Why the Jets — yes, the Jets — will win the Super Bowl this season

Sports

It has been a minute, but the New York Jets are back. And by “back,” I mean legitimate Super Bowl contenders.

And I know what you’re thinking: “Here we go again … every year, same story!” But it’s different this time.

Last season, there was understandable hype. The defense was loaded after a terrific 2022 showing, and the offense now had Aaron Rodgers under center. Things didn’t go as planned — it doesn’t get much worse than losing your future Hall of Fame quarterback on his fourth snap of the season — but the defense still played elite ball and helped the Jets to a respectable (all things considered) 7-10 record.

And on paper, the 2024 Jets are substantially better than the 2023 Jets. You’d be hard-pressed to compare this roster with those of the other 31 NFL teams and not come away thinking this is a legitimate title contender. So let’s take a look at what New York has built and lay out why the Jets will win Super Bowl LIX next February.

Jump to:
Defense | Offense | OL protection
Rodgers | AFC East | SOS | The path

An elite defense

How did the Jets win seven games last season despite operating what was easily the league’s worst offense? Simple. They had an elite defense led by coach Robert Saleh and defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich.

After guiding one of the league’s top D units in San Francisco from 2017 to 2020, Saleh took over as New York’s coach in 2021. It took him a year (the Jets were last in defensive EPA in 2021), but he quickly turned things around (they ranked fourth in 2022 and third in 2023). The Jets’ defense has delivered in all phases, including ranking among the top four in yardage allowed and finishing seventh in sacks in each of the past two seasons.

The future looks bright for a unit that will return eight of its top nine participants (by snaps) from 2023. That list includes standout off-ball linebackers C.J. Mosley and Quincy Williams, an elite cornerback trio in Sauce Gardner, D.J. Reed and Michael Carter, and one of the league’s best defensive tackles in Quinnen Williams.

The edge rusher room will have a slightly different look, but it might be better, with Haason Reddick (fourth in the league with 54 sacks over the past four seasons) in and John Franklin-Myers and Bryce Huff out. Reddick will join 2022 first-round pick Jermaine Johnson (7.5 sacks during a breakout 2023 campaign) as the team’s starting duo, with 2023 first-rounder Will McDonald IV — who was limited to 177 snaps as a rookie because of the team’s excellent depth at the position — set up for a leap forward in Year 2.

Safety is a potential weak spot after the departure of Jordan Whitehead, though the savvy and cheap addition of Chuck Clark shouldn’t be overlooked. Clark missed all of 2023 with a torn ACL, but he posted 284 tackles (ninth most among safeties) with Baltimore over 2020-22. He provides a quality running mate for returning starter Tony Adams, who was solid on 845 snaps last season. Tackle depth behind Williams is probably the bigger concern for this defense, though putting experienced innings-eaters such as Javon Kinlaw, Solomon Thomas and Leki Fotu on the field shouldn’t prove overly detrimental.

Simply put, the Jets’ defense remains elite on paper, and there’s little reason to expect a regression from the past two seasons.


Much-improved offensive supporting cast

All eyes were on Rodgers last offseason, which distracted from the fact that his offensive supporting cast wasn’t particularly good. Running back Breece Hall was recovering from a torn ACL, the wide receiver room was arguably the worst in the league behind Garrett Wilson and offensive tackle was a major concern.

Things are in a much better spot entering 2024.

Hall (understandably) started slow last season, but his usage increased progressively through the season. He had his lowest snap share in Week 1 and his highest in Week 18. The 2022 second-round pick overcame the team’s offensive struggles to finish second among all running backs in scrimmage yards (1,585), as well as first in targets (94), receptions (76) and receiving yardage (591). Hall, who turns 23 this summer, has already solidified himself as one of the game’s best running backs.

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Barnwell credits Jets for choosing the right players to deepen roster

Bill Barnwell says the Jets are furthering their case to be legitimate contenders in the AFC East with their offseason acquisitions.

At wide receiver, the Jets have an ace. Wilson is the real deal. The 2022 first-rounder is fourth in the league in targets (315) since he was drafted, trailing only Davante Adams, Tyreek Hill and CeeDee Lamb. Of course, he’s 14th in receptions (178), 19th in yards (2,145) and tied for 59th in touchdowns (7) during that span mainly because of the team’s dreadful quarterback play.

During the offseason, the Jets signed big man Mike Williams and drafted short-range after-the-catch specialist Malachi Corley, which provides a big upgrade on last season’s secondary receivers Xavier Gipson, Allen Lazard, Jason Brownlee and Randall Cobb.

Add in underrated tight end Tyler Conklin (one of four TEs with 58-plus receptions each of the past three seasons), and Rodgers has the support he needs to produce at a high level. That’s especially the case when you consider that he’ll also have the benefit of a solid line protecting him.


