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The Best and Worst of the New York Jets

With the draft over and the team in the really slow part of the offseason I thought it might be fun to glance over the Jets history since 1960 and how the teams have stacked up. Using the amazing database available at Pro Football Reference I was able to calculate the Jets Efficiency Ratings for every year they have been in existence. Those who have read my Efficiency Ratings in the past know how they work. For those who do not, the efficiency ratings are basically a way of putting the team performance into context based on the strength of schedule they have faced. The Scoring Efficiency is calculated by determining the average points allowed by the Jets opponents for the season and then determining what percent higher or lower the Jets actual scoring average was. Defensive Efficiency is the exact opposite with the Jets points allowed compared to the average points scored by the opposition. These are stats I have tracked as a hobby for all the teams in the NFL since 2002 and I have posted them on the site for the last two years. I believe they do a very good job of pointing out what teams are underrated based on a tough schedule or overrated based on taking advantage of an easy schedule. Here are the best and the worst of the Jets through the years, with a few liberties taken here and there with the rankings, As always comments are welcome.

The Best Teams

I was somewhat surprised to see 1982 end up being the best statistical season for the Jets. I was young at the time, though old enough to remember the Mud Bowl, and never realized just how dominant the Jets were that season on offense. The Jets faced a schedule that gave up 18.26 PPG, yet the Jet offense rolled to 27.22 PPG for an amazing 49.04% scoring efficiency. The defense was not great and they did not face great offenses, but they were above average and got the job done. QB Richard Todd had the best year of his career and RB Freeman McNeil dominated the ground game. The Jets, notorious for being bad finishers, may have been helped by a shortened season, but that should not take away from how well the team played in their 9 game season. Their big problem was the fact that the Dolphins, having a great defensive club, had their number and beat them three times that season, including the AFC Championship where the Dolphins intentionally allowed the field to become mud to slow down the Jets offensive talent.

Not surprising to me was 1998 coming in at number 2. I would think for all Jet fans in the 30-40 age bracket that is the team they remember best and has become the standard by which all other teams are judged. The 1998 Jets were the most well balanced team on the list with nearly a 21% scoring and 25% defensive efficiency. Denver, who defeated the Jets in the title game, was a slightly better team that was strictly an offensive power (51% scoring efficiency) which should have made for an even matchup based on the numbers. The Jets were their own worst enemy that day with countless turnovers and the worst day in the career of RB Curtis Martin. Had the Jets gotten a ground game going they would have made it to the Super Bowl, but unfortunately it was not meant to be, as Denver used a 20 point third quarter to steal the game.

1985 coming in at three was quite surprising. A well balanced team, beginning the season at 9-3, that fell one game short of the division crown at 11-5. Despite finishing with a disappointing Wildcard loss to the Super Bowl bound New England Patriots, who the Jets had beaten twice in the regular season, the franchise looked to have turned a corner with QB Ken O'Brien having a great start to his career and a number of really good players on both sides of the ball looking like contributors. Unfortunately things did not turn out as planned.

The Super Bowl team from 1968 ranked fourth with the offense leading the way at a 33.4% efficiency. This was one of the most famous teams of all time and will likely remain that way, unless the Jets build a dynasty in the future. The team had a devastating receiving corps. that was balanced out by a two headed rushing attack that is often forgotten when the team is discussed. The team was loaded with all pro talent and this was the season that put Joe Namath in the Hall of Fame.

The Jets most recent team from 2009 ranked fifth and is the only “defense first” team to make the list. This team also advanced to the championship game, but had the unfortunate task of meeting up with a QB who simply got hot in the second half of a game and the Jets defense could not contain him. The question will be how well they fare in 2010. Of the other four teams in the top 5, only the 1968 team came back for a really good season the following year (18.51% efficiency) while the injury plagued 1999 team finished a respectable 11.13%. We'll take a look at this in the coming weeks…

The Best Coaches

Of those with more than 1 season, Bill Parcells got the most out of the team. His average rating of 22.68% blows away anyone else's tenure. Pacells took over a team that graded fourth worst all time with an OE of -48.33% and in one year they jumped to 11.17%, 9th best of all time. His 1998 team is clearly the best modern era team and Parcells is credited with turning the franchise around as the period after Parcells is clearly the best decade of football the Jets have ever had. The knock on Parcells will always be that his stubborn nature with the QB position, culminating with the Rick Mirer disaster in 1999, probably cost the team two playoff appearances.

Weeb Ewbank actually ranks fifth with a -3.9% average, but it is not really fair to place Ewbank that low as he is hurt from eleven seasons as head coach, by far the most of anyone on the list. His three year run from 1967-1969 ranked just slightly behind Parcells 1997-1999 run and that is the fairer comparison, which is why I placed him second. Weeb's offenses began to trend downward when Namath's health became more and more of a concern and when Namath missed most of the season the Jets tanked and Ewbank's numbers tanked with him.

