The Jets have just finished a brutal stretch of games, during which we faced the NFL's #2, 3 and 4 passing defenses in 3 of the last 4 weeks. At the same time, every one of the 5 offenses we faced were in the top half of the league. Schedules don't come much tougher than that. The schedule going forward is clearly kinder to the Jets, but how much kinder? Let's take a look at the statistics to try and get some hints about what to expect going forward.
First let's look at Rex's beloved defense. For the first 5 games, it has looked pedestrian, with the pass defense as usual our strength and the run defense being generally putrid. Over those 5 games the defense faced offenses averaging 369 yards per game, 17 yards better than league average. During that stretch we faced the #5, 11, 12, 14 and 15 offenses. The run offenses were particularly brutal, as we faced the #1, 5, 6 AND 8 run offenses during that stretch. Combine an old and slow set of linebackers with that brutal set of run opponents and you get the worst rushing defense in the NFL over the first five games.
Going forward the sledding on defense gets a little easier. The 11 remaining opponents on our schedule average 337 yards per game on offense, a substantial 32 yards less per game than our first 5 opponents. Take out the 2 games against New England's #1 rated offense and you get a remaining 9 games against opponents averaging only 315 yards per game, 37 yards below league average. Only 7 NFL teams are currently averaging less offense per game than the 315 our 9 opponents sans NE currently average. Unfortunately for the Jets the run offenses don't get much easier, as we face NE twice, MIA and BUF in the next 11 games, teams currently ranked 3, 5 and 8 in rushing offense. It is in the passing game where the defensive challenge becomes much easier, as outside of NE we do not face a single top 10 passing team in the last 11 games, and we face the #32, 31, 29, 25, and 24 ranked passing teams. Expect our passing defense to dominate many of the next 11 games.
On offense it also gets easier. Over the first five games our offense faced defenses giving up an average of 322 yards per game, 30 yards below league average. Our opponents gave up an average of 99 yards per game rushing and 223 yards per game passing. Opposing pass defenses yielded an average QB rating of 84 over our first 5 games. The rest of the way the opposing defenses get much softer, yielding on average 256 passing yards per game, an 89 passer rating by opposing QBs, and 109 rushing yards per game, for a total of 365 yards per game, 13 yards more than league average and 43 yards per game more than our first 5 opponents. During that stretch we face only one team, SEA, ranked in the top 12 in overall defense, and we face the #31, 30 and 29 overall defenses, as well as 7 games against bottom 12 pass defenses. Expect the passing game to get much better, and expect Sanchez to have a few of the best games of his career, assuming he remains the starting QB.
Overall it is reasonable to project that our offense and defense might improve roughly in line with the quality of the opponents we play. If that does in fact happen, we can expect to see a defense that improves by 32 yards per game. That would put us at 340 yards per game, good for 13th in the NFL. Pretty bad by Rex standards, but still better than average, and much better than our current #20. On offense, we might expect to add 43 yards per game, putting us at 327 yards per game. That would be 25 yards below current league average, good for 24th in the NFL, as opposed to our current 28th standing.
If we concede the 2 NE games as losses and just focus on the other 9 games, the picture gets brighter. On defense we might then expect to improve a whopping 54 yards per game, good for a 318 yards per game average, putting us at 34 yards better than league average and #9 in the NFL over those 9 games. On offense we might expect to come in at 325 yards per game, again good for 24th in the league.
It cannot be too strongly stated that the numbers above are fluid, depend on numerous variables, and cannot be expected to work out nearly as neatly as the oversimplified analysis here might otherwise suggest. Nevertheless, there is good reason to expect improvement from this team over the last 11 games, based solely on the strength of the remaining opponents. Based on the expected improvement in our numbers as outlined above, a 5-6 record from here is probably a likely outcome. Naturally there is a great deal of variability to be expected, so I would expect possible outcomes of maybe +/- 2 games, giving us a range of records from 5-11 to 9-7, with 7-9 being my prediction. That doesn't look especially palatable, but neither does it make us one of the worst teams in the NFL and a leading contender for the #1 pick. Expect a maddening tease of a season, with some weeks looking like we might actually be capable of making a run for the playoffs, and other weeks looking like we're one of the worst teams in football. That seems the most likely way things might play out the rest of the way. Hold on tight, we could be in for a very bumpy ride.