Last week’s announcements of the departures of David Harris and Eric Decker seem to have lowered already very low expectations for the team’s 2017 season. While we can debate how bright the team’s future looks, it is difficult to view 2017 as anything other than a lean year.
Things in the short-term look so bleak that a number of people have brought into question whether the Jets might be the second 0-16 team in the history of the NFL.
We have seen it from local publications like the New York Post and the New York Daily News. We have seen it from media covering a division rival. United Press International even posted an article calling the Jets’ plan Operation 0-16.
In light of this, let’s answer some simple questions.
Are the Jets going to be a bad team in 2017? Probably.
Are the Jets going to be the worst team in the NFL in 2017? Possibly.
Are the Jets going to go 0-16 in 2017? Probably not.
It is one thing to have a poor roster, but simply a poor roster isn’t enough to go winless. It also requires bad luck, a lot of bad luck. In fact, it requires so much bad luck that it is tough to imagine another team going 0-16 in the NFL.
Hall of Fame coach Bill Walsh was known to stress the importance of winning games by more than a single score to his legendary 49ers teams of the 1980s. Walsh certainly would take a win any way he could get it, but there was a focus on winning games by double digits.
A reason had to do with officiating. If you are only ahead by one score or less, you are one bad call away from losing the game. We all know officiating in the NFL is suspect. Whenever there is a blown call that costs a team a game, fans moan about it for days.
But we already know officiating is spotty in the league before the ball is kicked off. If we know there is liable to be a blown call, don’t put yourself in a position where that blown call could be the difference between winning and losing.
If your team is up by 5 points in the final minute, a bad pass interference call against one of your corners can set up the winning score. If you are up by 24, it will be a footnote.
While fans generally don’t like to admit it, a lot of close games in the NFL are at least some degree decided by luck. One score games can be swung by a bad call, but that is not the only thing that can swing them.
It can be a correct call that is still a boneheaded penalty. You might remember Lavonte David’s late hit on Geno Smith in the 2013 season opener. The Jets had virtually no chance to win the game until David’s late hit put them into field goal range. The Jets didn’t do much to earn that penalty. They were gifted it. It was luck.
This can manifest itself in any number of ways. It can be a missed tackle that results in a big gain. It can be a big drop. It can be a tipped ball that lands right in the hands of a receiver or a defender. It can be a fumble that bounces right to an offensive player or a defensive player on a decisive play.
A single play can turn a win into a loss, and in many instances either one team or both teams have nothing to do with the outcome.
This is one of the reasons you see such wild swings from one year to another in the NFL in team records. In truth, the difference between a 10-6 season and a 6-10 season can be a handful of plays in key moments, some based on luck.
What does this have to do with the Jets? If even an awful team can be expected to play a reasonable amount of close games, there probably will be a decisive lucky bounce in at least one of those games.
Recent NFL history suggests even the worst teams play a lot of games decided by one score.
The Browns were the worst team in the NFL in 2016. They still played six games decided by one score. Think about that. They needed things to break their way once in six games. Those are pretty good odds. As it turns out, they got things to go their way exactly once. But that shows how hard it is to go winless in the NFL. Even a team that bad plays enough close games to eventually get a bounce or two.
This isn’t a fluke. Every bad team plays a bunch of close games. The 2015 Titans had eight games decided by a score. The 2014 Buccaneers had ten. The 2013 Texans had eleven. You can be bad in the NFL, but everybody has talent to play a bunch of close games.
What about the 2008 Lions? Surely that was a team so bad that it couldn’t compete. Even they had five games decided by a score.
So what happened? They were bad, but you also can’t ignore their horrendous luck.
You might remember this play. It is one of the NFL’s all-time bloopers. Dan Orlovsky lost track of where he was on the field and took a safety without realizing it.
Orlovsky was not much of an NFL quarterback, but this had nothing to do with skill. It was just a guy losing track of where he was in an almost unprecedented way. Even if a guy with low talent like Orlovsky played in the NFL for 25 years, it is unlikely he would ever make a play like this again. It is just really bad luck for that to happen.
What is even worse luck is the Lions lost that game 12-10. What are the odds that play would ever happen? Now what are the odds it would be a 2 point safety that provides the losing margin in a 2 point game? You can’t ignore how random that is. It is tough to imagine luck that bad, but that is what it takes to go 0-16.
And it isn’t just about random bounces of the ball. Sometimes an out of the blue performance either positive or negative can swing a game.
A few weeks back, we posted projections from an ESPN analyst named Mike Clay.
2017 New York Jets game-by-game predictions, player projections and unit grades: pic.twitter.com/eq8yD05vHn— Mike Clay (@MikeClayNFL) May 30, 2017
In addition to player statistics, Clay also projected the odds of the Jets winning each game on their schedule. The team’s win probably was lower than 50% in all sixteen games. Does that mean Clay was projecting the Jets to go 0-16 as one website claimed?
No, as you can see Clay has the Jets projected to go 4-12. What gives? How can he say they are underdogs every week and still win four games?
I cannot tell you the exact formula Clay used to calculate percentage odds in each game, but the concept is determining how many teams each team would win if they played a given game 100 times.
Think back to 2014. The Jets entered a game against the Pittsburgh Steelers with a 1-8 record and a secondary in shambles. The Steelers were 6-3 and had a red hot passing game. The Jets won the game.
If you had those two teams play each other 100 times, those Steelers might have won somewhere between 85 and 90 games. That still would leave somewhere between 10 and 15 times where scenarios played out that involved the Jets winning.
There might be a game where a backup level player like Jaiquawn Jarrett has the game of his life. Guys like Jarrett don’t have the talent to dominate every single week or even sporadically, but almost everybody in the NFL has the talent to have one big performance.
There might be a 1% chance of a guy like Jarrett posting 2 interceptions, a sack, and a fumble recovery and carrying the Jets to victory over a superior team. It just so happened for the Jets it happened that day against the Steelers. Jarrett never had a day like that before. He hasn’t had one since and probably never will.
The reverse is also true. You might run into a situation where a great player has an out of context bad day. Even Tom Brady has had eight games in his career where he has thrown 3 or more interceptions. The Patriots have lost all eight games.
Clay gives the Jets an 11% chance over the Patriots in their Week 17 game in Foxborough. If you line those teams up enough times, the Patriots will probably win most games and quite handily. There still will be 11 instances in 100 where the Jets can do enough to cobble together a win. You might just run into the odd day where Brady is off.
Much has been made of Josh McCown’s 2-20 record over his last 22 starts, but there are still two wins. It includes a 457 yard performance in a win over Baltimore in 2015. Is that the kind of performance anybody could expect frequently? Heck no, but should it be expected once over the course of a long season? Absolutely.
When the schedule comes out, people predict games. Their predictions tend to be based on the idea both teams will play an average game. They never account for the idea one team may play over its head or a lousy game for a week. Over the course of an entire season, it is almost impossible to not run into a great performance by a terrible team or a terrible performance by a great team.
The Jets may not be very good in 2017, but you can’t take things to the extreme. Could the Jets go 0-16? Sure, but the team would have to hit a stretch of almost unfathomable bad luck to not stumble upon a break within a game or an unexpected game-changing performance by either one of their own players or an opponent.