Roundtable: Can the Jets win the AFC East?

By Jet Fuel Staff

Eric Decker said in an interview on SiriusXM Radio that with Tom Brady suspended for the first four games of the 2016 season, the AFC East is “up for grabs.” Do you think the Jets have a legitimate shot at winning the division for the first time since 2002?

Matt Barbato: I would say no. I think the AFC East is still New England’s to lose, even without Brady for the first four games. The Patriots can probably get to 2-2 with Jimmy Garoppolo at the helm and the only thing that would worry me if I’m a Patriots fan is a dismal 0-4 start.

The Jets probably have the second best roster in the division. The defense should be improved in a few ways. Muhammad Wilkerson is surprisingly back for perhaps his final season and will be motivated to have a strong 2016 to ensure he gets paid in free agency. Steve McLendon should be a suitable replacement for Damon Harrison and the Jets have some incredible defensive line depth when you add in Sheldon Richardson, Leonard Williams and Jarvis Jenkins. It will also be younger and faster at linebacker with the additions of Darron Lee and Jarvis Jenkins. If the secondary holds up, this defense will be one of the five best in the league.

Once again, it’s tough to overlook quarterback. I’m sick of feeling like a broken record, but my optimism would be slightly higher with Ryan Fitzpatrick under center than Geno Smith, Bryce Petty or whoever else you want to throw into the revolving door.

The biggest reason I don’t buy the Jets as an AFC East contender outside of quarterback is the offensive line. Aside of Nick Mangold and James Carpenter, this unit is shaky at best. Ryan Clady could be a monumental steal, but he must stay healthy. The right side is a disaster with Brian Winters and Breno Giacomini and will not benefit the Jets in the run game.

Patriots quarterback Tom Brady

Max Marcilla: Even if Brady’s suspension is upheld, I don’t see any way the Jets win the division. That’s not a knock on the Jets, as I believe they have the second-best roster in the division. It’s simply a credit to the remarkable consistency of Brady and the Patriots. I think Garoppolo is a good enough quarterback in a good enough system to keep the Patriots afloat through the first four games of the season. But once Brady comes back, the team will start to click.

Furthermore, I have repeatedly said the schedule will be a problem for the Jets. They overachieved last year for sure, as they finished 10-6 when most people expected eight wins to be their ceiling. But, let’s take a look at how they got there. They had a neutral site game against the Dolphins. They beat Dallas without Tony Romo and Dez Bryant. They beat teams like Cleveland, Jacksonville, and Tennessee. This year the tables have turned. Six of New York’s 2016 opponents made the playoffs last year, including the Seahawks, Cardinals, and of course, the Patriots, who they play twice.

However, Decker is right in the sense that the division is wide open. The schedule is intimidating, but if the Jets can play up to their opponents, they are capable of competing for a playoff spot. I think the Patriots will win the division for the eighth straight season, but the teams are a lot closer than in years past.

Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill

Nick Delahanty: Although Brady is out for the first four games of the 2016 NFL season, the AFC East is still the Patriots’ to lose. Even without Brady, the Patriots have the best full roster out of any team in this division. Yes, it definitely will hurt not having Brady under center, but there is no reason why backup quarterback Garoppolo can’t lead them to at least a .500 record through the first four games. If New England is able to win at least two of their first four games, I think they will be in good shape.

And let’s remember: Brady is getting up there in age (turns 39 on August 3). This suspension might be a blessing in disguise for the Patriots, and here’s why: The NFL is a tough sport. A lot of wear and tear goes into this sport, and with an aging quarterback, having him miss the first four weeks might help him stay fresh for the homestretch. My logic is this: Week 5 serves as Brady’s technical “Week 1,” so he’ll play 12 regular season games as long as he’s healthy. If the Patriots make the playoffs, the start of the playoffs will basically be the point of the season where a good quarterback gets in rhythm, and that could be a very bad thing for opposing defenses to have to face a healthy Brady come playoff time.

Along those lines, I still don’t think the Jets have enough to win the division outright. Do I expect them to compete? Absolutely. But I think this team is built more to earn a Wild Card spot than they are to win the AFC East. With issues at the quarterback position and offensive line, this Jets team could struggle against a much tougher schedule in 2016.

Eric Decker definitely has the right mindset. He came to New York to win. He could have stayed in Denver and rode out Peyton Manning’s final seasons of his career and ultimately would have won a title, but he chose to come to New York not only for a good payday, but to try and bring a title back to New Jersey. He’s a smart guy, and sees that the Jets could have a legit chance if the Patriots somehow struggle in the early part of the season without their leader. But the Jets can’t worry about what New England is doing and must focus on what they can do to be successful in 2016.

Jets wide receiver Eric Decker at practice

Adam Zielonka: I think we need to further define “a legitimate shot.” The “New England Bradys,” if I may be so bold as to parody a bad Mike Lupica quip, have won the division 12 of the last 13 seasons. They fell just a tiebreaker short to Miami in 2008, when Brady lost his season to a knee injury. The Patriots winning the AFC East is on the level of death and taxes as long as Brady is around to play even three quarters of a season.

So even though this is a four-team division, not every team has an equal 25 percent chance to win. Would it be farcical to call a 10-percent chance for the Jets “legitimate”? Maybe, but it makes me more comfortable as a fan. Our staff is in agreement that the Jets have the second-best roster in the division. I think we all agree that Ryan Fitzpatrick’s presence come July would bolster their chances and that the out-of-division schedule will be tougher in 2016.

But we haven’t discussed the Buffalo Bills or Miami Dolphins yet, and we shouldn’t do them that disservice. The Jets haven’t beaten Buffalo since September 2013 and haven’t swept the season series since 2011. They’ve performed better against Miami this decade, but New York consistently finds ways to lose a divisional game they ought to win year in and year out. I thought it something in the DNA of the Rex Ryan era, but Todd Bowles didn’t dispel it in his first year and lost to Rex twice. (Add the fact that Miami added Mario Williams and C.J. Anderson).

So, no—barring spectacular injuries, the Jets don’t have a legitimate chance to win the AFC East until Brady hangs up his cleats and the team does better than 3-3 in-division for the first time since 2010. They’ve been a wild card contender as long as I can remember, and a wild card contender they will be again.

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