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By: Rivka Boord
There are reasons to anticipate the New York Jets’ 2023 slate of games but others to fear the schedule
The office of the NFL’s schedule-maker got its wish. Aaron Rodgers was traded to the New York Jets prior to the release of the full 2023 slate of games.
That, of course, meant that the Jets got the maximum six primetime games. A national audience will watch Rodgers battle the Bills, Chiefs, Chargers, Raiders, Dolphins, and Browns. Several other games are in the 4:25 slot with the potential to be national affairs, as well.
However, the looming difficulty of those games could cast a pall on the excitement in East Rutherford. Which king of Jets hatred decided that the team should face one of the most challenging slates in all of football in their quest to break a 12-year postseason drought?
Then comes the other question: we’ve got Rodgers, so who cares? They should fear us.
Predicting the true difficulty of a schedule prior to the season is an exercise in futility. The NFL is the ultimate league of parity, seeing more new playoff teams each year than any other sport. Not For Long was not just a joking moniker from Jerry Glanville. This makes the Jets’ long-standing hiatus from postseason play all the more infuriating.
That being said, it’s natural to look at a lineup of Patrick Mahomes, Jalen Hurts, Josh Allen, Tua Tagovailoa, Deshaun Watson, Russell Wilson, Justin Herbert, and Dak Prescott and be worried. Let’s take a look at the Jets’ schedule breakdown and try to separate true reasons for concern from melodrama.
Fiction: Strength of schedule (SOS) based on previous-year records is predictive.
Last offseason, Michael Nania demonstrated how SOS changes from the beginning of the season to the end. Let’s revisit this again.
Without even looking at the numbers, there were some obvious switches. When the Jets’ schedule was released, it was assumed that their pre-bye slate was brutal followed by a softer second half. This prompted Brady Quinn to predict that the Jets could start 0-9 or 1-8.
Instead, the Jets began 6-3, buoyed by poor play from the Browns, Packers, and Broncos and an upset over the Bills. After riding high, injuries and a taxing second-half slate saw them end the year on a six-game skid. This was driven largely by surprising seasons from the Vikings, Lions, Jaguars, and Seahawks.
Prior to 2022, the Jets’ scheduled opponents had a .494 winning percentage in 2021, ranked 18th. However, their actual 2022 win rate was .541, the second-hardest slate in all of football.
Perhaps one can view that and shudder at the Jets’ scheduled slate of games in 2023. After all, their 2023 opponents posted a .546 win rate in 2022, the sixth-hardest.
Indeed, it’s possible that their games will be gruelingly difficult. However, there’s an equal probability that their slate will turn out anywhere from 25 to 42 points easier or harder than anticipated. That was the average difference between beginning-of-year and end-of-year SOS evaluations in 2021 and 2022.
Anything can happen. There is so much variance in the NFL from one season to the next, whether it’s due to scheduling, injuries, free agency, luck, or a combination thereof.
Consider the 49ers, who were projected to have the 2022 season’s most difficult SOS (.533) but ended up with its easiest (.417). Perhaps one could argue that the quarterback calculus changed within their schedule. That leads to the next point of contention.
Fiction: QB changes are the main cause of SOS changes season-over-season.
The biggest factor affecting NFL teams is the quarterback. From year to year, some teams will change QBs, whether through the draft, free agency, a trade, or being forced to play a different QB than expected due to injury. In 2022, a record 68 different starting quarterbacks took the field.
Therefore, I wondered if there was more stability in the year-over-year record if the primary QB stayed the same vs. if it changed. There were nine teams that had different quarterbacks take the majority of the team’s snaps in 2022 than in 2021. Obviously, there were also plenty of teams that dealt with injuries, multiple changes, or incompetent play, but those are difficult to isolate.
I took some statistics on the average changes in record among teams that made quarterback changes vs. teams that did not. I was curious to see if there was anything that would jump out.
The answer: it didn’t.
|Starting QB Change?||Median Rank Change in Win %||Median Absolute Rank Change in Win %||Median Win % Change|
I chose the median rather than the mean to account for outliers. This is, admittedly, a very unscientific way of looking at things, as it uses only one year-over-year change without isolating for QB injuries. However, it appears that a lot more than just a quarterback change shifts a team’s fortunes.
What does this say for the Jets? Nothing. It doesn’t say that Rodgers will excel or fall off. There are other reasons to hope that he will have the positive impact the Jets think he will. But the very fact that a change was made doesn’t mean that a team’s fortunes will change in either direction.
Fiction: You are what your record says you are.
Bill Parcells is famous for this quote, and it’s withstood many analytically-based challenges in NFL circles. However, the truth is that many NFL teams are not what their record says they are.
