As I sat watching the Buffalo Bills and the Jacksonville Jaguars compete in the AFC wild card round Sunday afternoon, I couldn’t help but ask myself this question: when will the New York Jets end their playoff skid?
Believe it or not, the answer might come sooner than we think. The Bills and Jaguars are the latest examples of the tumultuous state of the NFL, where parity runs rampant and predictability is a rare commodity.
The Bills snapped their league-leading 17-year playoff drought by sneaking into the postseason courtesy. It took a win of their own and a miraculous Andy Dalton last-minute touchdown pass that knocked the Baltimore Ravens out of contention. The Jaguars broke a nine-year dry spell and captured their first AFC South crown in franchise history. Virtually nobody saw either of those scenarios occurring in August.
Both teams made the playoffs despite glaring weaknesses. The Bills have a dynamic running back in LeSean McCoy and an emerging secondary. But Buffalo has one of the league’s worst run defenses and lacks much weaponry in the passing game. Jacksonville’s defense is arguably the best in the league and its running game is powerful. But Blake Bortles is awful and can unravel easily.
The Jets currently own the third-longest postseason drought in the NFL, having missed the postseason the last seven years. Only the Cleveland Browns (15 years) and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (10 years) have longer streaks.
Who knows what could’ve happened if the Jets didn’t collapse in the fourth quarter against the Patriots, Dolphins and Falcons. Who knows what could’ve been if the Jets showed up for games against Tampa Bay and Denver. And, if the Jets won those games, would a healthy Josh McCown for the final month of the season have changed the outcome? Sure, the would’ve, could’ve, should’ve game is arbitrary. But better results in a few of those games would have made a difference, especially given the mediocrity across the AFC.
The Jets might not be as far away from the postseason as we think because the difference between good teams, average teams and below average teams are marginal in today’s NFL.
New York overachieved with a roster nobody thought would win two games. Ownership didn’t deliver a mandate for general manager Mike Maccagnan and coach Todd Bowles to make the postseason in 2018. But one would think the duo would have to get into the playoffs by the time their matching contract extensions expire in 2020 if they want to keep their jobs.
The Jets still have some serious work to do to assemble a playoff-caliber roster. The offensive line needs upgrades, particularly at center and right tackle. Cornerback is one of the team’s weakest positions. New York still doesn’t have a proven pass rusher. The offense needs at least one more playmaker to be a legitimate unit.
Oh, and the Jets still need a quarterback. Whether it comes via the draft or free agency, Maccagnan will be expected to find a long-term answer this offseason.
This offseason will be a defining one for the franchise. The Jets could have anywhere from $80 million to $100 million in cap space entering the spring and currently own the No. 6, No. 37 and No. 49 overall picks in the 2018 NFL Draft. With a strong offseason, the Jets could instantly morph into a wild card contender.
There’s no guarantee Maccagnan, whose draft record has been spotty, will adequately address the team’s most glaring needs properly. But what’s most important right now is the Jets have an opportunity to vastly improve this offseason.
The NFL is as turbulent as its ever been. The teams vying for a wild card berth this season all had plenty of unique flaws. It doesn’t take perfection to make the playoffs in the AFC. Being relatively talented with some better luck in close games could be all it takes for the Jets to play postseason football at last.