Herman Edwards ranked second with a 0.82% OE rating, so he gets third place. Edwards teams, following his bend but don't break philosophy, typically played strong defense, placing 3 teams in the top 10 Defensive Efficiency ratings. Edwards could never field a good offense and the team dropped overall when he took over for Al Groh in 2001, a year where maybe the Jets could have gone further had he found better balance with the talent he had on the team. Still for a five year run he did not do terrible.

Walt Michaels is next with a -1.58% average. Michaels started off horribly and in today's age would have never survived to last six years and would have been fired after three years. His 1981 team ranked highly and the 1982 team ranks highest in the history of the team. The 82 team was so good it really skews the average for Michaels and internally the credit for the season seemed to go to Offensive Coordinator Joe Walton who quickly replaced Michaels in 1983.

Eric Mangini's three year run with the club round out the top five. There was very little that he seemed to do well or poor. Known as a defensive mind, his defenses were not at the level of the Parcells' or Edwards' teams, but they were at least average. He inherited Brett Favre for one season, but did not see the offensive spike other teams would have seen with the same type of move and that was ultimately his demise. That fact that his defense in 2008 ranked about as well as the injury filled 2005 unit he was hired to fix also did him no favors.

The Best QB's

Rightly or wrongly the offensive credit goes to the QB, and the best offenses were, no surprise, under Joe Namath. While Namath's SE of 4.7% over 9 seasons actually ranks second, his number is wildly skewed by his 1976 season, his last with the Jets. The Jets offense was a -38.47% that year, one of the worst ever. The reality is Namath controlled four of the top 10 offenses and only had three seasons with negative numbers--- his rookie year and his final two years with the team. Namath was a special player, with an amazing ability to throw the football and win big games. Namath was one of those responsible for putting the AFL on his back and leading to the success of the league and will always be the most memorable Jet.

The highest ranking actually came in the three seasons where Vinny Testaverde led the Jets, as his teams racked up a scoring efficiency of 5.6%, slightly higher than Namath's 4.7%. Vinny had a rifle of an arm and did a tremendous job spreading the football around and utilizing his running backs. He was the leader of the second most famous Jets team of all time, led the most historic comeback ever, and a hometown favorite. The change in offense in 2001 really hurt him and the team, though his age became a factor as well. Why is he not ranked number 1 if the numbers say he should be there? Testaverde was totally ineffective in 2002 and 2005, and also saw time in 2003. When I ranked the teams I only gave credit to the QB awarded with the most yards for the season for the team, so Vinny avoided some major negative numbers those years. Still, he will always be considered one of the better QB's in franchise history.

Again taking some liberties with the rankings, which will be explained later, puts Ken O'Brien in third place. O'Brien's offenses averaged a 2.24 in his seven seasons as leader of the team. O'Brien started out tremendously, but had his confidence shaken by poor coaching and a bad offensive line and never really recovered. O'Brien was never fully embraced by the fans because he was not Dan Marino, but statistically he was at least passable. He probably would have had a better career in a smaller media market where the pressure would not have been so high.

Richard Todd is ranked fourth, but his actual efficiency was slightly higher than O'Brien's. The reason for placing him fourth is because Todd's number is based solely on one year of play, which was only a nine game season. His other five seasons averaged nearly a -7.

Chad Pennington comes in at number 5 with a -6.14 rating, which should make the Chad detractors happy. Pennington was the symbol of mediocrity that defined the 2000's. He did not make many mistakes, but never did anything special either. Pennington used a decent run against a very easy schedule in 2002 to become the most overpaid player at his position in the NFL. Pennington's best rating was a 1.22 in 2004. Still that is enough to rank fifth among the Qbs with more than 2 seasons at the helm.

The Worst Teams No Jets list is complete without a look at the lovable losers that have given all of us countless hours of aggravation and complaining.

The Lou Holtz disaster of 1976 was the worst team in Jets history with a -68.74 rating. These Jets did nothing right in Broadway Joe's final run with the team. If you want to give them credit for anything give them some credit for being balanced. They had a -38.47 OE and a -30.27 DE, so neither side would let the other really take the blame for the nightmarish season. The next season began a new era for the team as they finally tuned the page on Namath and his failing health.

Rich Kotite makes his mark on the list, but not for the season most would think. 1995 ranked 2nd worst of all time with an impressive -50.36 overall rating. The offense was the prime culprit as they contributed a -34.58 as the Boomer Esiason era was about to end. It should have been clear to the front office the mess that Kotite was when comparing his results to the Jets results in 1993 and 1994, especially defensively, but they decided to let Kotite have one more chance to hang himself, which he did in 1996.

