Just How Good Are the New York Jets?

Just one win shy of their total wins from a season ago, the Jets are looking like serious contenders this season.

Entering their Week 5 bye, the New York Jets have been one of the surprise teams in the NFL season. Off to their best start in five seasons, with a record of 3-1, they sit only behind the 3-0 New England Patriots in the AFC East.

After finishing last in the division in 2014, the Jets are just one win away from matching their win total from a season ago. According to our nERD metric, which indicates by how many points a team would be expected to beat or lose to an average team on a neutral field, the Jets currently rank 11th in our power rankings.

Once expected to challenge New England for division supremacy, the Dolphins already fired head coach Joe Philbin after a disastrous start. The door is open for the Jets to give the Patriots a run for the AFC East crown.

Based on our algorithms, the Patriots have a 61.3% chance of winning the division, while the Jets' chances are 24.2%. The Jets have faced a soft schedule through the first four weeks of the season, as opponents have accounted for just 5 wins and 11 losses. Are the Jets playoff contenders, or just benefiting from a favorable early season schedule?

Solving the Jets

The Jets fired general manager John Idzik and head coach Rex Ryan in the offseason. After two season as defensive coordinator for the Arizona Cardinals, Todd Bowles was hired to replace Ryan by new general manager Mike Maccagnan. Bowles and first year defensive coordinator Kacy Rodgers have the defense looking elite once again.

Returning from two seasons away and coming off a Super Bowl win with the Patriots, corner back Darrelle Revis resigned with the Jets this offseason. Revis Island is back in New York along with former Jets corner back Antonio Cromartie after a season with Bowles in Arizona. The Jets added rookie defensive lineman Leonard Williams, cornerback Buster Skrine, and safety Marcus Gilchrist to bolster a unit that ranked 26th in schedule-adjusted Defensive Net Expected Points (NEP) per play last season, which compares a team's performance to expectation-level.

Allowing the third fewest yards per game at 280.2 and a league best 13.8 points per game, the Jets are once again striking fear into opposing offenses. The Jets are number two in Adjusted Defensive NEP per play, behind only the Denver Broncos.

While not as dominant as the defense, the Jets offense has performed better than expected under new offensive coordinator Chan Gailey. Presumed starting quarterback Geno Smith broke his jaw in a locker room fight in August, opening the door for newly acquired Ryan Fitzpatrick to lead the offense.

Fitzpatrick was Gailey’s starting quarterback as head coach of the Bills from 2010 to 2012. Fitzpatrick produced his best statistical seasons as a quarterback with Gailey, passing for at least 3,000 yards and 23 touchdowns in all three years. Fitzpatrick also threw at least 15 interceptions in those seasons.

This season, Fitzpatrick ranks 21st out of a possible 29 quarterbacks who have dropped back to pass at least 100 times with a 0.03 Passing NEP per drop back. On the season, he has completed 60.7% of his passes accumulating 924 yards, 7 touchdowns, and 6 interceptions.

The Jets' lone loss came in Week 3 against the Philadelphia Eagles, a game in which Fitzpatrick threw three interceptions. Wide receiver Brandon Marshall also fumbled twice, losing one trying to lateral the football on what he called the worst play in NFL history. For the Jets' success to continue Fitzpatrick will have to better protect the ball or he could find himself on the hot seat with Geno Smith back from injury.

Nursing injuries but declared active, leading rusher Chris Ivory received zero touches in the game. Mustering just 31 yards on 10 carries in his absence, Bilal Powell wasn’t able to get the ground game going. A good pass catcher out of the backfield, Powell has caught 14 of 18 targets on the season. However, his Reception NEP per target (0.16) ranks just 25th among 33 backs with at least 10 targets on the year.

A below average rusher with a Rushing NEP per carry of -0.07, Powell decreases the team’s chances of putting points on the board with an average rush.

Ivory has 314 yards rushing on 63 attempts this season, producing a Rushing NEP per carry of 0.08. Out of a possible 21 running backs with at least 50 carries this season, Ivory's Rushing NEP per play ranks fifth behind only Eddie Lacy, Devonta Freeman, Giovani Bernard, and Jamaal Charles.

Perhaps the biggest acquisition on the offensive side of the ball was of 31 year old wide out Brandon Marshall. Appearing in only 13 games last season for the Chicago Bears, Marshall caught just 61 passes for 721 yards, his lowest totals since his rookie season of 2006. Marshall still managed to snag eight touchdowns a season ago.

Rejuvenated with the Jets, Marshall is tied with Antonio Brown as the eighth most targeted wide receiver in the league with 44, turning those 44 targets into 30 receptions for 400 yards and 3 touchdowns.

Marshall owns a Reception NEP per target of 0.74, which ranks him 24th among 54 receivers with at least 20 targets. Seeing 30 percent of Fitzpatrick’s 147 passes, Marshall is on pace for 120 receptions, 1,600 yards, and 12 touchdowns which would all set or tie career highs in each category.

Playing opposite Marshall, wide receiver Eric Decker has turned 19 targets into 14 receptions, 180 yards, and 3 touchdowns in just three games this season. Sporting a 0.93 Reception NEP per target, Decker ranks 15th out of a possible 110 players with at least 10 targets.

Exceeding Expectations

Before the season, Vegas Super Bowl odds put the Jets at 100 to 1. Our algorithms currently give the Jets a 4.2% probability of winning the Super Bowl and 66.7% odds of making the playoffs with a projected 9.6 wins. The odds are currently in the Jets' favor to remain competitive.

The Jets have performed over expectations to start the season, but when looking at how many impact players were added this offseason, it shouldn’t be all that surprising. The defense is off to an elite start to the season.

With Ivory running beastly, and Marshall and Decker giving Fitzpatrick big, physical targets, there is only one other question: the quarterback.

If Fitzpatrick can stay productive and keep turnovers in check, the team’s success should continue. The Jets could be a team that proves troublesome for others come playoff time.