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What Questions Can the Jets Answer Over Final Seven Games?

Things the Jets can take out of a suddenly meaningful stretch run

NFL: Atlanta Falcons at New York Jets Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been quite the roller coaster ride for the 2017 Jets, and that’s far more than anyone expected. After facing no preseason expectations whatsoever, the Jets lived up the anti-hype by starting the year with two straight losses by a combined 34 points.

Then, they followed it up with three straight wins to hit 3-2, bringing some unexpected hope to the year. Three crushing losses followed, and at 3-5, most had written them off yet again.

One dance-crazed Thursday night blowout later, the Jets are 4-5 and somehow still alive in the playoff race, only 1.5 games back of the wild card spots held by the Bills and Jaguars. With a meaningful November game looming against Ryan Fitzpatrick, there’s obviously still a lot on the line for the 2017 team. However, the Jets can still learn a lot about their future over the next seven weeks. What questions can they answer?

Is Muhammad Wilkerson worth keeping around, and if so at what cost?

Prior to the Week 7 game in Miami, anybody’s answer to this question would be a resounding no without a dose of thought. Mo’s silence was deafening for much of the early year, continuing a lackluster 2016.

Suddenly, the old Wilkerson has been back. Over the last three games, he has come back to life and looked exactly like the elite enforcer he once was, creating pressure on the quarterback, drawing attention, and stuffing runs. If Wilkerson continues to be himself over the rest of the year, the Jets will have a tough decision to make regarding his contract. Keep him around? Look for a restructure? Cut him?

Can Morris Claiborne be trusted for another contract?

Claiborne has exceeded expectations so far, playing some really solid football shadowing the opposing #1 receiver every week. While he stayed healthy for most of the year, the injury bug caught back up to him as he missed the Thursday night game. This is a player that missed 32 of 64 possible regular season games over the past four seasons. Though Claiborne has been arguably the best and most consistent non-safety on the Jets defense, he needs to continue to prove he can take the field on gamedays consistently to show he’s worth another contract with the team.

Who is safe on the offensive line?

Arguably the weakest link on the Jets this year has been the offensive line. Clearly, this unit needs some serious upgrading in the future, but who can the Jets be most confident about sticking with? On the left side, Kelvin Beachum has had a decent, if inconsistent year, but the Jets can save a lot of cap by cutting ties. I believe he’s been above replacement level, but he needs to keep that level of play up with defenses like Carolina, Kansas City, and Denver coming up. Can Wesley Johnson do anything to defend his spot? Will Brandon Shell recapture his early season success and hold off any potential incoming competition? Everyone on this unit has a ton to prove down the stretch.

What can ArDarius Stewart and Chad Hansen do?

With Jeremy Kerley taking a suspension, Stewart and Hansen figure to get more snaps. Like we all predicted, Eric Tomlinson has over triple the yardage as the Jets’ 3rd & 4th round selections combined. Neither has played much or produced anything when they have. Stewart has caught 4 of 7 targets for a measly 36 yards, adding 3 carries for 18 yards. He’s struggled as the kick returner, averaging only 19.2 yards a return. Hansen has gotten sporadic playing time throughout the year, but hasn’t even earned a single target, likely due to his struggles to separate. The Jets invested quite a bit in these two, but suddenly figure to have a nice future depth chart at receiver headlined by Quincy Enunwa, Robby Anderson, and Jermaine Kearse. Will these two save themselves from camp competition?

How good are we?

It looks like a superficial question, but every team needs to ask themselves this with as much honesty as possible. Even if the Jets get to 8 or 9 wins, they need to be straight up with themselves when evaluating their long-term position. This is a young team that for the future doesn’t have a quarterback, #1 corner, premiere edge rusher, or a strong offensive line. There is such a thing as owning a record that presents you as better than you really are, and there is a ton of football left to be played, but if the Jets are that kind of team they need to admit it to themselves.

The Jets entered neither 2013 or 2015 looking to compete. In both situations, they were coming off of rough years and had overturned the roster quite a bit. In 2013, projected to be an afterthought much like this year, they somehow won 8 games. In 2015, the Jets won 10 games and narrowly missed the playoffs.

However, as proved by the campaigns following both of the aforementioned seasons, those teams way overachieved. The 2013 team got some of the most ridiculous, inexplicable luck ever seen in football. They were outscored by 97 points. The 2015 Jets had an extremely easy schedule and were due to take a step back as they were driven by older veterans who had outlier career seasons. They thought a team with the same core could continue that success. That didn’t go too well.

The Jets need to avoid overestimating themselves. They should not re-sign Josh McCown. They should be careful with veterans like Mo Claiborne. They need to value their draft selections. They must find a viable long-term solution at quarterback. Most of all, they need to stay true to the process they started before the season and look deeper than solely their win total.