The Buffalo Bills are finally about to open the 2017 NFL season with a home game against the New York Jets this Sunday. For all of the talk about the Bills being in the midst of a tank, the Jets are on a whole different level entirely.
To help form an idea of where they are, I reached out to Mike Nania of Gang Green Nation, the SB Nation Jets’ blog. His answers painted the picture of a team that really isn’t very good and has plenty of questions to answer, albeit one with more talent than you might think they have if you read what the national media has to say about them.
While there's plenty of debate among Bills fans about what direction the team is trending in 2017, it's seemingly obvious where the Jets are heading. How do you feel about the offseason they just had?
While you're right that it's very clear the Jets are looking to rebuild, some of the moves they've made have been questionable and haven't really fit the mold of all-out rebuilding. While they purged the roster of most veterans, such as Eric Decker, Brandon Marshall, Darrelle Revis, Nick Mangold, Ryan Clady, and David Harris, they didn't quite commit to the youth movement fully. They'll be starting the ancient pairing of Josh McCown and Matt Forte in the backfield, while veteran Steve McLendon was retained to start at DT even though there is depth there. Then, the Jets just brought back soon to be 29-year old Jeremy Kerley, presumably as the Week 1 slot starter ahead of impressive third-round rookie ArDarius Stewart. Yes, the Jets were sore for experience there, but if they're trying to help out the quarterback and stabilize the offense for evaluation purposes, why cut Decker and sign a downgrade in Kerley? It's been nice to see them commit to starting over, but some of their moves have made fans collectively scratch their heads.
Where does Todd Bowles fit into the rebuild? Is this season going to be used as a pretext to fire him, or does he have a shot at sticking with the team through the next few years?
With a franchise usually hellbent on staying relevant and bringing in big names OK'ing the release of so many name players, you can't help but think Bowles might be safe for this year regardless of record. That being said, he has as much growing to do as any young player on the team. His game management has been poor, and there hasn't been much growth from his players. The former safety's secondary was a mess of horrifying breakdowns last season, as you might remember from the Week 2 game. I think Bowles will most likely get through this year, unless things get embarrassingly ugly both on and off the field. Whether that is right or not is debatable, but there doesn't seem to be much fire under his seat just yet.
After moving on from Sheldon Richardson, the Jets' roster is nearly devoid of name recognition. Who's still around that's going to provide quality play in 2017?
On defense, 2015 sixth overall pick Leonard Williams is easily the team's best player. Still only 23, he's already one of the best playmakers on the interior defensive line in the league, getting close to Aaron Donald level. Muhammad Wilkerson has elite playmaking ability as well, but had a pretty bad year in 2016. He was coming off of major surgery, but did just sign a major new deal as well that some thought caused him to slack off. He needs to prove he can get back to his pre-2016 form, and if he can, he's still a top 10-15 kind of lineman. Steve McLendon is a consistent run-stuffer in the middle of the 3-4. Cornerback Morris Claiborne had a late career breakout for the Cowboys last season but is one of the most injury-prone players in the NFL. Other than those four, there aren't any players on the young defense who have had sustained quality play in their careers just yet.
Offensively, arguably the team's only proven above-average starter is left guard James Carpenter. He's progressed since signing from Seattle in 2015 and has been a strong player. UDFA-to=no.-1 receiver Robby Anderson could become a positive impact receiver this year. From early last season into this preseason, he has consistently beaten defensive backs deep time and time again only to be missed by Jets quarterbacks. Backup running back Bilal Powell, who many want to start over the aging Matt Forte, has been a wizard of efficiency the past two seasons, both running and catching the ball. Those three guys might play above average football, but they're not close to elite, and it's hard to even find an average player on the Jets offense elsewhere.
Are you watching a lot of college football these days? Who impressed you the most after the first week of games?
You know Jets fans always have their eyes on the quarterbacks, so it's impossible not to like what UCLA's Josh Rosen did against Texas A&M. His fake spike likely reminded some fans of a certain play be a certain Dolphins quarterback. There might be more Jet fans eyeing college QBs than the actual New York Jets this season, so performances of top QB prospects like the one Rosen had will be the talk of the fanbase week after week.
What are the odds that the Jets go 0-16? Where are the most likely wins on the schedule?
I think the 0-16 talk is overblown. Yes, the team is starting the year with Josh McCown at QB (2-20 in his last three seasons), but as last year's Browns showed, going 0-16 takes some insanely bad luck. While the offense looks to be awful, there's legit potential for this to be an average to solid defensive unit. They also do have games against the Browns and Jaguars. I would be shocked if they won more than 6 games, and would predict around 3-4, but going 0-16 would still be very surprising.