I will never understand why NFL teams name their starting QBs in May if there was an expected battle for the spot, yet that's what the New York Jets did with Geno Smith. Let's examine what that might mean for the coming season and some Jets NFL odds.
Why Do This Now?
On Wednesday, first-year Jets offensive coordinator Chan Gailey said that the starting job was Smith's even though new head coach Todd Bowles had said all along there would be a competition in training camp. Presumably that leaves only three teams that will decide on their starting quarterback later this summer: the Texans (Ryan Mallett vs. Brian Hoyer), the Bills (Matt Cassel vs. E.J. Manuel) and Browns (Josh McCown vs. Johnny Manziel). What is it with the AFC? For the record my expected winners would be Mallett, Cassel and McCown.
Am I surprised that the Jets are going with Smith? No, but why not wait and see what happens between him and Ryan Fitzpatrick? The team acquired him from Houston in March for a conditional late-round 2016 draft pick. Fitzpatrick threw for 2,483 yards with 17 touchdowns and eight interceptions last year, completing 63.1 percent of his passes. That was good for a rating of 95.3. Smith's rating last year? 77.5. New Jets general manager Mike Maccagnan came from Houston so he watched Fitzpatrick last season when he started 12 games. Gailey worked with Fitzpatrick when he was the head coach of the Bills from 2010-12, and Fitzpatrick had some success in 2011 under Gailey.
Those who place NFL picks know that Fitzpatrick hasn't been able to compete at full strength because he's still recovering from a broken leg, suffered last December. He should be 100 percent by camp. The team also has Bryce Petty, a 2015 fourth-round pick out of Baylor, but he's considered a project coming out of a spread system at Baylor where Petty never took a snap under center or called plays.
Smith = Turnovers
So what does Smith bring to the table? Not much as he is 11-18 as a starter. He was the guy in all 16 games for the Jets in 2013 and they went 8-8. Last year the team was 3-10 in his 13 starts. Over the past two seasons, Smith's 57.5 combined completion percentage is 30th in the league as is his touchdown-to-interception ratio of 0.74. He has 25 touchdowns and 34 picks along with seven lost fumbles.
To be fair to Smith, he did play the game of his career in the 2014 finale, a 37-24 win in Miami. Smith completed 20 of 25 passes for 358 yards, three touchdowns and no picks for a perfect 158.3 rating. He was the only quarterback with a perfect rating in 2014 -- who would have bet on that possibility?
The Jets did get Smith some potential help this offseason. They let Percy Harvin go but got big receiver Brandon Marshall for a song from the Bears and signed former Patriots running back Stevan Ridley. Marshall was held to 721 yards last season due to injuries. Before that, he had 1,000 yards receiving in seven consecutive seasons. Marshall did have eight TD catches in 2014, as many as all Jets receivers combined (that was tied for 29th in the league). Jets receivers totaled just 2,098 yards, which was 30th. Eric Decker led Jets receivers with 74 catches for 962 yards (35 percent of team's total, among all players) and five scores. Decker is better suited as a No. 2 with Marshall as the No. 1. Ridley had a monster 2012 season in New England but has gone downhill since and isn't a pass-catcher. He will back up Chris Ivory along with new addition Zac Stacy and/or Bilal Powell.
Good Start Possible
The good news for Smith is that the Jets open with potentially four winnable games before a Week 6 trip to New England. They host Cleveland in Week 1 as a 2.5-point favorite on the NFL odds. The Browns had the No. 23 overall defense last season but No. 8 against the pass.
New York certainly will be a sizable dog in Week 2 on Monday night at Indianapolis. The Colts were No. 11 overall on defense and No. 12 vs. the pass. The Indianapolis Colts are the only 2014 playoff team on the Jets' schedule before New England.
Week 3 the Jets are likely to be slight dogs at home against the Philadelphia Eagles -- might former Jets QB Mark Sanchez be starting by then for the Eagles? With Sam Bradford's injury history, don't rule it out. Philly had the No. 28 defense and No. 31 against the pass. Week 4 is at Miami and the Jets will be dogs again. Perhaps Smith will be confident after what he did in south Florida to close last year, although those Dolphins didn't have Ndamukong Suh. Miami was No. 12 on defense and No. 6 against the pass.
The Jets' bye is Week 5, then Washington visits and New York should be favored there. The Redskins were No. 20 overall on defense in 2014 and No. 24 vs. the pass. Overall, the Jets' strength of schedule is ranked as the sixth-easiest in the NFL. I don't think they will be 4-1 heading to New England but I could see 3-2 with wins over the Browns, Eagles and Redskins as long as the defense is stout.
NFL Free Picks: Jets finish 6-10 and last in the division. They give Petty a look late in the season and Smith isn't back in 2016.