The Jets are now getting into the heart of their brutal early season schedule. Three of the next four games are on the road, and all four games are against teams that made the playoffs last year.
The road has not been kind to the Jets. It is rarely kind to any team. Even the mighty Patriots have struggled against good teams on the road. But there are varying levels of struggling. The Jets have struggled more than most against winning teams on the road.
Since 2010 the Jets have gone 1-16 in the regular season on the road against teams that finished the year with a winning record. Since that's a bit of a mouthful, let's just call those opponents Good Teams. The Jets' lone road win against a Good Team during that stretch came in 2010, when the Jets were legitimate Super Bowl contenders. That year the Jets went 1-2 on the road against good teams, the lone victory coming late in the year against the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Steelers would exact their painful revenge in the AFC Title Game, denying the Jets what would have been their first trip to the Super Bowl since 1969.
Since that lone win in 2010, the Jets have gone 0-14 on the road against Good Teams. A good percentage of those losses can be chalked up to the Jets simply not fielding very good teams themselves from 2012 through 2014. Still, the Jets were an excellent team in 2010, still a pretty good team and a playoff contender in 2011, and again a playoff contender in 2015. Despite those relatively strong teams, the Jets still went 1-6 against Good Teams on the road in 2010, 2011 and 2015 combined.
That brings us to the current Jets team and the tough road schedule that begins this week in Kansas City. There are no guarantees in this business, and some of the successful teams of the recent past always fall by the wayside as the season progresses, but barring major injuries it would be a surprise if any of the next thee road opponents are not Good Teams in 2016. The last time the Kansas City Chiefs and the Arizona Cardinals were not Good Teams was 2012, and the Pittsburgh Steelers have been a Good Team seven of the last nine seasons.
That presents the 2016 Jets with both a challenge and an opportunity. The challenge is clear: beat a Good Team or two on the road for the first time since 2010 or put yourself in a hole likely too difficult to climb out of. The opportunity is equally clear: if the Jets manage to beat one or two Good Teams on the road in this brutal stretch the rest of the schedule looks considerably easier. Open the season 3-3 or 4-2 and the playoffs beckon, with some hope of advancing after having already proven the Jets can beat Good Teams on the road. On the other hand losing the next three road games would make the lone home game in this stretch against a struggling but still very dangerous Seattle team a virtual must win game. Opening the season 2-4 or 1-5, with a road game against the Patriots still on the schedule, would likely mean the end of any realistic playoff hopes. If this team isn't good enough to beat a Good Team on the road it probably isn't good enough to pull off the 8-2 or 9-1 run that would then likely be required to make the playoffs.
This next four game stretch will likely determine the Jets fate. Will it be a road to nowhere, or a road to the playoffs? How the team fares against Good Teams will tell the tale. Either the Jets reverse their recent road ineptitude, or the playoffs will likely be just a mirage.