
2. Patrick Surtain II
Patrick Surtain II of the Denver Broncos was certainly the most impressive defensive back to come out of last year's draft class, given that a large number of rookie cornerbacks started last season. He intercepted four passes and returned one of them for a touchdown, but that's not all. Surtain II also surrendered only 545 yards along while allowing a 61 passer rating. Some of his best games came against pass-happy offenses where he made guys like Tyreek Hill and Ja'Marr Chase non-factors. Although Micah Parsons' historic rookie season kept Surtain II from winning Defensive Rookie of the Year, he still has plenty of upside going forward.
3. Javonte Williams
Denver gets another nod on this list with running back Javonte Williams coming in at three. Although Williams was part of a running back committee with Melvin Gordon, he still managed to total 903 rushing yards and four touchdowns. He was almost impossible to bring down as 31% of Williams' rushing attempts saw him break tackles - 63 to be exact. Williams will likely be the starting running back for Denver. With Russell Wilson now in town, Williams will be in an even better position to excel, since defenses will devote less attention to him.
4. Amon-Ra St. Brown
As a fourth round pick for the Detroit Lions, Amon-Ra St. Brown went into last season with the least hype out of all the players mentioned on this list. He had a few solid games, but it wasn't until the final six weeks of the season when St. Brown began to showcase his potential. In that stretch, St. Brown had 474 yards and five touchdowns which included a game winner against the Vikings. St. Brown's increased usage makes him a heavy favorite to be Detroit's starting receiver going into this season.
5. Elijah Moore
With high upside as a second round receiver, Elijah Moore recorded over 500 yards. These stats are decent at best, but considering that Moore was either injured or barely targeted in the early portion of the season, his progress in his final six games has given Jets fans plenty of optimism. From weeks 8-13, Moore had 459 yards and five touchdowns. Even more impressive, Moore posted these numbers while playing without fellow rookie Zach Wilson who was injured for four of those games. With a bigger role and more young talent, it's very likely Moore's play will take a huge jump in year two.
Fans who generally like alternate uniforms were certainly happy when the NFL gave teams the green light to create an additional helmet, allowing teams to become creative in the process. This rule change has also prompted teams such as the Giants and Falcons to create alternate uniforms to go along with their new helmet designs. Many teams are currently having fun with this rule change and while it won't be a surprise if more teams join in, here's my ranking of all the new designs we have seen thus far.
1. Cincinnati Bengals
The Bengals alternate helmets and jerseys are one of the most anticipated color rush designs this upcoming season. Cincinnati already debuted new uniforms last season but these alternates are a perfect addition. With these all-white helmets and a young core that went all the way to the Super Bowl, everything about this team is new and fresh. As one of the more fun teams last year, fans will certainly enjoy Cincinnati's color rush design when they face the Dolphins in week four.
2. Atlanta Falcons
This might be controversial for Giant fans, but I'm a big fan of the Falcons' decision to bring back their classic red helmets. Their throwback jerseys also match up very well with their helmets. Although Atlanta will only be wearing their attire for one game, it's cool combination between old school and new school.
3. New York Giants
While the Giants technically brought back their helmets from the 80s and 90s for the 2016-18 seasons, this is a lot better. Not only did they bring back their classic helmets from the Lawrence Taylor and Bill Parcells era, but they also reintroduced their old time jerseys which were worn in the same era.
4. Carolina Panthers
The Panthers have always had solid uniforms with their teal jerseys standing out in particular. However, they've taken their attire to another level with these black helmet which perfectly complement their black uniforms. While their Thursday Night matchup against the Falcons is far from one of the most anticipated games, the black helmets and uniforms will be a bright spot.
5. Philadelphia Eagles
Like the Panthers, the Eagles' new dark helmets will be a great addition to their black uniforms. While fans are more excited to see their Kelly green uniforms in 2023, I look forward to seeing these helmets match up with the black uniforms.
6. Washington Commanders
Unlike most of these teams, I like how every element of the Commanders' new uniforms stick out. Their home, away, and alternate attire brings something different to the table whether it's the "W" in the center of the black helmets or the golden numbers on the away jerseys.
7. New York Jets
A white background also would've looked very good but I have no problem with the black background complementing their green logo and face mask. While watching the Jets can be challenging, they always seem to wear the right jersey combinations on game days which is why I look forward to seeing their new alternate helmets when they play the Patriots, Bears, and Jaguars at home. Hopefully they'll also win for a change.
8. Dallas Cowboys
With these new helmets, the Cowboys will pair them with their old alternate uniforms which they would wear on Thanksgiving in previous years. It isn't new, but it's one of the few things involving the Cowboys that I actually don't have a problem with.
