It is a mark of just how sideways things have gone over the last three games of the season that people are legitimately nervous about losing to the New York Jets, the NFL’s most penalized team and a roster that was widely expected to be the NFL’s worst heading into the year.
The Jets still haven’t been good, but they’ve had a surprisingly competent offense featuring a less-than-awful Josh McCown, a solid enough ground game, and a potent pass defense thanks to a stellar defensive line and quietly good secondary. That’s enough to beat the Falcons team we’ve seen show up in recent weeks, though if Atlanta can stop making mistakes at the clip they’ve been making them at, they’re still easily the superior team.
Here’s one reason to worry about what’s ahead, and one reason to feel good about beating the Jets.
One reason to feel confident: That run defense
The Jets, for all their potency up front on the defensive line, have one of the five or so worst run defenses in the entire NFL. The Falcons, meanwhile, have Devonta Freeman, Tevin Coleman, and a fresh mandate to run the ball close to 30 times, plus weather conditions that promise to make running imperative. I would not be at all stunned if the Falcons approach 200 yards on the ground in this one, especially if the score stays tight or they manage to carve out a big lead.
The Jets simply shouldn’t be able to stop them, so long as they’re willing to commit to running the football. They absolutely should commit to it.
One reason to worry: The potential for turnovers
If the forecast holds and there’s rain and wind aplenty, that ball is going to be mighty slippery, and the chances of a fumble or a sailed pass winding up as an interception increase by quite a bit. This Jets team may not be stellar, but they’re perfectly capable of putting up 20-plus points at home, especially if the Falcons give them gifts. As we saw against Buffalo in perfectly pristine conditions, a turnover or two can swing the outcome of a game.
The Jets defensive line compounds this problem because they’re so tough to hold back, and the footing will be treacherous for Atlanta’s offensive linemen, who will after all be pushed backward all day by gigantic Jets. It’s a recipe for a long day unless the line has another admirable effort in them, and I certainly hope they will.