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NY Jets: What To Expect When You're Expecting Fitz

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How should we expect Ryan Fitzpatrick to fare against the Jets' brutal early schedule?

Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

Ryan Fitzpatrick is back in the fold.  Given what head coach Todd Bowles has said about the matter, it would seem all but inevitable that, barring injury, Fitzpatrick will be the starting quarterback to open the 2016 season.  What might we expect from Fitzpatrick against the brutal schedule awaiting him in the first six games of the season?

One way to answer that question would be to take Fitzpatrick's passer rating of 88 from 2015 and adjust it for the increased level of difficulty in the 2016 schedule.  This is somewhat problematic in that we do not know precisely how these defenses will perform in 2016.  It is possible the early stretch will play out easier or more difficult than the 2015 performances of these defenses would suggest.  Nonetheless, acknowledging the problems with using 2015 numbers to make 2016 predictions, let's assume that these defenses as a group will play at approximately the same level in 2016.  In that case the first six games of the 2016 schedule represent defenses with an aggregate 81.35 passer rating allowed.  In 2015 Fitzpatrick faced defenses with an aggregate passer rating allowed of 92.4  Making the requisite adjustments for the increased level of difficulty in the 2016 defenses, we multiply Fitzpatrick's 2015 passer rating of 88 by the fraction (81.35/92.4), resulting in an expected passer rating for Fitzpatrick of 77.5 over the first six games of 2016.

That isn't exactly stellar.  A 77.5 passer rating would have placed Fitzpatrick as the 3rd worst QB in the NFL in 2015 among QBs who started a majority of their team's games, bettering only Nick Foles and Peyton Manning (I still can't get used to seeing Peyton Manning and worst starting QB in the NFL linked).  A 77.5 passer rating would also coincidentally be precisely the same as Geno Smith posted in his 2014 season of Jets fans' discontent.  Still, given the level of competition, that wouldn't represent a complete meltdown, and one might expect to emerge with a couple of victories in the first six games if the defense did its job.

The above model is fairly crude. Let's see if we can build a model of Fitzpatrick's expected performance in the first six games a different way.  The pass defenses Fitzpatrick will face in the first six games of 2016 were ranked 2, 3, 5, 8, 10 and 17 in terms of passer rating allowed in 2015.  Going back over the last four years of Fitzpatrick's career he has faced top 10 pass defenses a total of 13 times.  In those 13 games Fitzpatrick has posted a passer rating of 65.3, with 16 TDs and 21 INTs, with a record of 3-10.   In just four of those games did his team score more than 19 points.

Digging a little deeper, it is perhaps warranted to weight more recent results more heavily than earlier performances.  A chart of Fitzpatrick's cumulative passer rating against top 10 pass defenses over the last four years looks like the following:

Cumulative

Average

Total

Number

Of Games

Cumulative

Passer

Rating

.

Last Year

3

51.1

Two Years

4

57.1

Three Years

7

60.6

Four Years

13

65.3

That is a particularly ugly chart.  It paints a picture of a Fitzpatrick increasingly ill equipped to perform against top pass defenses.  Given that Fitzpatrick is a soon to be 34 year old quarterback five years removed from the NFL average peak age of 29 for QB performance, the above chart is at least suggestive that perhaps Fitzpatrick's inevitable age related decline has already begun and is showing up in the numbers against top pass defenses.  However, with a rather small sample, we should not put too much weight on this model.  What looks at first glance like clear decline could easily be nothing more than random fluctuation given the limited sample of games played.  Unfortunately for the Jets, if in fact this chart is indicative of the first inklings of decline, things may be worse even than the face value of that chart.  Why?  Simply because Fitzpatrick has done the worst work against top pass defenses of his career in the last two years, the two years in which he had substantially superior weapons than at any other time in his career.  If the decline is real (something very much in doubt given the small sample), the fact that it is happening even as Fitzpatrick's surrounding talent is getting much better suggests a rather alarming slide.

Given the steady slide of roughly 5 passer rating points per year in the above chart, this model (again, unreliable due to small sample) would suggest Fitzpatrick will post something like a 46 or 47 passer rating against top pass defenses in 2016.  If that played out as predicted, Fitzpatrick would likely be benched on or before the completion of the first six games of the season, and the Jets would likely win no more than one game, and quite possibly zero games, out of the first six.

Going back further in time, Fitzpatrick actually began his starting career with a pretty good record against top pass defenses.  In 2010 and 2011, in the years that Fitzpatrick was theoretically at his peak as per NFL averages, Fitzpatrick played eight games against top 10 pass defenses.  Although his teams only posted a 1-7 record in those eight games, Fitzpatrick's performances weren't always to blame.  In fact, Fitzpatrick posted a passer rating over 100 in three of those eight games, and had a total of 17 TDs and 8 INTs with an aggregate passer rating of 85.4.  That's actually quite good given the difficult level of competition and Fitzpatrick's relatively poor set of weapons in those early years with the Bills.  Those early two years with the Bills lift Fitzpatrick's aggregate passer rating against top 10 pass defenses over the last six years to 73.0. His record against top 10 pass defenses over that six year stretch is 4-17.

We now have a number of models of what to expect from Fitzpatrick in the crucial first six games of the 2016 season. Let's take a look at how all these models stack up in a chart.  Ranging from most optimistic to least optimistic, we have Fitzpatrick from 2010 and 2011 (Earliest Model), his 2015 results adjusted for the better defenses to be faced in 2016 (Adjusted 2015 Model), his total results against top 10 pass defenses for the last six years (Six Year Model), his results against top 10 pass defenses for the last four years (Four Year Model) and his projected results based on a presumed ongoing decline shown in the four year numbers (Projected Decline Model).  All of these models have flaws of one kind or another.  With some the sample is too small; with others some or all of the results are too distant in time; others are too simplistic, while still others are based on somewhat dubious trend lines. However, perhaps in the aggregate they may capture a fairly accurate picture of both the range of likely outcomes as well as a best guess as to the general neighborhood of what we can reasonably expect from Fitzpatrick in the first six games.

Model

Expected 2016

Passer Rating

First 6 Games

.

Earliest

85.4

Adjusted 2015

77.5

Six Year

73.0

Four Year

65.3

Projected Decline

46.5

.

Aggregate

69.5

Here then is what our models indicate.  The best outcome we might reasonably expect would be for Fitzpatrick to revert to his form of 2010 and 2011.  This might produce something like an 85 passer rating in the first six games, a happy result that would likely get the Jets off to a start of at worst 3-3, maybe even 4-2 in the brutal early going.  The worst outcome we might reasonably expect would be a continuation of what we have tentatively identified as age related decline by Fitzpatrick against top pass defenses, resulting in a passer rating of around 47 and a complete collapse in the first six games of 2016, with a likely record of 1-5 or 0-6 and the eventual benching of Fitzpatrick.  Taking a simple unweighted average of all the models (admittedly overly simplistic, but there are limits to what we can undertake here), perhaps the most likely outcome is a passer rating hovering around 70 after six games.  This would likely put Fitzpatrick at or very near the worst passer rating in the NFL over the first six games, and would likely produce a record of 1-5 or 2-4.