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Are the New York Jets Good?

The oddsmakers in Las Vegas might not buy the Jets as a winner, but Sauce Gardner and Zach Wilson are giving long-suffering Jets fans reason to believe

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

Something strange happened to me last week. I was talking to a friend about the Jets’ playoff chances—OK, multiple strange things happened to me last week—and decided to look up who they were playing on Sunday. The answer was nobody: The Jets were on their bye week. And then it hit me: a twinge of … disappointment. I was sad that I wouldn’t be able to watch the Jets play. Oh crap, I realized. I care about the Jets again.

I have been an NFL writer since 2013. During that time, the Jets have been outscored by 939 points, about a touchdown a week, the worst scoring margin in the NFL. For most of my professional life, being a fan of the New York Jets has not interfered with my ability to do my job at all. I have not had to cover any Jets playoff games. I have not had to consider any Jets players when writing about who should win the league MVP or Offensive Player of the Year. (It does, however, come up during draft season.) On Sundays, I put RedZone on a laptop screen directly in front of my face, and put the Jets game on my actual TV, in the background, just in case something exciting happens. But something exciting rarely happens. I have to write a big column for The Ringer on Sundays, and it’s just convenient to not have to pay outsized attention to any one team for emotional reasons. From Rex Ryan to Adam Gase, from Mark Sanchez to Mike White, the Jets have largely cooperated with my professional needs.

But now the Jets are 6-3. And that small, distinct feeling of being bummed out that the Jets wouldn’t be on my TV screen last weekend means that some part of my heart has already decided to believe in this team. Much in the same way Sauce Gardner shuts down opposing wide receivers every week, he has also shut down the part of my brain that reminds me to be rational about the team I grew up rooting for.

This Sunday, the Jets do play a game. It’s a rematch with the detestable New England Patriots, and it might be the most important game they’ve played in years. The implications are huge, since both teams will likely wind up fighting for the AFC’s last playoff spots. If the Jets win, they will be in first place in the AFC East. If they lose, they will be in last place in the AFC East. Their FiveThirtyEight playoff odds will soar as high as 82 percent if they win—and drop down to 44 percent with a loss.

So it’s time to ask: Are the J-E-T-S actually G-O-O-D? Follow me on the journey that will determine my happiness over the next two months.

Pro: They’re 6-3 and Just Beat the Super Bowl–Favorite Buffalo Bills

The New York Jets …

Are 6-3 …


Con: Vegas Thinks the Jets Suck

The hot start has not fooled the betting market. The Jets opened as 5.5-point underdogs to the Patriots, and in Mike Beuoy’s betting market ranking, which uses spreads to approximate Vegas’s 32-team power rankings, the Jets still haven’t cracked the top 20 despite being tied for the league’s sixth-best record. The Jets are currently in a playoff spot and have the second-easiest remaining schedule in the league, according to ESPN’s Football Power Index … and still have 50-50 odds to make the playoffs, with both sides listed at -108. And Vegas tends to be right. They’re kicking the public’s ass this year even more than usual.

But they also seem to keep getting the Jets wrong. The Jets have been underdogs eight times this year. EIGHT! (The one exception: a road matchup against Brett Rypien and the Broncos.) They’ve won five of those games outright. They were 7.5-point underdogs against the Packers and won by 17; they were 10.5-point underdogs against the Bills and won. Vegas set the Jets’ preseason win total at 5.5; halfway through the year, we’re already past that. Maybe those rich nerds in the desert simply don’t understand the heart and fight of my New York Jets.

Pro: The Defense Has the Sauce

The formative experience for the 21st-century Jets fan was watching Darrelle Revis, the cornerback cornerstone of the team that made back-to-back AFC championship game appearances despite having Mark Sanchez at QB. Revis was physically dominant, but also seemed to know where receivers were going before they went there. He was a beautiful blend of talent and technique, stronger and speedier and smarter than the guys trying to get past him. I think having a cornerback as the franchise’s defining player shaped the modern Jets fan differently from fans of teams that, say, had a functional passing game.

