Game-by-game preview: Can the Jets achieve a winning record?

The New York Jets have a very distinctive schedule in 2016. First of all, it’s much tougher than last season’s slate that featured the two worst divisions in football, the AFC South and the NFC East. But more than that, it can be divided into three clear sections:

Weeks 1-6: Playoff contenders with defenses ranging from pretty good to daunting

Weeks 7-10: Much weaker opponents leading into Week 11 bye

Weeks 12-17: Post-bye final stretch that includes four divisional opponents and three primetime games

In fact, FiveThirtyEight did some fancy math to show that the Jets’ schedule is tied for the most “front-loaded” in the league this year.

In this article, I preview and predict each game, but with the disclaimer that everything is based on what we know now, on Sept. 5, and truly every one of these games are up for grabs. Can the Jets go 16-0? Well, I’ll just say they have about the same chance of going 0-16. I’d rather focus on whether Gang Green, with a roster similar to 2015’s but a more difficult schedule, can break .500.

And away we go…

Week 1: vs. Cincinnati Bengals

Save your jokes about Andy Dalton and the playoffs: This is the regular season, when the Bengals have been consistently one of the AFC’s most formidable powers. In the first few weeks of the season, I expect Ryan Fitzpatrick still to be scraping off his rust and rediscovering his rhythm. His preseason performance showed he lost his timing. Whether that’s due to his offseason away from the team as a free agent or a sign of his age can be debated. The truth is, he won’t look great right away, and certainly not against Cincinnati’s tough defense.

Loss: Bengals 24, Jets 13

Week 2: @ Buffalo Bills (Thursday night)

The Jets’ first of five primetime games comes too early for my liking. They take a trip to Buffalo on a short week to play the Bills on Thursday Night Football. Fans remember what happened the last time the Jets played at Ralph Wilson Stadium—no need to open that wound. But in fact, the Jets haven’t beaten Buffalo at all since Sept. 22, 2013 and are winless in the last five matchups. Unfortunately, this uneven start to the season won’t help them break that streak. If there’s one thing Rex Ryan is good at – and he may only be good at one thing – it’s containing the Jets’ offense.

Loss: Bills 20, Jets 10

Week 3: @ Kansas City Chiefs

I’m really not a pessimistic fan, I swear. But I didn’t make this schedule. The Jets continue to play against respectable defenses when they visit Kansas City (home to one of the loudest stadiums in the league) in Week 3. I really do think the Jets can hang close in this one. But even if you firmly believe Ryan Fitzpatrick is better than Alex Smith, it won’t matter if Fitzpatrick is on the ground half the game. The Chiefs recorded 47 sacks last year, and even though their linebacker Justin Houston will be on the PUP list rehabbing his ACL, the Jets’ O-line (at least half of it) isn’t equipped to protect Fitz from a defense like this.

Loss: Chiefs 21, Jets 16

Week 4: vs. Seattle Seahawks

One thing worse than starting a season 0-3 would be to start it 0-4, and things look bleak when you consider the Seahawks are coming to town. But a few of us here at Jet Fuel have some realistic hope that the Jets can pull off an upset here. This game will start 1 p.m. Eastern time, which for the Seahawks’ body clocks is 10 a.m. They also aren’t as dominant as they once were; their offensive line, in particular, is one of the worst in the league. Russell Wilson plays well on the run, but what if he’s on the run for four quarters? And Thomas Rawls certainly won’t run all over the Jets’ front seven, either. I predict the Jets’ first win of the year comes in a defensive upset.

Win: Jets 21, Seahawks 17

Week 5: @ Pittsburgh Steelers

The Steelers might get off to a bumpy start in the first four weeks of their season without star running back Le’Veon Bell, who will be serving another suspension. But luckily for the Jets, Bell will be back just in time for this Week 5 matchup. Bell is one of the precious few runners who plausibly could cause problems for Gang Green’s run-stuffers. When Bell is on the field, Pittsburgh has one of the most well-rounded and dangerous offenses in the league.

Loss: Steelers 27, Jets 17

Week 6: @ Arizona Cardinals (Monday night)

Todd Bowles only worked under Bruce Arians in Arizona for two years as defensive coordinator, and Arians is an offensive-minded coach. But this Monday Night Football game will surely be billed as pupil taking on teacher. Even if the Jets enter this game 1-4 as I predict, it’ll be one of the most entertaining and well-fought games of the year. Unfortunately, the Cardinals are just too good – with one of the best defenses and best overall rosters in the league, to continue this tiresome trend. The Jets don’t have enough in their secondary to cover Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd and John Brown.

Loss: Cardinals 31, Jets 21

Week 7: vs. Baltimore Ravens

This marks the end of the intimidating, hope-they-make-it-out-alive first section of the Jets’ schedule and the beginning of the soft middle. Did you hear Joe Flacco will wear a brace on his left knee (where he tore his ACL in 2015) all season? Even a fully healthy Flacco wouldn’t have any real weapons to help him. The Ravens’ only “proven” running back, Justin Forsett, has only rushed for over 650 yards once in his career. Their receivers feature the over-hyped Kamar Aiken and 37-year-old Steve Smith Sr., whose recent suffix addition is becoming more appropriate every year he stretches his career. Moreover, this should be the first week the Jets’ offense really hits its stride, as they’re facing a mediocre defense for a change.

