The New York Jets have had a very busy offseason, improving on both sides of the ball enough to the point where some are actually wondering if they can make the playoffs in 2019.
Of course, even taking into consideration the fact that the Jets have gotten better, making the playoffs will be a tall order, especially in a loaded AFC and in an an AFC East division that is still ruled by the New England Patriots.
Not only that, but New York is going into the season with a second-year quarterback in Sam Darnold who is still largely unproven, so we don’t really know for sure what to expect from the Jets’ offense.
Regardless, New York is talented enough where its playoff chances at least deserve some discussion, so here are three things that need to happen for the Jets to make the playoffs this season:
3. Le’Veon Bell Needs to Dominate
It’s no secret that he Jets will be leaning on their prized offseason acquisition in Le’Veon Bell quite a bit in 2019, and he needs to return the favor by dominating like he did during his Pittsburgh Steelers days.
There are some questions surrounding Bell heading into 2019, as he did not play a down of football in 2018 because of a holdout, but on the positive side, you can say that he got a full year of rest, which is huge given his significant workload in Pittsburgh.
New York will likely run the ball a lot this season in order to bring Darnold along slowly, and Bell needs to be up for the challenge. In addition, the Jets will surely utilize Bell’s ability to make plays as a receiver out of the backfield, as he will represent a consistent option for Darnold on checkdown throws.
Basically, Bell has to be prepared to take on more responsibility than he ever has before.
2. The Offensive Line Has to be Better
Let’s be blunt: the Jets’ offensive line was bad in 2018, so bad that Pro Football Focus had it ranked 25th in the league after the season.
To be fair, New York has tried to address the problem this offseason, trading for Oakland Raiders guard Kelechi Osemele and drafting USC tackle Chuma Edoga in the third round, but the Jets’ offensive line remains a work in progress.
There are still a lot of question marks here, and all of New York’s shiny acquisitions like Bell and Jamison Crowder aren’t going to mean anything if there is no protection up front.
With a young quarterback who is still trying to find his way on the NFL level, the Jets’ offensive line will have to be better—much better—if New York wants to stand any chance of making the postseason in 2019.
1. Sam Darnold Needs to Take the Next Step
Darnold showed some flashes during his rookie year, particularly during the second half of the season. He ended up throwing for 2,865 yards, 17 touchdowns and 15 interceptions over 13 starts, completing 57.7 percent of his passes while posting a passer rating of 77.6.
While he had a decent first season, Darnold can’t post those types of numbers again if the Jets want to make a playoff push this year.
This isn’t to say that Darnold has to become Tom Brady in his second season in the league, but he does have to look more like the quarterback he was in Weeks 15 and 16 when he combined to throw for 594 yards and five touchdowns rather than the one who tossed up four interceptions in an anemic November loss to the Miami Dolphins.
At the very least, Darnold just needs to show some improvement and limit his mistakes.
If he can cut down on interceptions and simply manage the game, the Jets should be decent.