And it makes Sauce Gardner the perfect hero for this new Jets era. We’re not quite at Peak Revis yet—but we could absolutely get there. Gardner is a freak athlete. According to Pro Football Focus, he was in the 98th percentile of height and 99th of wingspan for corners, but still has top-tier speed and flexibility. The most impressive part of watching him, though, is his intuition. When a quarterback is daring enough to target him, he seemingly always throws those enormous arms up at the perfect time and gets his hands in the way. He’s got the drive to go all out breaking up dinky slants on second-and-10 and the guts to know a pass is coming his way with the game on the line and break it up. Athleticism makes a great player; athleticism mixed with a lockdown mentality and intelligence makes a superstar.

Gardner leads the NFL in passes defended (13) and, according to Pro Football Focus, ranks in the top five in the NFL among cornerbacks in passer rating against, completion rating against, forced incompletion rate, and snaps per reception allowed. In college, he started for three years at Cincinnati without allowing a single score—the stat sheet says he has allowed one touchdown in the pros, but it was a result of a clear miscommunication. He still hasn’t truly been beaten. Gardner, meanwhile, has been up in Pro Football Focus’s mentions about this—that lockdown mentality I talked about extends off the field, too.

The Sauce hype train has arrived at the station where people are talking about him as Defensive Rookie of the Year—but that feels like it’s underselling a corner who is already one of the best in the league. Let’s compare the rate stats for Sauce’s season so far against some of the most memorable CB seasons in the past 15 years—all players who were named All-Pro or DPOY:

Corners Comparable to Sauce’s Season

Player Completion % Against Passer Rating Against Yards Allowed per Game Forced Incompletion % Snaps per Reception
Player Completion % Against Passer Rating Against Yards Allowed per Game Forced Incompletion % Snaps per Reception
Charles Woodson 2009 51.3 51.8 28 10.5 13.3
Darrelle Revis 2009 36.9 32.3 26.6 20.7 13.4
Richard Sherman 2012 46.5 40.5 39.5 17.4 14.8
Stephon Gilmore 2019 49 47.4 39 14.6 12.3
Sauce Gardner 2022 43.5 44.6 21 21.7 17.4

Among these elite seasons by legends, Sauce allows the fewest yards per game, has the highest forced incompletion rate, and goes the most snaps between receptions, while sitting behind only 2009 Darrelle Revis in completion percentage against.

And it’s not like he’s doing it because opponents are simply throwing to the other side of the field. Gardner has actually been targeted exactly as many times as the Jets’ other starting corner, D.J. Reed, and nobody in the Jets secondary is in the top 50 in yards allowed. The Jets are just a well-rounded, excellent defense: They’re top five in yards per pass attempt (6.3) and yards per rush (4.0). The Jets’ pass rush has the eighth-highest pressure rate in the NFL despite being tied for second-lowest blitz rate. Gardner is the star, but they’re just a consistent, excellent, well-rounded defense from front to back.

Con: The Jets Mainly Beat Backup QBs

Perhaps one reason Gardner looks like prime Prime Time is that he’s been playing against some of the worst quarterbacks in the NFL. Of the Jets’ six wins this year, four came against teams that received significant playing time from their backup (or even third-string) QB.

In Week 4, the Steelers decided to sub in rookie Kenny Pickett at halftime against the Jets; with no QB1 reps in practice up to that point, Pickett threw three interceptions in the second half. (Pickett is now the Steelers’ starter, but that means the Jets played the first half of that game against the Steelers’ current backup, Mitchell Trubisky.) The Dolphins started Teddy Bridgewater against New York in a Week 5 game last month after Tua Tagovailoa’s brutal concussion the week prior, then Bridgewater was pulled from the game by concussion spotters in the first quarter; seventh-round pick Skylar Thompson, unsurprisingly, played poorly in his first NFL action. The Broncos played Brett Rypien against the Jets—although Russell Wilson, who was out of that game with a hamstring injury, hasn’t exactly been good this year, Rypien still felt like a step down. And the Jets also beat the Browns and Jacoby Brissett, who is filling in while Deshuan Watson serves an 11-game suspension, punishment for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy after an investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct and assault.

The Jets won all four of their games against backups. Brissett, Pickett, Thompson, and Rypien combined to throw one touchdown and six interceptions against New York. A team would be lucky to play this many backup QBs in a season; the Jets did it in the first half of their schedule.