Formidable offensive line

Heading into the 2023 season, I wrote that New York’s offensive tackle situation was one of the league’s biggest X factors. Duane Brown and Mekhi Becton were wild cards, and neither panned out. Brown appeared in only two games because of various injuries, whereas Becton finally stayed upright but struggled and wasn’t re-signed. The team mixed and matched along the line all season long and ended up ranked 30th in pass block win rate and 29th in run block win rate.

The line was clearly a big problem, and the Jets’ front office took action, moving on from tackles Becton, Brown and Billy Turner, as well as interior linemen Laken Tomlinson and Connor McGovern. The five players were responsible for 2,636 (or 50.3%) of the team’s offensive line snaps in 2023.

The new-look line will have at least four new Week 1 starters. The lone potential returning starter is right guard Alijah Vera-Tucker, who has been an above-average producer when healthy since he was selected in the first round in 2021. Vera-Tucker tore an Achilles while being forced into right tackle duties in Week 5 last season, but is on track to return for the start of the season. He will be joined on the interior by veteran addition John Simpson (LG) and 2023 second-round pick Joe Tippmann (C). Neither was overly impressive in 2023, but Simpson was above-average as a pass-blocker on 1,191 snaps with Baltimore, and Tippmann is a good bet for a leap forward in his second pro season.

Of course, that still leaves the extremely important tackle position. New York made one of its biggest moves of the offseason when it signed future Hall of Fame left tackle Tyron Smith away from Dallas. Injuries have been a problem for him in past years, but he played at a high level on 882 snaps last season, which suggests the 33-year-old still has plenty left in the tank. And if he were to miss time, the Jets have a fallback option.

New York brought aboard its potential left tackle of the future when it used the 11th pick of April’s draft on Penn State’s Olu Fashanu. The rookie will at least provide insurance for Smith and the new right tackle, the underrated Morgan Moses, who has posted good-to-great marks in pass block win rate and run block win rate in each of the past two seasons. Projected starters aside, the Jets have seven additional linemen on the roster who played snaps last season, which gives them solid depth.

Sure, progression for the youngsters and durability for the veterans are both going to be key elements here, but now that Smith, Simpson, Tippmann, Vera-Tucker, Moses and Fashanu are in the fold, few teams can compete with the raw talent and elite potential of the Jets’ offensive line.


Aaron Rodgers is back!

OK, this is the big one — and perhaps the toughest variable to sort out.

Pick your lane:

  1. Future first-ballot Hall of Famer Aaron Rodgers is still the same guy who won back-to-back league MVPs in 2020 and 2021.

  2. Rodgers is well past his prime, having struggled in his final season in Green Bay and now recovering from a torn Achilles at 40 years old.

  3. Something in between those first two options.

If you chose the first option, you agree the Jets are title contenders. If you’re leaning toward the second one, I’m surprised you’re still reading. And if you chose the final outcome — as most of you probably have — you’re likely on the right track.

Yes, Rodgers was great as recently as 2021, but it’s fair to wonder if his career-worst showing in 2022 was a product of a decline in play or a Davante Adams-less wide receiver room led by Allen Lazard, Randall Cobb, Sammy Watkins and rookies Romeo Doubs and Christian Watson. He appeared in all 17 games and was top 10 in most counting stats that season, but he plummeted from first in QBR in both 2020 and 2021 to 26th (among 31 qualified quarterbacks) in 2022.

It’s worth noting that we’ve seen blips like that from Rodgers in the past. After posting an average finish of seventh in QBR during his first 10 seasons as a starter (high of first, low of 14th), Rodgers dipped to 16th and 20th, respectively, during the 2018 and 2019 seasons, which had many wondering if his days as an elite quarterback were numbered. He quickly proved his critics wrong. After last offseason’s change of scenery, Rodgers was by all accounts his usual, elite self in Jets training camp and had the offense positioned well for a productive season (you know, prior to that torn Achilles deal).

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Aaron Rodgers expresses love for the Jets’ draft-day shuffle on ‘McAfee’

Aaron Rodgers says offensive tackle wasn’t at the top of the Jets’ “needs” list, but that he likes the Jets trading back in the first round.

Indeed this is the biggest piece of the puzzle and a hard one to decipher, but if we’re in a world where Rodgers is an average (or even slightly below average) NFL starter, that would still be a major upgrade for a team that posted the league’s worst QBR in 2023 (23.4). In fact, the Jets haven’t posted an above-average QBR since 2015 and have finished 28th or worst each of the past six seasons. Rodgers figures to end that streak, and even if he were to miss some time, having Tyrod Taylor in-house to hold down the fort is a much better situation than last season’s Zach Wilson debacle.

If Rodgers remains elite, there’s no doubt that the Jets are Super Bowl contenders. But even if he’s just a competent starter, New York has the support system around him to contend for an AFC title.


The state of the AFC East

The Bills have Josh Allen, so they are still very much a threat in the AFC — but perhaps not as much of a threat after Allen’s supporting cast took a hit during the offseason. Top wideouts Stefon Diggs (Texans) and Gabe Davis (Jaguars) departed for AFC rivals and were replaced by Curtis Samuel and second-round rookie Keon Coleman. Starting center Mitch Morse left for Jacksonville.

