The process of projecting the ceiling and floor for the New York Jets in 2014 begins with assessing the team's character. It determines the team's mental state. It determines what will help the team progress and what obstacles exist.
Much of the 2014 offseason's coverage has focused on picking the team's starting quarterback. That's an important issue. Adapting to personnel changes at key starting positions will also be important, no matter who is under center.
- Wide receivers (2): Eric Decker and whoever wins the No. 2 job
- Right tackle: Breno Giacomini
- Running back: Chris Johnson, in a committee with Chris Ivory and Bilal Powell
- No. 2 cornerback: Dimitri Patterson
- Safety: Calvin Pryor
- Guard (should Willie Colon be unavailable): Oday Aboushi
It's similar to 2013, when they lost 13 of 2012's starters to free agency, injury, release, trade or retirement. Four replacements were rookies. Brian Winters became the fifth rookie replacement in Week 5 against Atlanta.
What will make or break the Jets' season is how well the team comes together, especially the offensive line, offensive skill positions and defensive secondary.
It won't be easy, especially before the Week 11 bye. In their first 10 games, the Jets face quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers, Jay Cutler, Matthew Stafford, Philip Rivers, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger. Another challenging matchup is against one of 2014's best wild-card teams, the Kansas City Chiefs. Entering the bye week as a .500 team will be a significant accomplishment.
If the Jets are 4-6 or 5-5 going into the bye, the playoffs are still within reach. They can't afford many missteps. With six losses, they'll have to go 5-1 down the stretch for a winning season. That means winning at least three road games, one more than in 2013.
At least the last six games are considerably easier, with only one 2013 playoff team to face. If the pieces come together, winning four or five of those games is realistic. A finish like that could secure a playoff berth and Rex Ryan's job.
A wild-card berth and first-round win is the ceiling in 2014. The floor, when all the Jets earn is a high draft pick, also bears examining. That's when they don't beat any elite or second-tier quarterback before the bye and continue their mediocrity thereafter.
A number of factors, such as injuries, players having off years or players not realizing potential, could contribute. Jets fans know that type of year, too, when they cover their heads with paper bags at the stadium and "J-E-T-S" means "Just End The Season."
If the Jets hit the floor, John Idzik might join Ryan in the unemployment line.
Ceiling: 10-6, Wild-Card Berth
Everything comes together if the Jets reach their ceiling in 2014.
- Geno Smith proves that 2013 was a case of rookie growing pains. He throws for 3,800 or more yards, runs for 400 to 500 more and produces 25 touchdowns (18 in the air) against 12 interceptions. He makes faster, better decisions to take pressure off the offensive line.
- Eric Decker proves he didn't need Peyton Manning, Demaryius Thomas or Wes Welker to have a season worthy of the Pro Bowl.
- Jace Amaro becomes such a versatile threat that it's hard to keep him off the field. He lines up as a third wide receiver so often that Jeff Cumberland gets plenty of snaps as a conventional or "Y" tight end. Jeremy Kerley or Jalen Saunders often join the fray to create a four-receiver, empty backfield set.
- Stephen Hill keeps his job as the No. 2 receiver but the role is more of a time-share between Hill, David Nelson and possibly Shaq Evans. Kerley and Saunders share slot duty.
- Ivory, Johnson and Powell stay healthy and create a committee running back system that gives everyone some carries without wearing anyone out.
- Pryor and Dexter McDougle become forces in a new, youthful secondary.
- A lighter Quinton Coples gives the Jets a sack threat from outside. That lets Muhammad Wilkerson sit out more snaps and remain fresh throughout the season. If Antwan Barnes stays healthy, Coples spells Wilkerson at defensive end in certain sub-packages.