The Jets 1989 team was like the evil mirror image of the 1998 squad. When it came to rankings Both sides of the 1989 team were in the -20s, which led to a -48.47. I think most fans thought this was rock bottom as the team looked like they had given up. I can remember the fans with the paper bags on their heads in the stands and of course who can forget the “Joe Must Go” chants, directed at head coach Joe Walton. Walton got canned after this mess as the Jets began their next rebuilding era.

Kotite comes back again for his second trip into the bottom 5, for the stellar effort in 1996. The Jets were convinced the problem with the team came from the QB position, so they went out and paid big bucks for Neil O'Donnell of the Pittsburgh Steelers. The offense did improve, but it was no thanks to O'Donnell who was always hurt and ending up as the punch line for jokes about the Jets attempts to use free agency to help the team. Kotite was mercifully fired after this season.

Rounding out the bottom five is the 1963 squad, which posted a -42.74 overall score. This was the teams first ever season as the New York Jets and the first in Weeb Ewbank's long career. This was a bad offensive and defensive team that ranked right near the bottom of every statistical category in the AFL. Five of the teams losses were by more than 20 points, but luckily big improvements were about to begin.

Jets Historical Efficiency Ratings

Year Scoring Efficiency Defensive Efficiency Overall Efficiency Head Coach Quarterback
1960 17.34 -22.07 -4.73 Baugh Dorow
1961 -11.00 -13.02 -24.02 Baugh Dorow
1962 -10.85 -30.96 -41.81 Turner Green
1963 -21.75 -20.99 -42.74 Ewbank Wood
1964 -15.91 5.54 -10.37 Ewbank Wood
1965 -5.36 -0.15 -5.51 Ewbank Namath
1966 2.82 0.44 3.26 Ewbank Namath
1967 16.67 -6.26 10.41 Ewbank Namath
1968 33.21 4.01 37.22 Ewbank Namath
1969 14.95 3.56 18.51 Ewbank Namath
1970 -5.55 -8.97 -14.52 Ewbank Woodall
1971 -18.58 -6.93 -25.51 Ewbank Davis
1972 23.25 -20.30 2.95 Ewbank Namath
1973 -8.64 -8.01 -16.65 Ewbank Woodall
1974 3.75 -20.04 -16.29 Winner Namath
1975 -8.41 -29.28 -37.69 Winner Namath
1976 -38.47 -30.27 -68.74 Holtz Namath
1977 -25.30 -12.75 -38.05 Michaels Todd
1978 21.97 -16.91 5.06 Michaels Robinson
1979 6.47 -22.42 -15.95 Michaels Todd
1980 -9.53 -17.05 -26.58 Michaels Todd
1981 0.89 10.01 10.9 Michaels Todd
1982 49.05 6.08 55.13 Michaels Todd
1983 -6.88 1.55 -5.33 Walton Todd
1984 -6.48 -12.76 -39.24 Walton Ryan
1985 16.27 23.57 39.84 Walton O'Brien
1986 9.48 -14.85 -5.37 Walton O'Brien
1987 6.15 -14.31 -8.16 Walton O'Brien
1988 19.74 -11.81 7.93 Walton O'Brien
1989 -24.48 -23.99 -48.47 Walton O'Brien
1990 -9.89 -14.23 -24.12 Coslet O'Brien
1991 -1.59 -0.89 -2.48 Coslet O'Brien
1992 -29.38 3.78 -25.60 Coslet Nagle
1993 -10.09 15.48 5.39 Coslet Esiason
1994 -18.58 6.14 -12.44 Carroll Esiason
1995 -34.58 -15.78 -50.36 Kotite Esiason
1996 -12.19 -36.14 -48.33 Kotite Reich
1997 -1.51 12.68 11.17 Parcells O'Donnell
1998 20.88 24.86 45.74 Parcells Testaverde
1999 0.20 10.93 11.13 Parcells Lucas
2000 6.97 8.23 15.20 Groh Testaverde
2001 -11.05 16.28 5.23 Edwards Testaverde
2002 0.13 10.46 10.59 Edwards Pennington
2003 -8.82 4.19 -4.63 Edwards Pennington
2004 1.22 25.85 27.07 Edwards Pennington
2005 -27.44 -6.71 -34.15 Edwards Bollinger
2006 -0.84 5.95 5.11 Mangini Pennington
2007 -22.39 0.21 -22.18 Mangini Pennington
2008 12.17 -5.53 6.64 Mangini Favre
2009 1.95 32.40 34.35 Ryan Sanchez