On defense, gone are Jordan Poyer (Dolphins), Micah Hyde (free agent), Leonard Floyd (49ers), Tyrel Dodson (Seahawks), Dane Jackson (Panthers) and Tre’Davious White (Rams). Those are some big names, especially in the secondary, and the departures leave question marks at various levels of the unit. Buffalo has defensive mastermind Sean McDermott calling the shots, but his defense already fell to eighth in EPA last season, and it’s fair to wonder if it could dip farther in 2024.

It’s a similar sentiment for the Dolphins, who were a game away from a division title last season. Miami’s offense remains fast and explosive but needs to prove it can sustain a high level of play when the temperature drops. And the defense has its hands full dealing with a ton of offseason turnover, with the players responsible for over half of the team’s 2023 snaps no longer in town. Christian Wilkins, DeShon Elliott, Xavien Howard, Jerome Baker and Andrew Van Ginkel are among the departures, with Kendall Fuller, Poyer, Jordyn Brooks, Shaquil Barrett and first-round pick Chop Robinson being the key additions. The latter two could prove extremely important, as star edge rushers Bradley Chubb (ACL) and Jaelan Phillips (Achilles) both suffered major knee injuries in the second half of last season.

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Greeny exasperated after learning Jets open season on ‘Monday Night Football’

Mike Greenberg doesn’t hide his feelings about how the Jets’ season is scheduled to start almost the same way as last season’s disastrous opener.

An honest, objective comparison of the three teams reveals that the Jets have built arguably the best roster in the division. And even if you think it’s close, the Jets have the benefit of a tiebreaker here …


Light strength of schedule

Finishing third in the AFC East last season means New York should, in theory, have a slightly easier slate than Buffalo and Miami. Per my own team evaluations, that holds true, with the Jets checking in with the league’s ninth-easiest schedule (fourth easiest in the AFC), whereas the Dolphins sit at 19th, the Bills are 31st and the Patriots rank 32nd.

The Jets’ unique games are against the Steelers, Vikings and Broncos — all teams in transition at quarterback and arguably worse overall on paper than in 2023. The Bills’ unique games come against the Chiefs, Ravens and Lions, while the Dolphins draw the Raiders, Browns and Packers and the Patriots play the Bengals, Chargers and Bears.


Manageable road to the Lombardi Trophy

So that’s the division, but the elephant in the AFC room is the reigning champion Kansas City Chiefs. Are the Jets truly better than them?

That’s a bold claim to make when comparing any team to a Patrick Mahomes-led franchise that has been to four of the past five Super Bowls. However, we saw Kansas City’s offense hit some roadblocks last season (10th in EPA after finishing no lower than third each of the prior six years). And while the majority of the defense that carried the team for most of 2023 remains intact, top snap-getter and standout shadow corner L’Jarius Sneed was a major departure. (In fact, Sneed shadowed Garrett Wilson when these two teams met in Week 4 last season, and Wilson totaled only 60 yards on 14 targets in the 23-20 loss.)

If the Jets manage to conquer the Chiefs, the work isn’t done. They’ll still need to beat whichever team escapes an improving NFC. The Lions, Cowboys and Eagles are among the top contenders, but in my opinion, the reigning conference champion 49ers are currently the Jets’ top competition for the “best team on paper” title.

Though the Niners remain stacked, the roster isn’t without concern areas. The defense has the star power (Nick Bosa, Fred Warner and Javon Hargrave), but depth up front isn’t as strong as usual, and key contributors Dre Greenlaw (Achilles) and Talanoa Hufanga (ACL) are recovering from major injuries. An underwhelming offensive line behind Trent Williams wasn’t an issue in 2023 — the 49ers easily led the NFL in offensive EPA — but it’s nonetheless a situation to monitor.

San Francisco’s offensive skill position players are easily the best in the league, so if you’re choosing between the Jets and 49ers, it really comes down to what you think of Brock Purdy. Statistically speaking, Purdy was the league’s best quarterback last season. He paced the position in QBR, yards per attempt, EPA and passer rating. Is he really that good, or was his performance inflated by the “Kyle Shanahan Effect.” It’s likely a mixture of both, which is why I’m rating Purdy as a top-10 quarterback but also a slightly inferior player to the much more proven Rodgers.

This is a close call between two strong rosters, but the Jets have the firepower to come out on top. We’ll get an early look at how they stack up against one another when they face off on “Monday Night Football” in Week 1.


The bottom line

The Jets haven’t been to the Super Bowl since Joe Namath led them to a historic upset of the Colts in Super Bowl III. They haven’t put together a double-digit win season since 2015. And they haven’t been to the playoffs since Rex Ryan got them there in 2010.

But things change quickly in the NFL, and this roster is built to compete for a title right now. If the Jets stay relatively healthy and Rodgers is something close to his old self, you can plan on hearing “J-E-T-S, JETS, JETS, JETS” chants echoing through New Orleans in February.

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