On paper, the Jets appear loaded.
From their suffocating defense, to their playmaking pass-catchers, this team is poised to get over the postseason hump. But a closer inspection of Todd Bowles’ roster — and the upcoming schedule — raise questions about whether they’re truly built to win in 2016.
Through big-time spending in free agency and the addition of key draft-picks, Bowles and general manager Mike Maccagnan transformed a 4-12 mess in 2014 into a legitimate postseason contender. And while their 10-6 finish in 2015 fell short of a playoff berth, it set the stage for even higher expectations in Year 2 of the Bowles-Maccagnan partnership.
It took seven months, but the front office finally re-signed Ryan Fitzpatrick. Now, the 33-year-old quarterback has 16 games (and beyond?) to prove he was worth the $12 million investment.
With Fitzpatrick back together with Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker, many expect the offense’s chemistry to pick up right where it left off. But Fitzptrick’s late arrival— he signed his deal right before the first training camp practice — meant he had to spend extra hours in the classroom and on the field with his star wideouts.
The addition of versatile running back Matt Forte could be a big boon for the offense, too. With the Bears two years ago, he set an NFL record for running backs with 102 catches. But Forte turns 31 in December, so he’s a question mark as well. Not to mention, Forte and backup Bilal Powell will be rushing and catching passes behind an offensive line that will be without its starting right tackle, Breno Giacomini (reserve/PUP), for at least six weeks.
The health of veterans — particularly on the offensive line — might just be the key factor for the Jets.
But for all of the immediate concerns on offense, the defense is once again loaded. The line is its main attraction, led by Muhammad Wilkerson, who signed a five-year, $86 million extension this offseason. And with cornerback Darrelle Revis no longer hampered by a wrist injury and an infusion of speed at linebacker, the unit could easily be Top 5.
But while the stakes have been raised, Bowles isn’t caught up in the chatter. “We were 10-6. We’re trying to get good,” said the coach, whose team will face five 2015 playoff teams in the first six games beginning Sunday against the Bengals. “I don’t know how (teams) view us, I just know we have to get better . . . I’d like to think we’re a hard-nosed, physical team, but that’s up for discussion among other teams.”
So, no, Bowles isn’t about to saddle his players with a “playoffs or bust” slogan. “Never ‘bust,’” he said. “You want to get better, you want to go to the playoffs . . . You understand what you were last year, say, ‘OK, we were 10-6’ and tear it down. Adding 15 or 18 new guys every year, you’ve got to build your chemistry up. What can we tweak? What can we do better? And you’ve got to go out and play and do it.”
His offense failed to impress during the preseason, but Fitzpatrick was quick to cut off the criticism. “Yeah, there’s not much concern about any of that,” he said tersely, when asked about the sputtering first-team offense after a recent practice.
“We’ve got some stuff we can build on from last year. We’ve added a couple different pieces and just the creativity and the things that Chan is going to be able to do. Stuff that we haven’t really done in the preseason or practice much in training camp that he’ll kind of think of. And when we get into this game-planning mode, that’s when the stuff gets really exciting.”