But the Jets also have wins over Aaron Rodgers and Josh Allen—the reigning MVP and a guy who might win this year’s MVP. I’m choosing to believe the reason the Jets have gotten so many wins against backups is because opposing starters are scared.

Pro: The Jets Lost With a Backup QB, Too

If we’re going to discount the Jets for winning against backups, we must also point out that they played multiple games this season with 37-year-old Joe Flacco at QB, an inexplicable fact that makes me completely irate.

Starter Zach Wilson got hurt on the second drive of New York’s first preseason game. Luckily, backups Mike White and Chris Streveler looked ready to step up, balling out in the preseason, with Streveler becoming a fan favorite after throwing multiple game-winning touchdowns. You know who did not play well in the preseason? Flacco! While White and Streveler combined to throw seven touchdowns and one interception, Flacco threw only 12 passes, and one was a pick-six. But come Week 1, the Jets started Flacco. It’s unclear what they saw in him. Flacco may have won a Super Bowl a decade ago with the Ravens, but he had lost his last seven starts dating back to a strange 2019 stint with the Broncos, including an 0-5 record with the Jets in 2020 and 2021. It didn’t go well—2022 Joe Flacco is broadly the same QB launching ill-advised bombs into triple coverage that he’s always been, but at 37, he generally doesn’t have the arm magic to pull it off.

Of 35 quarterbacks with qualifying statistics this season, Flacco ranks 35th in yards per attempt. (He’s 32nd in passer rating and 34th in QBR.) The Jets fell behind by double digits in all three games Flacco started, forcing him to keep throwing more and more passes, which generally led to bigger and bigger deficits. He did contribute to a miraculous comeback victory against the Browns—but Flacco had as much to do with their 13-point deficit with two minutes remaining as their onside-kick-aided comeback. Flacco’s starting stint accounts for two of the Jets’ three losses—they’re 5-1 with Wilson under center.

Even the Jets seem to know they weren’t putting their second-best guy on the field to start the year. Flacco has now fallen to third on the depth chart, and is inactive most weeks while Mike White suits up as the backup. Hopefully their early-season failures with one of the worst quarterbacks to take the field in the NFL this season won’t cost them when jockeying for playoff position down the stretch.

Con: Is … Is Zach Wilson Better Than Joe Flacco?

The depressing part of looking up Flacco’s bad stats was seeing how close the Jets’ current starter is to him. Wilson has a lower touchdown rate than Flacco and a higher interception rate. Pro Football Focus assigns Flacco a 55.0 grade for his performances this season; Wilson is at 54.9.

Still, the Jets offense is significantly better with Wilson. New York averaged 17 points per game with Flacco; they’re averaging nearly 25 points per game since Wilson returned, and topped out at 40 against the Dolphins. Wilson’s arm is better, and he completes bigger, more impressive passes. He can roll out and make a throw on the run that hits Garrett Wilson in stride 40 yards downfield. And he can scramble to pick up big first downs with his legs, while Flacco had just 6 rushing yards in three games.

But sometimes, you’re just like … Zach … what the hell? Are you really incapable of throwing the ball away without throwing an interception?

Wilson shows flashes, but the inconsistency and poor decision-making remain terrifying. My looming dread that the Jets should have drafted Justin Fields remains after almost two years.

Pro: The Jets Are 6-3 and Just Beat the Super Bowl Favorites

I have to say this again: The New York Jets …

Are 6-3 …


This is brain-breaking stuff. The Jets have the longest playoff drought in the NFL at 11 years. The last time they made the postseason, in 2010, I was in college. I’m 32 and married now. Zach Wilson was legitimately 11 years old back then. (He only looks 11 now.) This team hasn’t even been above .500 this late in the year since 2015. The website you’re reading these words on didn’t exist then. The second-longest playoff drought belongs to the Broncos at six years. DENVER WON A SUPER BOWL SEVEN YEARS AGO. The Jets haven’t even played in a Super Bowl since 1969, when they were a member of the American Football League. The Knicks have won a championship more recently than the Jets.

There are a lot of solid arguments against these Jets. But I’m not going to pay too much attention to them. When Jets success is as rare as it is, you don’t pick holes in it. You just appreciate that for once in your damn life, you’re actually looking forward to the game on Sunday.