- There are injuries here and there, but no one misses multiple games in a row. In some cases, such as along the offensive line, young players get opportunities they would not have otherwise had.
|The New York Jets' 2014 Ceiling: 10-6|
|1||Oakland Raiders||W||The Jets' youth overcomes Matt Schaub and the Raiders' other new faces.|
|2||@ Green Bay Packers||L||Aaron Rodgers puts on an MVP-like performance.|
|3||Chicago Bears||W||The Jets' defensive line pressures Jay Cutler into mistakes and the secondary capitalizes.|
|4||Detroit Lions||W||Dee Milliner boosts his reputation against Calvin Johnson.|
|5||@ San Diego Chargers||L||Philip Rivers, Ryan Matthews, Antonio Gates and Keenan Allen lead a well-balanced attack.|
|6||Denver Broncos||L||Peyton Manning, Demaryius Thomas and Wes Welker put on an offensive show.|
|7||@ New England Patriots||L||It's close but the Patriots win in Foxborough.|
|8||Buffalo Bills||W||The Jets end the season's longest losing streak with a big performance by Stephen Hill, one of many in 2014..|
|9||@ Kansas City Chiefs||L||Andy Reid's team puts on a solid all-around effort.|
|10||Pittsburgh Steelers||W||Geno Smith gets the better of Dick LeBeau.|
|11||BYE||At 5-5, the Jets aren't talking playoffs and Rex Ryan's future is uncertain.|
|12||@ Bills||L||Ryan continues his post-bye week slump.|
|13||Miami Dolphins||W||In 2014, that slide stops quickly. Ryan rallies the troops for a postseason run.|
|14||@ Minnesota Vikings||W||The defense gives up Adrian Peterson's typical 100-yard game but makes the key stops.|
|15||@ Tennessee Titans||W||The Jets win the turnover battle and the game. Chris Johnson breaks a big play against his former team.|
|16||Patriots||W||Just like 2013, the Jets prove that beating Brady begins by dominating the line of scrimmage.|
|17||@ Dolphins||W||The Jets hold another celebration in Miami. This year, they're going to the playoffs!|
The biggest improvements will be in offensive production, the defensive secondary and kick and punt returns. Inside linebackers will show signs of wear from taking too many snaps, the offensive line will be effective but show signs of aging and the youthful secondary should generate more turnovers but may still be susceptible to the big play.
Those weaknesses would separate the Jets from the NFL's elite. That's why this schedule has so many losses in the first 10 games. It's a case of disciplined quarterbacks exploiting a young secondary, much as disciplined defenses exploited a rookie quarterback in 2013.
That secondary will withstand its baptism of fire and the new starters will boost the offense in time for the Jets to get hot down the stretch. If they play their best, they should finish 4-2 in their division, 3-1 against the NFC North, 1-3 against the AFC West and beat both Pittsburgh and Tennessee. They would win the second wild-card berth but advance no further than the divisional round.
That's if everything comes together. Here's what happens if it doesn't.
Floor: 3-13, Last Place
Things could also go dreadfully wrong. There must be a reason why draftsite.com has the Jets picking third in its April 2015 mock draft.
A two-part formula is the kiss of death for many an NFL season. It has nothing to do with the coaching staff's skill or lack thereof. It's all about the players' abilities to do two things: Stay healthy and play to their potential.
Seven of the Jets' 22 projected starters have lost significant playing time to injury. Hill, Colon, Giacomini, Dee Milliner, Patterson and Coples have lost playing time in 2012 or 2013. Ivory, Barnes and Michael Vick are key reserves or committee members with similar histories. Another starter, Johnson, is missing offseason drills because of a knee injury.
What's your comfort level with the following replacements?
- Darrin Walls for Milliner
- Kyle Wilson for Patterson (McDougle is Patterson's first replacement. He re-injures his shoulder.)
- Aboushi for Giacomini
- William Campbell or Dakota Dozier for Colon
- Powell for Johnson, removing Johnson from the running backs' committee
- Evans (or more improbably, Quncy Enumwa) for Hill, assuming Hill continues his strong showing and makes the team
- Garrett McIntyre for Coples
Projecting who gets hurt when and where isn't going to be part of this article. It represents the icing on the cake, so to speak, of things that could go wrong.There's plenty of other examples that don't involve injuries.
- Colon does not recover. Despite the promise he showed in OTAs and minicamp, Aboushi fails to be an adequate replacement.
- Decker doesn't perform to expectations against the NFL's first-string cornerbacks.
- No candidate for the No. 2 wide receiver position distinguishes himself. Hill doesn't make the team.
- Pryor plays hard but leads the NFL in unnecessary roughness penalties.
