Sports

I Have Found an Error in the New York Jets’ Playoff Odds

New York Jets quarterback Joe Flacco warms up before playing the Miami Dolphins.
A disheartening string of words: New York Jets quarterback Joe Flacco. Michael Reaves/Getty Images

The analytics gurus at Football Outsiders use some frighteningly advanced computer modeling to calculate each NFL team’s chances of making the postseason. Every single play is taken into account, as are things like scheduling, personnel moves, and the weather. You get the sense that, if it weren’t so preoccupied with football, the site could accurately forecast what you are going to have for dinner, right down to condiment choice. But for all its rigorous data collection and curation, the Playoff Odds Report contains a glaring error. As of Oct. 20, 2020, it says the New York Jets have a 0.4 percent chance of making the postseason. I urge Football Outsiders to run those numbers again. There is no way the odds can possibly be that high.

Through six weeks, the Jets are the only NFL team without a win. They have been outscored 185–75 thus far, and their -110 point differential is by far the worst in the league. The 2008 Lions and 2017 Browns were the last teams to go 0–16, but even they had better point differentials after six games (-90 and -63, respectively) than the 2020 Jets. This team is time capsule bad. Bury their box scores so future generations can marvel at our culture’s primitive tolerance for pain. Maybe spare them the game tapes, though.

The NFL scheduled only two late-afternoon games this past Sunday. One was a marquee Packers-Bucs showdown featuring Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady. The other was Jets-Dolphins. That NFL RedZone even bothered switching to the latter contest is a testament to Scott Hanson and company’s dedication to the gimmick, but viewers still saw just one realistic Gang Green scoring chance all afternoon. It came when the Jets, down 24 points, attempted a 55-yard field goal late in the third quarter. It missed, and the Jets lost 24–0.

Jets fans have precisely one reason to cling to any semblance of hope, and that is third-year quarterback Sam Darnold. The 23-year-old has shown occasional promise when he’s played, though he’s still probably best known for catching mononucleosis and starring in the greatest injury graphic of all time.

Darnold missed the Dolphins game with an injured shoulder, and the Jets started Joe Biden’s former University of Delaware classmate Joe Flacco in his stead. Joining Flacco in the starting lineup was 37-year-old running back Frank Gore, and what the Jets’ backfield lacked in energy and speed they made up for in observable evidence regarding the scourge of elder abuse.

Sunday’s lopsided loss to the Dolphins serves as a reminder of how quickly fortunes can change in the NFL. Last year, Miami suffered a few ugly losses and looked to be vying for the title of “worst team ever” after the front office traded away their most talented players. But first-year head coach Brian Flores had other ideas, and, after an 0–7 start, he managed to put together the most impressive 5–11 record you may ever see.

If you’re asking why the Jets can’t do that, it means you don’t know who their coach is. Their master motivator is Adam Gase, a guy who can’t even manage to coordinate his own eyeballs.

The Jets hired Gase in 2019 based on his reputation as a “quarterback guru.” He had been the Dolphins head coach, but the effects of his guru-ing on Ryan Tannehill were mysteriously absent until Tannehill left Gase’s tutelage, went to Tennessee, and became one of the league’s best quarterbacks.

Reports indicate Gase isn’t the most popular man in the locker room. When star safety Jamal Adams requested a trade last offseason, he cited the coach’s unpopular leadership style. “At the end of the day, [Gase] doesn’t address the team,” he told the New York Daily News. “If there’s a problem in the locker room, he lets another coach address the team. If we’re playing shitty and we’re losing, he doesn’t address the entire team as a group at halftime. He’ll walk out of the locker room and let another coach handle it.”

Gase has done such a terrible job, ESPN’s Bill Barnwell suggested, in all seriousness, that “the best thing for the organization might be to keep Gase around through the end of the season, given that the overmatched coach hasn’t come close to winning a football game this season.” With Gase at the helm, he reasons, the Jets are a lock to get the first overall pick in the draft and the chance to select Trevor Lawrence, Clemson’s generational quarterback talent.

There are a few holes in that plan, however. For one thing, Lawrence could refuse to play for such an inept franchise and no one would really blame him. Then, there’s the matter of the Jets’ current coaching staff making decisions that actively put their players at risk. That’s what appeared to happen in Week 4 against the Denver Broncos, when already-injured rookie right tackle Mekhi Becton was subbed into the game and injured himself even further. Is Trevor Lawrence worth 10 more weeks of that? (I mean, probably, but I’m not the one risking my health playing for the damned Jets.)

If only the problem were limited to Gase. In the last two years, the front office has given massive contracts to Le’Veon Bell and Trumaine Johnson and then released both players without getting anything in return.* And we haven’t even touched on owner Woody Johnson, a baby shampoo heir whose three-year stint as American ambassador to Britain has featured racism, sexism, and corruption scandals (a rare diplomatic hat trick). Like the proverbial stack of turtles, the organization is Jets all the way down.

Those playoff-predicting algorithms take a lot of data into account, but there’s no way of teaching a computer the Jets’ infinite capacity for human blunder. I’d say this accounts for a margin of error of about, say, 0.4 percent.

Correction, Oct. 20, 2020: This piece originally misspelled Le’Veon Bell’s first name.

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