After another season that will not enter the annals of the Jets' most memorable campaigns, it's time to look ahead to the fall. We all know that the team needs major improvements in a number of areas, but one factor that could be in their favor in 2018 is the schedule.
Last season, the Jets' opponents were coming off a combined record of 136-120 for a win percentage of .535, making it one of the toughest schedules in the NFL. This time around, things look a little easier. At 122-134, the schedule strength is .476, and the road schedule looks particularly light, with their only lengthy trip being down to Miami.
Their two toughest games on the road will be at the Patriots and down in Jacksonville. Despite the Super Bowl loss and rumors of friction behind the scenes, there are no signs of the New England dominance of the East ending any time soon, and this trip to Boston looks like being as tough as always. Surprise playoff contenders Jacksonville and their second-ranked defense will also be difficult opponents, and the Green and White defense may have to be at their sharpest when they travel to Tennessee to take on the Titans.
While the road games at Buffalo, Miami, Chicago, Detroit, and Miami all offer winning opportunities, victories might be tougher to come by at Met Life Stadium, where the Jets have to take on the Patriots, the Texans, Minnesota, Green Bay, and Denver.
Houston finished last season with a worse record than the Jets, but the return of star quarterback Deshaun Watson and defensive end J.J. Watt should propel the Texans into playoff contention next year, and they will be tough opponents all round. The Packers will also be much stronger this year with Aaron Rodgers fully recovered from a broken collar bone, and the Vikings are already close to being Super Bowl contenders. Denver also cannot be taken lightly after they pulled off a 23-0 shutout against the Jets in week 14.
With eight games that the Jets would expect to be competing seriously to win and another eight that could be tougher, the 2018 schedule offers the opportunity to snatch a winning record, but could the Jets go further? At this stage, there is a lot of work to be done, and NFL fans hoping to bet on their side online should be able to grab some big prices.
Of course, the one good thing about finishing with a 5-11 record is earning an early pick in the 2018 draft. There are a lot of gaps in the Jets' roster, but if they get their draft strategy right, they could end up surprising a few teams next season.
Top of the list is a quarterback. Josh McCown is no solution in the long term and Bryce Petty isn't the answer either. There are plenty of talented quarterbacks in this year's draft with the likes of Sam Darnold and Josh Rosen, but realistically the Jets will be looking at Baker Mayfield, Josh Allen, or Mason Rudolph, all of whom have huge potential. They might also get a look at running back Saquon Barkley, though the Colts look better placed to snatch him, in which case Georgia's Sony Michel or Ronald Jones II from USC would fit the bill.
The defense is also in need of an overhaul. The departure of Muhammad Wilkerson leaves a hole to fill on the defensive line, and with both Steve McLendon and Mike Pennel offering only limited effectiveness, the Jets will be in the market for a new nose tackle, or possibly two. There is also an obvious need to bring in a high-class pass rusher. The Jets were near the bottom of the sacks table last season and they are badly in need of a player who can consistently threaten the quarterback. It wouldn't be a surprise to see the Jets use both of their second-round picks on adding defensive talent.
After another tough season in 2017, the schedule laid out for 2018 offers some relief for Jets fans. With no long-distance road trips and eight winnable matchups, there is potential for the Green and White to record a winning season. Winning in the East looks beyond them, but if they do particularly well at the draft, it's not impossible to imagine them getting to the playoffs for the first time since 2010 and giving Jets fans something to cheer for next year.