With the NFL schedules officially released, the New York Jets and their fans can begin to think about the upcoming year. Aside from the normal slate of division matches, two against each opponent, the Jets also draw the NFC North and AFC West divisions for their other games. The division draws are tough as is, but what the Jets really need to worry about is how stacked their schedule is before their week 11 bye.
By raw strength of schedule based on 2013 records, the Jets have the ninth most difficult slate overall. Evaluating teams based on the previous year’s records can be a crude metric, but combined with observations about the off-season it can give a rough idea of how difficult the next year will be. For example, the Jets open the season at home against the Oakland Raiders. The Raiders won only four games in 2013, but have made vast improvements on both sides of the ball, and still have the fifth overall pick in the draft to add another big piece. The other three teams from that division were in the playoffs last season, including the Super Bowl runner-up Denver Broncos.
Week two sends the Jets to Lambeau Field, one of the toughest road games in football. The Packers very nearly made the playoffs without one of the best players in the league in Aaron Rodgers. He will be back and healthy, and the Jets secondary is still their biggest issue. In fact, the Jets will face one of the top ten quarterbacks in terms of yards per game seven different weeks, counting Tom Brady twice. Five of those games come in the first seven weeks of the season.
If the Jets can reach their bye week with a respectable record, within a game or two of the playoff picture, they could be poised for a big push. Their post-bye week slate features draws against the Bills, Dolphins (twice), Vikings, Patriots and Titans. No roster is set, so it is impossible to predict just how tough those games will be seven or eight months from now, but it certainly looks like a stretch where the Jets should be favored most weeks. Even the match-up against New England is a home game.
Another item of note is that the Jets will be featured in prime time on three separate occasions. New York will have two Monday Night Football games, in week three against the Bears and week 13 against the Dolphins. They will also play a Thursday night game October 16 in New England. Not counting their night games, the Jets will be on CBS every week except for their game against the Lions in week four, which will be broadcast by Fox.
Come the pre-season, the Jets will have a better idea of the difficulties of their schedule. As it is, they look like they will have to survive that tough stretch early on. The good news is that some of the Jets’ most difficult games, against Denver, Chicago, and Detroit, will be home at the Meadowlands. If they enter the bye within shouting distance of a playoff spot look for the Jets to take off into the playoffs.
Commentary by Brian Moore