The New York Jets have been tagged as a legitimate Super Bowl contender in 2023 with future Hall of Fame quarterback Aaron Rodgers under center. However, a brutal schedule that will pit the Jets against eight 2022 playoff teams in their first 11 games this season will make or break New York's postseason aspirations.
The Jets have not qualified for the playoffs since 2010 and are tied with the Buffalo Sabres of the NHL for the longest postseason drought of any team in the four major professional sports.
Third-year head coach Robert Saleh's squad raced out to a 7-4 start last season before injuries and an ineffective quarterback resulted in six straight losses. The arrival of Rodgers and a wealth of young talent on both sides of the ball has the Jets eyeing their first playoff appearance since 2010.
Considering the challenging lineup ahead, the NFL betting odds have been fluctuating, with many wondering if the Jets can break their longstanding postseason dry spell.
"My opinion, I think 32 teams -- 32 coaches -- stand in front of their teams every year and talk about winning a championship," Saleh told reporters in May, "and then realistically, there are maybe six or eight teams that have an actual chance to do it. And I do think we are one of those teams."
Although New York should once again field a top-five defensive unit and a much improved offensive unit with Rodgers at the helm, the Jets will be challenged by the sixth-hardest strength of schedule this upcoming season.
Gang Green will have a whopping six games broadcast on the national stage this year, including a date with the Buffalo Bills in Week 1 on Monday Night Football. New split two games with Buffalo last season but is 1-5 in the two teams' last six meetings.
The Jets will travel to AT&T Stadium in the Lone Star State to face the Dallas Cowboys in Week 2. New York topped America's Team, 24-22, in their last matchup in 2019 and has won three straight games against the Cowboys. But New York will be coming off a short week and playing on the road opposite a Dallas squad with one of the league's top defensive units and a high-scoring offensive attack.
A Week 3 encounter with the New England Patriots offers the Jets a chance at redemption. The Bill Belichick-led Patriots will arrive at MetLife Stadium riding a 14-game winning streak against their AFC East rivals. New York has not beaten New England since 2015, but Rodgers has posted a 2-2 card with 910 yards, six touchdowns, and one interception in four career games against the Patriots.
The reigning Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs will visit the Jets in Week 4. Two-time NFL Most Valuable Player Patrick Mahomes tossed five touchdown passes to lead the Chiefs to a lopsided 35-9 victory in their last meeting in 2020. The game marks the first time the Jets will be playing on Sunday Night Football since 2011.
New York will travel to Colorado in Week 5 in a potential must-win game against the Denver Broncos. The game will also feature added drama after Denver head coach Sean Payton called Jets offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett's 2022 season with the Broncos, where he went 4-11 in his first 15 games and was fired in December, "one of the worst coaching jobs in the history of the NFL."
Hackett responded that he felt Payton's comments broke an unwritten rule regarding coaches criticizing their counterparts.
"I've been involved in this business my whole life, 43 years, and as a coach, as a coach's kid, we live in a glass house," Hackett said via NFL.com. "And it's one of those things that there's a code. There's a way things are done in that house."
Payton's comments also irked Rodgers, who enjoyed several successful seasons with the Green Bay Packers while Hackett was the offensive coordinator.
The four-time NFL Most Valuable Player said that Payton should "keep my coaches' names out of his mouth. I thought it was way out of line
The Jets will host the defending NFC champion Philadelphia Eagles in Week 6. New York dropped a 33-18 decision to the Eagles in their last meeting in 2021 and will seek their first win against Philadelphia (0-12) in franchise history.
A Week 7 bye will provide Gang Green some much-needed relief after the NFL's toughest gauntlet over the season's first six weeks. The combined record of the Jets' first six opponents a year ago was 66-35, and the Patriots and Broncos were responsible for 21 of those losses.
But making the playoffs is not the goal of Rodgers, who is chasing another Vince Lombardi Trophy.
"I'm an old guy, so I want to be part of a team that can win it all," Rodgers said at his introductory press conference with the Jets. "I believe this is a place we can get that done."
Like Saleh, Rodgers believes that the Jets are one of the teams this season that has a realistic chance of winning the Super Bowl.
"I'm not showing up here to be part of a team that I think is OK," Rodgers said. "Every year, there's a handful of teams that can win it. Most people don't say that out loud. They say in training camp the goal is the same for all 32 teams, but in actuality, there's anywhere from 8-12 teams that can actually do it, and I believe we're one of those teams."
If New York can survive its early-season test against four legitimate Super Bowl contenders, North America's longest playoff drought will be coming to an end.