The Jets stopped tanking when it mattered most

Getting the No. 1 pick and drafting Trevor Lawrence has been the end game for terrible NFL teams this season, and with just three weeks remaining the Jets blew it. Unquestionably the league’s worst team, New York seemed to be a shoo-in to finish with the worst record and select a quarterback considered to be the biggest no-brainer since Andrew Luck entered the league in 2012. Beating the Rams ruined everything.

There’s going to be no shortage of takes waxing poetically about the NFL and the idea that “nobody quits,” which is broadly true but functionally ridiculous. The Jets quit the second they decided to keep Adam Gase as coach. They quit when they refused to make adjustments to try and win games mid-season. They quit when they let Gregg Williams call a defensive play so atrocious and obviously awful it made the tanking objective too obvious. So, spare me if I don’t buy into the utopian belief that every team is trying its hardest to win every week.

Anyone who’s watched a second of football this year knows that the Jets aren’t just the worst team in the league, but the worst team we’ve seen since the Browns went winless in 2017. The only decent team capable of ruining this paradigm was the Rams, who have been so inconsistent in 2020 that losing to New York wasn’t met with utter shock. We’re conditioned to believe that when it comes to football the worst team should have the best chance to rebuild, and that categorically won’t happen if 2020 finishes where it stands now.

Jacksonville will now own the first overall pick if they lose their last two games, against the Bears and Colts. They are a bad team to be sure, but played competitively against the Colts, Titans, Packers, and Browns this season. All playoff teams, or just on the bubble. The Jets can’t boast the same. Fate is gifting Lawrence to Jacksonville, which is honestly best for him. We know the idea of losing out on endorsement money in small markets is a load of crap when it comes to the NFL, and the Clemson quarterback will have a far better chance to succeed with the Jaguars than trying to deal with the mess the Jets have.

That said, it sure feels like the system is fundamentally broken. Heck, it’s been broken for a really long time. The 16 game regular season means there’s not much room for granularity when it comes to final record. There’s routinely 1-3 truly awful teams, then bad ones, then everyone else. Someone gets lucky to draft No. 1 overall, the others miss out — and will probably find themselves back in the top three the next year.

The Jaguars will land the No. 1 pick due to something completely out of anyone’s control: schedule. They are considered to be a worse team by the NFL due to strength of schedule, pushing them lower than the Jets despite both teams having a 1-13 record. This is the way it’s worked forever, but also means that the draft order was effectively decided before the season began.

Just so we’re clear though, let’s compare how bad the Jets and Jaguars really are.

Jaguars vs. Jets, team rankings

Team Pass Offense Run Offense Pass Defense Run Defense Point Differential Turnover Margin
Team Pass Offense Run Offense Pass Defense Run Defense Point Differential Turnover Margin
Jacksonville Jaguars 19 26 28 30 -10.6 -7
New York Jets 31 23 30 14 -14.8 0

The biggest factor in scoring differential in NFL games doesn’t come from offensive success, but ball protection. The Jaguars turn the ball over a lot more than the Jets, but New York is so bad, that even with a 0 turnover differential they still score -4.2 less than the Jaguars against their opponents.

The winless 2017 Browns were statistically a better team than the 2020 Jets are. Their point differential was -11 on a stunning -28 turnover margin. Sure, one can say that not protecting the football is proof a team is terrible, but it’s more indicative of players being bad, not the organization as a whole. So, despite handing out the ball like it was Halloween, the Browns still managed to keep games relatively close.

New York’s current -207 point differential isn’t just bad, it’s borderline historic — and there are still games to go. If things keep at this pace, the Jets will finish with a -237 differential. That will be the lowest since the 2009 Rams, who finished with a -261.

Why is it important to show how bad the Jets are? Because it punctuates how badly they royally screwed this up. Nobody knows if Trevor Lawrence will really live up to his billing as the heir apparent quarterback whose flowing locks will take a team to the promised land, but the Jets don’t even get to see now. They’ll be forced rolling the dice on a new quarterback, or hoping Sam Darnold can improve — and we’ll see them again drafting in the Top 5 next year.

It’s a mess of titanic proportions, and to make everything worse Jets fans are going to have to watch while they see what Lawrence becomes in Jacksonville. All because on one afternoon their team showed barely enough competence to beat the Rams.

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