Win: Jets 34, Ravens 17

Week 8: @ Cleveland Browns

I really don’t think I have to write much about Cleveland. But, as my own attitude about the Browns portrays, this is a trap game if the Jets don’t take it seriously. They’re on the road, and the Browns’ offense might look better this season with Robert Griffin III Part II at QB and Josh Gordon back. But come on. This shouldn’t be that close.

Win: Jets 38, Browns 9

Week 9: @ Miami Dolphins

Even though the Jets haven’t lost in Miami since 2011, division opponents are always tougher when you have to play in their house. This will be the Jets’ sixth flight in nine weeks, which is too many business trips for anyone to be at their best, even professional athletes. I don’t feel the Dolphins are a particularly problematic foe, marking the eighth season in a row I feel that way. But the Jets have a habit of losing a game they really shouldn’t lose every year. It’s best they get it out of the way here and not in Week 17 like last year.

Loss: Dolphins 20, Jets 17 (OT)

Week 10: vs. Los Angeles Rams

By now, the Jets are 3-6, meaning everyone from TV pundits to fans are writing off the season and calling for any of the three backup quarterbacks to replace Fitzpatrick. But the Jets absolutely have time to turn this around. First of all, the Rams stink. I’m skeptical of 22-year-old Todd Gurley being heralded as the savior of featured backs. He’ll have to contend with the Jets’ front seven plenty, though, because the Rams barely have a passing game. And Aaron Donald is the only formidable defender they have left – Los Angeles lost, among others, pass rusher Chris Long and cornerback Janoris Jenkins. I predict Fitzpatrick throws for five TDs – two to Brandon Marshall, two to Eric Decker and one to Charone Peake, because why not?

Win: Jets 41, Rams 14

Week 11: BYE

This is the third-latest bye week teams can have this year. It never looks great on paper to have a bye week on either extreme end of the spectrum, but it’s more important that the bye gives injured players extra time to heal. Those injuries are unpredictable at the start of the year. Further, it gives the Jets an extra week to prepare for a familiar and devilish foe.

Week 12: vs. New England Patriots (Sunday night)

No, 4-6 is not the kind of record you want to have entering a game of this magnitude. But the Jets were 5-5 through 10 games last year and made a legitimate run at the playoffs. The Jets always play New England better at home in New Jersey; the national spotlight will be on them; their season is on the line; and even though I say it every year, the Patriots are far from impenetrable. The Jets’ Bruce Carter and first-round pick Darron Lee will help the safeties cover Rob Gronkowski and Martellus Bennett in the middle of the field, so Darrelle Revis and company can shut down the Pats’ legion of pedestrian white receivers. And New England’s defense still has a handful of question marks.

Win: Jets 28, Patriots 24

Week 13: vs. Indianapolis Colts (Monday night)

The Jets play the Colts on Monday Night Football for the second year in a row. Last time, they went into Indianapolis and stifled their offense, winning 20-7 in Week 2 and making Andrew Luck 0-2 against the Jets in his young career. The Colts may be the only team with an offensive line worse than Seattle’s, and their offense will still be one-dimensional as they try to figure out what the heck to do at running back. This is a far cry from the team that played in the AFC Championship Game in January 2009. For the second straight week, the Jets will shine on national TV. With a winning record (6-5) for the first time all year, Jon Gruden might end up saying, “I’ll tell you what, look out for these Jets, man.”

Win: Jets 27, Colts 10

Week 14: @ San Francisco 49ers

Hey, look, one of the worst teams in the league. I have nothing good to say about San Francisco. Actually, the one good thing I could say is that I was right about how bad they’d be in 2015 after half of its defense retired or got released. Now San Fran’s defense consists of NaVorro Bowman and probably some tackling dummies from the practice facility. The Niners are so bad, they might pull Blaine Gabbert for Colin Kaepernick by this point in the year. I’m not scared. The Jets taking a cross-country flight on a short week doesn’t even give me pause.

Win: Jets 38, 49ers 7

Week 15: vs. Miami Dolphins (Saturday night)

The Jets host Miami on a Saturday night, meaning this is their second straight short week and third game in 12 days. Still, they’re on a roll now. They’re at home and they want revenge against their division rival. On paper, the Dolphins’ defense ought to be good after adding Mario Williams, Kiko Alonso and Byron Maxwell to complement Ndamukong Suh. But here’s the thing: Maxwell is bad, Williams looked far from super in 2015 and Suh didn’t scare Jets’ runners last year. It’ll be the fifth straight win for New York as the regular season winds down.

Win: Jets 31, Dolphins 19

Week 16: @ New England Patriots (Saturday afternoon – Christmas Eve)

Hate to say it, but this final road trip of the year will feature all the jolliness of Bill Belichick wearing a Santa hat. The Jets haven’t beaten Tom Brady at Gillette Stadium in the regular season since fans were calling their new coach “Mangenius.” (That would be 2006.) Even if the Pats have the conference locked up by this week, they rarely rest their starters in late-season games, especially against division rivals.

Loss: Patriots 34, Jets 21

Week 17: vs. Buffalo Bills

That sets us up for a showdown even more dramatic than the previous week’s – the Jets, 8-7, playoff hopes possibly hanging in the balance, once again facing the Buffalo Bills. They’re not in Orchard Park, N.Y., like last year’s Week 17 contest, but in their own friendly confines. Do I need to break down the X’s and O’s in this one? It’s clear what this game will be about—redemption. Bowles will prove why he’s a better head coach and out-Rex Rex Ryan. The Jets are the better team, and with everything on the line, they’ll finally play like the better team.

Win: Jets 24, Bills 20

Final record: 9-7, second place, AFC East

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