The New York Jets have improved at quarterback. (USA Today Sports)
The New York Jets have improved at quarterback. (USA Today Sports)

2018 win total (via Bovada): 6

2017 ATS record: 8-6-2

Optimist view: The New York Jets were picked by many to be the worst team in football last season. USA Today projected an 0-16 season for Todd Bowles’ 2017 team, and after an 0-2 start a lot of folks started nodding along. But lo and behold, they won three straight (and were robbed of a TD in a seven-point loss to the Patriots that almost made it four in a row) and had a chance in December to finish with a winning record following a massive upset of the Chiefs.

This was a highly competitive team last year, despite the eventual 5-11 record, losing six games by one score (and that doesn’t count the Saints game in which New Orleans iced it with a long, late TD). Josh McCown provided a steadying force at QB and might have had his career year at age 38.

There’s far better quarterback depth, too, with Teddy Bridgewater and No. 3 overall pick Sam Darnold replacing Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg. It’s possibly the best QB depth chart the Jets have had in decades if everything pans out. The receiver position doesn’t look barren now with better depth and talent, and Isaiah Crowell could help the run game a bit.

Defensively, there’s a core in place with 14 draft picks on the roster from the past four drafts and the makings of a good secondary. Young safeties Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye receive assistance from free-agent CB Trumaine Johnson as well as linebacker Avery Williamson, who arrives with a reputation of being good in coverage.

Pessimist view: They were 1-7 on the road last year, 2-4 in the division and 1-4 down the stretch. Opponents outscored the Jets 139-67 in fourth quarters. They simply didn’t have the depth or talent to outlast most teams, and they might have added only a handful of veteran players and rookies who truly will upgrade things immediately.

Statistically, they were not strong in any one area last season, ranking in the top 10 in exactly two categories — kickoff-return coverage and fourth-down defense. Those plays represented a total of about 35 snaps out of nearly 2,5000 over the course of the season. In most other categories, they ranked in the 20s, and in a few cases — such as yards per game, sack percentage allowed, first downs per game, sack percentage on defense and TD passes allowed — they were in the bottom five in the league.

Is McCown really going to match his 2017 production, perhaps with the other two QBs breathing down his neck? Only three quarterbacks since the NFL merger of 1970 have thrown more than 17 TD passes at age 39 and older — their names are Tom Brady, Brett Favre and Warren Moon. That’s two Hall of Famers and one more eventual one. In fact, the only other quarterbacks that age or older who have started more than nine games any season in the past five decades are Doug Flutie and Vinny Testaverde.

There’s still a ton of high-end talent missing on this roster, and the depth also might not be where the Jets need it to be. They’re way behind the Patriots still, and the Bills and Dolphins both won more games a year ago.

On schedule: They open with three of four on the road before three straight at home. Prior to the Week 11 bye, the Jets play seven conference games — although only three of those games come against 2017 playoff teams — and eight of the Jets’ first 10 opponents could be featuring new quarterbacks than they opened last season with.

Overall, the schedule doesn’t look brutal, but the Jets have their work cut out for them in a few respects. The closing five-game slate (two vs. New England, at Tennessee and Buffalo, vs. Green Bay and Houston) looks quite daunting. They’re currently favored in half their home games, but all by 1.5 points or fewer. Two of those games, against the Colts and Texans, could see major line adjustments depending on the rehab and performance of quarterbacks Andrew Luck and Deshaun Watson.

The Jets also are underdogs in every road game, including at Cleveland in Week 3. Yes, that’s the 0-16 Browns we’re talking about. Additionally, Bowles’ team is looking at five games across the schedule in which they’re underdogs by six points or more. Those lines of course will change, but it’s a good indicator where the Jets’ relative strength lies now.

Prediction: Under

Most shops in Vegas have the Jets at 5.5 or 6 projected wins this season, and our initial gut instinct was to go over, assuming they could build off last year’s competitive campaign. But a closer inspection reveals that this team still has a lot of work to do to improve in all three areas.

Even if, say, the Bills drop back a bit in the standings, it doesn’t necessarily mean the Jets can take advantage. Our gut says that they could be in line for another five- or six-win campaign before they take a step forward. There just are too many concerns in the passing game on both sides of the ball for us to feel better about an immediate improvement.

Previous projected win total breakdowns

Arizona Cardinals

Atlanta Falcons

Baltimore Ravens

Buffalo Bills

Carolina Panthers

Chicago Bears

Cincinnati Bengals

Dallas Cowboys

Denver Broncos

Detroit Lions

Green Bay Packers

Houston Texans

Indianapolis Colts

Jacksonville Jaguars

Los Angeles Chargers

Kansas City Chiefs

Los Angeles Rams

Miami Dolphins

Minnesota Vikings

New England Patriots

New Orleans Saints

New York Giants