By Steve Lichtenstein
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Take this to your bookie, the Jets won’t go 0-16 this season.
Some team will show up at MetLife Stadium on a Sunday afternoon hung over from overconfidence. They’ll turn the ball over multiple times and then fly home feeling the shame of an inconceivable loss.
It will happen. Maybe twice. But not more than that.
This isn’t news, nor is it new.
The 2017 season promises to be the franchise’s worst since the Rich Kotite-led disaster went 1-15 in 1996. But as a Jets fan, I claim witness to many seasons since (like last year) that were similarly decided well before Halloween.
If we didn’t invent the paper bag mask gimmick, we surely were instrumental in making it a cliche. This franchise has made a fortune for late-night television monologue writers.
However, never can I remember a season in which even the most optimistic of Jets fans were this foredoomed.
Playoffs? Ha! Just please don’t go winless.
What’s different now is that this embarrassment appears to be by design, which is why, for instance, I don’t believe they will even beat out the horrific four-win 2014 version. The John Idzik/Rex Ryan regime actually thought they could win with Geno Smith.
And this time the Jets won’t be dumb enough to win two of the last three games.
All aboard the tank!
The award for best performance by a Jet this season should go to general manager Mike Maccagnan for keeping a straight face when he was asked during a recent press conference about tanking. How he didn’t just burst out and say, “OK, you got me! l’ll never know.
After decades of frustration, the Jets brain trust finally realized that this team can’t accomplish anything without a legitimate quarterback. Unfortunately, the highest-quality players at that position don’t grow on trees, or appear in the annual free agent or trade marketplace. Barring luck, which is a given with this team, the only way to get one is to be bad enough to be slotted in the highest draft position, preferably in a year where the class is strong.
This seems to be that year, and the Jets have done their part in putting together a team that can be best described as plausible deniability.
Such as the signing of now-38-year-old free agent quarterback Josh McCown over more accomplished players, including one whose pregame ritual seemingly overshadows his qualifications to actually play the game.
McCown isn’t much of an improvement over his predecessor, Ryan Fitzpatrick, if that. But he’ll be patted on the back if he can get this offense to fourth down without committing a turnover.
At some point, he’ll be benched in favor of Bryce Petty, who, after a few games (probably due to another crippling injury suffered behind this inept offensive line), will give way to Christian Hackenberg.
Because … why not?
Maccagnan made sure through his offseason veteran purge that the supporting cast won’t be of much help to whoever is behind center.
The receiving group — and I’m including recently-acquired Jermaine Kearse, whose effectiveness has diminished since his starring postseason performances for the Seahawks — contains not a sole who scares defenses. Or, if you go by the daily reports from practice, anyone with reliable hands.
Matt Forte and Bilal Powell, provided they remain healthy, form a competent running back committee on paper. Unfortunately, you can expect the Jets to face a lot of eight-in-the-box defensive formations, making a sustained rushing attack that much more difficult.
The Jets invested heavily in both money and draft picks to expect their own defense to be formidable, but there are holes there, too.
Where is the consistent edge pass rusher that is an absolute necessity in coach Todd Bowles’ 3-4 scheme? How much will the run defense suffer after tackling machine David Harris was jettisoned in a pure money grab and is now, heaven forbid, toiling at linebacker in New England? And why is $6 million cornerback Buster Skrine still on this team? And does anyone expect highly touted rookie safeties Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye to play mistake-free football?
This abomination is operating again under Bowles’ guise, and, as I may have mentioned once or twice, the third-year coach has not yet mastered many of the intricacies of the job.
Coaches and players don’t tank. It’s not in their blood and they can’t risk their livelihoods. There are risks to tanking as well. Do you really trust Maccagnan to select the right man in the draft for the job? After the Hackenberg fiasco in 2015?
And then there’s the not-so-small matter of development. The top prospects, such as USC’s Sam Darnold and UCLA’s Josh Rosen, are by no means finished products. (As an aside, don’t get too hung up on Rosen’s fourth-quarter numbers in the Bruins’ miraculous comeback victory on Sunday. Two of the touchdown passes should have been intercepted. Go back and watch the first half and analyze how poorly Rosen fared against pressure. Then picture him with this year’s Jets.)
This organization goes through drafted quarterbacks like water. Bitter, disgusting water. Hackenberg, Smith, Mark Sanchez and Kellen Clemens were all selected by Gang Green within the first two rounds since 2006.
Well, next April they’ll get another chance at finally getting it right. Maccagnan has set this thing up so that winning is not an option.
For the Jets this season, losing is everything.
For a FAN’s perspective of the Nets, Jets and the NHL, follow Steve on Twitter @SteveLichtenst1