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Can the Jets still make the playoffs despite Aaron Rodgers’ injury?

New York lost its starting QB in his first game with the franchise on the first drive on Monday Night Football to an Achilles tear. Can the defense carry the team to the postseason? We investigate.

Cornerbacks Sauce Gardner and D.J. Reed of the New York Jets celebrate after a defensive stop against the Buffalo Bills during the first quarter of the NFL game at MetLife Stadium on September 11, 2023 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

The New York Jets couldn’t have had a worse start to the 2023 regular season. And yet, they find themselves 1-0 after a 22-16 OT win over the Buffalo Bills at home on Monday Night Football in Week 1. On the first offensive drive, the Jets lost starting QB Aaron Rodgers to what would eventually be reported as a complete Achilles tear. He will be sidelined the rest of the season and it’s unclear his future in the NFL at age 39.

After the Rodgers injury, it seemed nothing was going right for the Jets. QB Zach Wilson entered the game and was unable to get the offense going. A few bad calls went the other way after referees missed a clear fumble and a blatant pass across the line of scrimmage that resulted in a Bills touchdown. After going scoreless through three quarters, the offense would come alive to take a 16-13 lead late in the game. The Bills tied it but a 65-yard punt return from Xavier Gipson gave New York the win and a 1-0 start.

What kept the Jets in the game all night was the defense (and Bills QB Josh Allen throwing miserable interception after miserable interception). The Jets D held Allen in check and forced four turnovers while racking up five sacks with nine QB hits. The Allen INTs were bad, but give credit to the Jets D/ST for not folding after such a back-breaking injury to Rodgers. Head coach Robert Saleh leaned on the defense and it paid off. But can the D/ST lead the Jets to the playoffs?

That’s a big question mark but it’s not out of the realm of possibility. As a result of Rodgers’ injury, the Jets are -280 to not make the playoffs on DraftKings Sportsbook. They’re +215 to make the postseason. While QB play is big, it isn’t everything. The Jets have the formula to get wins without having an elite passing game. Running the ball and playing defense.

The run game was the other bright spot for New York on MNF. Breece Hall, coming off a torn ACL, looked like he hadn’t sustained the injury at all. Hall carried the ball just 10 times but it was enough to get to 127 yards. He also added a 20-yard catch. It’s understandable Nathaniel Hackett and the Jets didn’t want to overwork Hall in his first game back. They may not have a choice after a few more weeks. RB Dalvin Cook was a great addition as a change-of-pace back and some insurance for Hall. Cook had 13 carries for 33 yards and three catches for 26 yards.

Altogether, the duo combined for 23 carries for 160 yards and another 46 yards through the air, which was more than 23 of the Jets total offense on the night. New York has the personnel to lean on the run game and ride the hot hand between Hall and Cook. If the defense can hold elite offenses like the Bills in check, there’s definitely a path to making the playoffs.

The elephant in the room is QB Zach Wilson. He wasn’t very good in the win but did put together a TD drive late in the fourth quarter, completing a few big passes, including a score to Garrett Wilson. The issue is Wilson threw an INT that could have cost the team the game prior to that drive, getting bailed out by the defense again. In Week 1 with all that adrenaline, the defense can ride that wave and play at a high level. In Week 10 when the Jets can’t keep the defense off the field, it could become an issue.

Another issue aside from Zach Wilson is the schedule. Here’s the Jets’ next handful of games:

@ Cowboys
vs. Patriots
vs. Chiefs
@ Broncos
vs. Eagles

That’s a pretty brutal five-game stretch. You’re facing both teams from the Super Bowl last season. The Cowboys demolished the Giants 40-0 and have a defense that may be the only one better than the Jets. The Broncos and Patriots have Hall of Fame coaches. They look easy on paper but those games won’t be easy for the Jets. New York needs to make sure its at least 3-3 after this stretch. If not, it could be looking at a 2-4 hole, which is tough to climb out of.

The post-BYE schedule is a bit easier. But still includes both games against a very good Dolphins offense. A game in Buffalo. Another game in New England. And matchups vs. the Giants, Browns and Chargers. One would think the Jets should be starring down a Wild Card spot in a best-case scenario in the AFC. It feels like 8-9 wins is attainable but it won’t be easy and it may not matter anyway.

So can the Jets pull it off? My lean is no. But the odds aren’t all that bad for them to make the playoffs. This team is still very talented without Rodgers under center. The defense, if nothing else, will keep the Jets in most games. Garrett Wilson is an elite playmaker and Hall could end up being one of the top backs in the NFL. If Zach Wilson can’t get the job done, really all New York needs is someone who won’t make mistakes and can convert some 3rd and long’s. That could still be Wilson, who did show some signs of progress in the win.

But with the schedule being brutal, it’s difficult to count on the Jets to make the playoffs in such a competitive AFC.