9. Arizona Cardinals
The Cardinals' new helmets which consist of a black background is the cherry on top for their black color rush uniforms. While it's not good enough to be in the upper half, the matching color scheme of the helmets and uniforms keep this design in the top 10.
10. New Orleans Saints
I've always been a fan of the Saints' attire, with their white and gold jerseys (pictured above) standing out. Their new alternate helmets are solid but they would be a lot higher if they didn't have all those small fleur-de-lis forming a stripe.
11. Houston Texans
The Texans will be in for a rough go in 2022 but at least their first uniform/helmet change was a good one. They will pair their new "battle red" helmet with their alternate red uniforms. Personally, I think this is a cool combination as their red uniforms will look even better compared to the dark blue helmets.
12 New England Patriots
While many people like the Patriots' decision to bring back their throwback uniforms which were worn for three decades, I've never liked these uniforms. Some of that admittedly has to do with my Jets fandom, but the logo of the Patriot snapping a football is way too corny. The strips on the uniforms also make them look like Buffalo Bills' attire.
13. Chicago Bears
Chicago had the right idea of creating an alternate helmet to match up with one of their uniforms. The only problem is that orange isn't the right color to go about this idea. A different helmet background such as white would've looked a lot better.
14. San Fransisco 49ers
The 49ers made some minor changes to their uniforms by going back to three stripes along with a saloon font in the center. Bigger changes would make this ranking a lot higher however.
Before I start, I will state that the Jets were certainly not the only team to have a spectacular draft class. Other teams such as the Chiefs, Ravens, and Giants all deserve credit for their draft selections. And while it will be awhile until we can draw conclusions from this year's draft class, here's why I currently think the New York Jets' class is a game changer.
Whereas some teams might've filled two position needs with in the first round at best, the Jets managed to fill in three during the draft. Going into the draft, the biggest needs for the Jets were a cornerback, an edge rusher, and skill position, receiver or running back.
With the fourth pick, the Jets addressed the cornerback position by selecting Ahmad "Sauce" Gardner. In his three years playing for Cincinnati, Gardner became the best defensive back in the nation. His length and athleticism helped him excel in man coverage where he never allowed a touchdown during his collegiate career. Against Jameson Williams, the best receiver Gardner has faced so far, he only allowed one catch for negative yards, proving he can match up against the best. Jet fans have waited for someone to finally fill in the shoes of Darrelle Revis and Gardner might be that guy.
Due to a trade with the Seattle Seahawks back in 2020, the Jets also had the 10th pick which was used to select wide receiver Garrett Wilson. Wilson joins a receiver group of Corey Davis, Elijah Moore, and Braxton Berrios that was solid but ravaged by injuries. As high ranked receiver with no injury concerns, Wilson's availability is something the Jets could use given the injuries to their skill positions. In addition, Wilson is known for his contested catches during his career at Ohio State. This could be essential for the Jets as they haven't had someone with that ability since Brandon Marshall.
With a quantity of picks that the Jets previously traded for in the later rounds, they managed to move up to the 26th pick where they selected edge rusher Jermaine Johnson II. After two quiet seasons at Georgia, Johnson experienced a breakout season for Florida State recording 12 sacks and 18 tackles for loss, both in the top 10 nationally. He will also have some motivation going into the season as he surprisingly fell in the draft despite being projected to go within the top 10. For the Jets, they will have a potentially formidable duo of outside rushers in Johnson and Carl Lawson.
By selecting Wilson, and later running back Breece Hall in the second round, the Jets have drafted three skill positions, not named Zach Wilson, in the first two rounds of this year and last year's draft (Elijah Moore is the other one). Add in last year's fourth round selection of running back Michael Carter, and this year's third selection of tight end Jeremy Ruckert, and the Jets have already done more for Zach Wilson in the draft than they've ever done for Sam Darnold. This philosophy resembles the Cincinnati Bengals' strategy of surrounding Joe Burrow with homegrown players in Tee Higgins and Ja'Marr Chase. They are currently fresh off a Super Bowl appearance and have a bright future ahead of them.
Perhaps the most important thing to come out of this draft class if that the Jets are really establishing a foundation through the draft. By building the majority of their roster through the draft, the coaching staff will have the chance to develop these players into valuable contributors given the Jets' system is the only one they're familiar with in the pros. When you also consider the upside of last year's draft with players such as Alijah Vera-Tucker, Moore, Carter, and hopefully Zach Wilson, the Jets could be ahead of schedule. Something that fans would give anything to witness.