- Cornerbacks McDougle and Patterson blow too many coverages trying for turnovers.
- Milliner fails to live up to the promise he showed while covering Josh Gordon and Mike Wallace in 2013.
- Geno Smith regresses, Ryan sticks with him too long and Vick takes over too late to save the season.
- The predicted ceiling assumes the Jets can shut down quarterbacks such as Cutler and Stafford. If they fail, there will be no 5-5 or even 4-6 start.
That last bullet spells the difference between playoffs and disaster. It's too soon in Idzik's rebuilding to expect the Jets to beat elite teams or quarterbacks regularly. What would indicate progress in 2014 is the ability to beat teams that missed the playoffs both at home and on the road. Their success or failure in doing so is what separates the ceiling from the floor.
|The New York Jets' Floor, 2014: 3-13|
|1||Oakland Raiders||W||This good start may be the best the Jets look all year.|
|2||@ Green Bay Packers||L||Rodgers begins the slide with an MVP-like performance.|
|3||Chicago Bears||L||Cutler looks elite as he exposes the inexperience of the Jets' secondary.|
|4||Detroit Lions||L||Johnson and Matthew Stafford team up for nearly a 200-yard day to Milliner-bashers' delight.|
|5||@ San Diego Chargers||L||Rivers and Co. extend the Jets' losing streak to four. Demands for Vick to replace Smith grow: Ryan supports the sophomore QB.|
|6||Denver Broncos||L||Manning, Demaryius Thomas and Wes Welker demonstrate a passing attack to Eric Decker and Smith as the pro-Vick outcry grows.|
|7||@ New England Patriots||L||The Jets wake up momentarily but fall to 1-6 as Tom Brady rallies New England.|
|8||Buffalo Bills||W||The season's longest losing streak ends as the offense explodes against Buffalo.|
|9||@ Kansas City Chiefs||L||Jets start a new losing streak against the solid Chiefs.|
|10||Pittsburgh Steelers||L||Dick LeBeau makes Smith look like a rookie again.|
|11||BYE||The Jets' 2-8 start causes an outcry for Vick to replace Smith and for Ryan and John Idzik to go.|
|12||@ Bills||L||After this loss, Ryan announces Vick will replace Smith.|
|13||Miami Dolphins||L||Vick puts some life into the offense but the defense can't stop Tannehill and Wallace.|
|14||@ Minnesota Vikings||W||The latest losing streak ends at four with the defense stopping a run-oriented offense.|
|15||@ Tennessee Titans||L||Turnovers plague Vick and the Jets while Chris Johnson fails to do to the Titans what he did to the Jets in 2012.|
|16||Patriots||L||The team is near total collapse and Brady is only too happy to contribute.|
|17||@ Dolphins||L||There's no reason to celebrate except for an early draft pick. It's a good thing the Jets didn't trade it in May.|
If they hit the floor, it's back to the drawing board. The Jets have to finish 1-5 within the AFC East, 1-3 against the NFC North, 1-3 against the AFC West, and lose to both Pittsburgh and Tennessee to make this debacle happen. It won't take until season's end for fans and the media to call for Ryan's and Idzik's firings. It will already be at a fever pitch by Week 11, when the Jets enter their bye week at 2-8.
For what it's worth, I don't think the Jets will hit either the ceiling or the floor in 2014. I'm projecting a 9-7 season and perhaps a wild-card berth. That puts me within a game of the ceiling.
A floor-like season could happen, but barring a catastrophic outbreak of injuries it would represent an indictment of the entire organization and its rebuilding plan.
The pattern for 2014 seems clear. The Jets spend the first 10 games learning about themselves as a team while confronting the most difficult part of their schedule. Their struggles hurt them against playoff teams and elite quarterbacks. Still, there are enough beatable teams before the bye to make four or five wins realistic. If they can achieve that before the bye while learning about themselves as a team, the results should bear fruit from Week 12 to Week 17. That's when they win far more than they lose and make the playoffs for the first time since 2010.
That should be enough progress to save Ryan's job and retain Smith as quarterback. Any postseason success would be gravy.
Follow Philip Schawillie on Twitter: @digitaltechguid.