Florham Park, NJ - With 2016 nearing its end, it is time to look forward. While many of you hope 2017 is different - maybe healthier or happier - the New York Jets hope next year brings good fortune along with their new list of opponents. The standings are all but locked up setting up 2017 to be a year of optimism for the green and white.
Before evaluating opponents, the Jets have to assess the direction of their organization. This season showed cracks in the franchise's foundation. If New York wants to even dream about the postseason, it starts with bringing in players that are not only young and talented, but high-morale athletes to boost character in the locker room.
Nobody should be late to team meetings. Nobody should be posting controversial videos, pictures, or messages on social media. There are no more excuses. It takes a team - together - to win ballgames. There is not enough time in a season or space in the locker room for egos. It is time to take a page out of the New England Patriots' playbook and do things the right way with a business first mantra.
Because the Jets will finish in last place in the AFC East they will benefit by playing a statistically weaker schedule than this season. That doesn't mean the results are guaranteed and the Jets will make the playoffs. It isn't that simple. If you have watched the Jets for many years, you know games are won on the field - not on paper.
The Jets still need to improve their team. Their secondary was grilled 'well-done' on a consistent basis, they lack an outside linebacker with speed and strength, their offensive line was patched together due to injury and they still don't have a quarterback. If the organization goes into 2017 with a slightly different team, the Jets will not make the big dance. This team needs a roster overhaul with underperforming veterans and aging superstars pushed aside.
With that said, if Woody Johnson, Mike Maccagnan and Todd Bowles can rebound this offseason, cut ties with certain players while at the same time bring in some talent, the Jets can be optimistic next year. 'IF' is the key word.
In 2017, the Jets will face the Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins and Patriots - per usual - at home and on the road. The team will welcome in the Kansas City Chiefs, San Diego Chargers, Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers and Jacksonville Jaguars between September and January. Among that group, four teams - including the Dolphins and Patriots - will have played in the 2016 postseason. That doesn't include the underachieving but still potent Cam Newton-led Panthers and electric Melvin Gordon-led Chargers.
Of course, the divisional matchups can swing either way but you can imagine Buffalo, Miami and New England will do their best to improve in the offseason as well.
Kansas City is always sneaky good - especially with Andy Reid on the sideline - but the Jets benefit from playing the Chiefs in New Jersey this time around, rather than playing in the death trap known as Arrowhead Stadium. The Chiefs have lost their last three trips in the Meadowlands - most recently a 37-10 rout led by Mark Sanchez and Santonio Holmes.
The last time Matt Ryan and the Falcons came to town in 2009 - after the 10-7 loss - Rex Ryan declared his team out of the playoffs despite still being mathematically alive and eventually winning out until the AFC Championship Game. The Jets last beat the Falcons in Atlanta in 2013 - a Monday Night shocker, 30-28. The question this time around: who will cover Julio Jones? Will it be Darrelle Revis? Juston Burris? Marcus Williams?
The Jets faced Carolina at home just twice since 1995 with 48-21 and 17-6 victories over the Panthers at the old stadium across the parking lot. By the time these teams meet next season, will Darron Lee be able to spy on Newton from his post in the middle of the field? Can Muhammad Wilkerson, Leonard Williams and maybe even Sheldon Richardson contain Newton and Jonathan Stewart?
San Diego comes to MetLife next season winners of their last two matchups against the Jets - once at home and once on the road. Each time a West Coast team comes east, the time difference can be taken into consideration. When the Jaguars come to East Rutherford, maybe it will be a matchup between two turnover prone quarterbacks: Blake Bortles and Ryan Fitzpatrick - nevermind, probably not Fitzpatrick.
The road will be a tougher course for the Jets to navigate in 2017. They will have to face the New Orleans Saints at the Superdome, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Cleveland Browns while mixing in two trips out west to meet the Denver Broncos and Oakland Raiders. The Jets have lost their last three contests in those Denver and Oakland combined. With Derek Carr healed from his leg injury, the Raiders should pick up where they leave off in 2016. The Jets last win in New Orleans came from the Vinny Testaverde-led 2001 team.
New York has a current eight-game win streak against Tampa Bay and shut down the Bucs 26-3 in 2009. Next seasons Bucs, should still benefit from Jameis Winston, Mike Evans and duo of Jacquizz Rodgers and Doug Martin. Tampa Bay is 3-4 at home in 2016 entering their final game of the season against Carolina on New Years Day.
Finally, we all remember how the green and white barely survived this season's tilt in Cleveland - needing to comeback from a 20-7 deficit.
It won't be easy. It never is with the Jets. The organization has a long way to go before they can think about making the playoffs in 2017. This won't come overnight.
Joe Barone is a staff writer for JetsInsider.com/NYJScout.com. He can be reached on Twitter (@28JoeBarone) or via email (email@example.com)null