For one thing, injuries have been a major factor in which teams make it to the Super Bowl, and that is largely out of each individual team’s control. Perhaps the team is what their record says they are at the moment, but that is certainly not correlated with what the team could be at full strength or even league-average adjusted games lost.
For another, the 17-game slate of the NFL may take place over a number of months, but it’s ultimately a very small sample size. In any given year, wonky things will happen. Teams like the 2022 Vikings will somehow win 13 games despite posting a bottom-of-the-barrel DVOA. On the flip side, the 2011 Giants did, in fact, win the Super Bowl, as did the 1968 Jets.
Fact: Many teams are either a lot better or a lot worse than we think based on their 2022 record.
The current analytical landscape is focused on isolating various aspects of football from what is ultimately an intertwined team sport. One of the more confounding problems is how to deal with a team that wins or loses more than it seemingly should. Football Outsiders’ DVOA attempts to give a fuller picture of how a team should perform based on their situational football, among other things.
Football Outsiders also provides two other stats called Estimated Wins and Pythagorean Wins to give an idea of whether a team actually should have won as many games as they did.
- Estimated Wins (EW), according to their website description, “uses a statistic known as ‘Forest Index’ that emphasizes consistency as well as DVOA in the most important specific situations: red zone defense, first quarter offense, and performance in the second half when the score is close. It then projects a number of wins adjusted to a league-average schedule and a league-average rate of recovering fumbles.”
- Pythagorean Wins (PW), meanwhile, simulates a team’s win-loss record purely based on the number of points scored and allowed, which, ostensibly, is the bottom line in football (although not quite so when you include garbage time).
What do EW and PW have to say about the Jets’ schedule? Well, they actually indicate that the slate of games is even more daunting than it looks. The Jets’ 2023 opponents averaged 9.32 EW in 2022, the second-hardest slate behind only the Dolphins. Their opponents averaged “only” 9.06 PW in 2022, which is the third-hardest slate behind the Giants and Dolphins.
In other words, perhaps the Jets’ 2023 opponents were even better than their records appeared last season.
Fact: The Jets’ schedule is roughly just as difficult as those of the rest of the AFC East.
Every season, division rivals share 14 of their 17 regular-season opponents. They play their own division six times, the same whole division in the AFC, and the same whole division in the NFC. There are only three differences: the remaining two AFC teams are the ones from the other two divisions that finished in the same slot in their respective division, and then one additional NFC team.
Therefore, if the Jets’ schedule is brutal, so are the Bills’, Dolphins’, and Patriots’. The difference is that this season, the Jets won’t feel like they’re facing Big Brother in those games. With Rodgers in tow, these are evenly-matched games, no matter how tough. Josh Allen looked mortal for much of last season, and there’s plenty of room to cast doubt on Tua’s availability throughout the season.
The whole division faces the Chiefs, Eagles, Chargers, and Cowboys. It’s going to be a tough go of it, no question. Perhaps the records won’t be as good as the teams will be. But all that matters at the end is getting into the dance, and the Jets should still be able to do that.
Fiction: The 2023 Jets are likely to be like the 2022 Broncos and Browns.
The 2023 Jets do have some parallels with last season’s Broncos and Browns: both teams underachieved in 2021 but felt that the one missing piece was the quarterback, so they went out and acquired a superstar QB who was available due to less-than-ideal circumstances. Fans and analysts bought the hype only to see those teams underachieve tremendously, their blue-chip starters looking like fallen men.
That could happen to the Jets. Many in the media are rooting eagerly to see it happen as their favorite hating ground teams up with their favorite laughingstock. There seems to be a lot more pessimism surrounding the Jets this offseason than there was around the Broncos or Browns a year ago.
Still, there are reasons that the comparisons fall short.
Fact: Rodgers is far more set up for success than either Wilson or Watson was.
Although Rodgers is far older than both Wilson and Watson, he has a major advantage over both of them: he’s going straight into a system that fits him like a glove. Rodgers’ back-to-back MVPs came with Nathaniel Hackett calling his red zone plays, which was his area of greatest efficiency. He’s close personal friends with Hackett.
As Peyton Manning explained, this should not be underestimated for a new quarterback. Wilson was unable to adapt to Hackett’s offense last season, causing a quick divorce. Tom Brady’s offense in Tampa looked off-kilter until he took the reins from Bruce Arians. Meanwhile, Manning hit the ground running in Denver because he brought his plays with him.
There is no guarantee that Rodgers will succeed. However, this critical factor certainly sets his situation with the Jets apart from those of Watson and Wilson last season. Therefore, although the Cleveland and Denver games last season became much easier than expected prior to the year, there isn’t necessarily a reason to expect the same from the Jets this year. They remain a formidable opponent for other teams.
It might take a while for Jets fans to get used to that.
Reach out to Rivka Boord on Twitter @rivka_boord.
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Originally posted on Jets X-Factor