Despite the Win, the Jets Without Aaron Rodgers Are Still Worse Than You Think

Despite the Win, the Jets Without Aaron Rodgers Are Still Worse Than You Think article feature image

Getty Images. Pictured: Aaron Rodgers (left) and Zach Wilson.

It's a Hard Knocks life for New York Jets fans.

On the Jets' fourth offensive snap of the season, Aaron Rodgers was sacked by Leonard Floyd and left the game injured. Rodgers did not return, and there is now fear of a serious, potentially long-term injury.

#Jets believe it’s an Achilles injury for QB Aaron Rodgers, source say. MRI tomorrow.

— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) September 12, 2023

It's an absolute nightmare for Jets fans, who are no doubt reminded of veteran QB Vinny Testaverde rupturing his Achilles on Opening Day in 1999 with the Jets coming off an appearance in the AFC Championship Game and dreaming of winning the big one.

From a football perspective, the natural question is just how bad the Jets would be without their new starting quarterback — yes, even after their surprising Week 1 win over the Bills.


Xavier Gipson called game!

— Action Network (@ActionNetworkHQ) September 12, 2023

What would a long Rodgers injury absence mean for the Jets, and what does it mean for bettors?

Zach Wilson Is a Ginormous Drop Off from Rodgers

Needless to say, the drop from Rodgers to Jets backup QB Zach Wilson is massive. That is, after all, why the team went all-in this offseason to bring Rodgers to New York.

Wilson's numbers through two years in the NFL are pretty ghastly. He has completed just 55% of his passes. He's thrown more interceptions (18) than touchdowns (15) with a lifetime 8-14 record, and he's been sacked about once every 10 dropbacks (9.7%). Wilson has struggled with accuracy, turnovers, sacks, and decision-making — in short, pretty much everything.

Take a look at this graphic from RBSDM displaying quarterback numbers from the past two seasons:

Zach Wilson is bad, RBSDM
Zach Wilson is bad, RBSDM

Up and to the right is good. You'll find Aaron Rodgers in the top right corner, among the best quarterbacks in the league, even with a subpar season last fall. As for Zach Wilson? He was so bad that he's literally skewing the X- and Y-axes on the graph down in that bottom left corner.

Wilson turned 24 in August, so the book on him may not be written. He's the same age as Jordan Love, who just got his first real start yesterday, and the same age as Justin Fields, who many have touted as a breakout MVP-type candidate. Of course, he's also only one year younger than Jalen Hurts, Tua Tagovailoa, and Justin Herbert, who are already MVP-caliber QBs right now.

In my Opening Day QB rankings, Rodgers ranked sixth among all quarterbacks. If I did the exercise again with Wilson, he would have ranked 31st.

There's no way of sugarcoating it: Zach Wilson represents a seismic, ginormous, unfathomable dropoff from Aaron Rodgers at quarterback.

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So, How Big a Drop Is It for the Jets?

OK, Zach Wilson is much worse than Aaron Rodgers. Thanks for the hard-hitting analysis, Brandon.

So what?

Well, it's obviously a massive impact on an entire team downgrading from a clear top-10, maybe top-five QB to one of the worst starters in the league.

How huge? Just look back at New York's numbers last season.

With Wilson in the lineup, the Jets offense ranked 27th in DVOA and bottom 10 both passing and rushing. Until the wheels fell off the team over the final two weeks of the season, New York's offense ranked 16th in DVOA in all non-Wilson games, right around league average both running and passing.

And that was with Mike White and Joe Flacco, not Aaron Rodgers!

The Jets ranked 14th in my Offense Rankings heading into the new season with Rodgers. When I downgrade New York to Wilson, the Jets drop all the way to 30th. Yes, the drop really is that seismic at the most important position in team sports. And that's without even downgrading the shaky offensive line or offensive coordinator, both of whom Rodgers would arguably make much better.

Let's frame things a different way.

With Rodgers in the lineup, the Jets offense looked about as good as the Lions or Jaguars. With Wilson instead, they're more like the Buccaneers.

With Rodgers on offense, the Jets grade out as my No. 13 team, right in the thick of the crowded AFC playoff race. With Wilson, New York drops to No. 24, about equal to the Broncos or Raiders and arguably the worst team in the conference outside of the AFC South.

What Do Bettors Do With the Jets?

There's no doubt the Jets defense is loaded. The defense was great in the Monday night win over the Bills, clearly good enough to keep the Jets competitive.

But defense alone doesn't win football games over the long term, and nobody knows that better than the Jets themselves, who improved from 32nd to 4th in PPG allowed last season but lost their final six games to finish 7-10 anyway, well out of the playoff race. Again, that was the whole point of the Rodgers move.

A big downgrade at quarterback has ripple effects across the whole roster.

Defenses play worse when they're constantly put in bad positions and on the field too much. Garrett Wilson was poised for a breakout sophomore season, but his numbers fell off mightily with Zach Wilson last fall. Rodgers has perhaps the best pocket presence in the league, which helps a bottom-10 offensive line. A great downfield passing attack opens up the run game too. Everything is harder with Wilson.

With Wilson at QB, the Jets profile something like the Washington Commanders. The defense is very talented and there are some weapons on offense, but suddenly the shaky offensive line is much more glaring and it's all on the unknowns at QB and coaching to surprise expectations.

If Rodgers even misses a month, it could get ugly very quickly for New York. The Jets are 1-0 after the the surprising comeback win over the the Bills, but they're not out of the woods yet. Up next: the Cowboys, Patriots, Chiefs, Broncos, and Eagles before a Week 7 bye.

That was already a daunting schedule that should've warned bettors off futures before the season. Now, if Rodgers misses that stretch, the Jets are staring a 2-4 or 1-5 start right in the face.

The schedule gets a bit kinder after the bye but still includes the Dolphins (twice), Chargers, Browns, and division rematches against the Bills and Patriots.

New York's playoff hopes probably don't survive even this next five-week stretch without Rodgers.

And don't forget, even after a potential Rodgers return, we're now talking about a guy returning from injury, about to turn 40, with one drive of actual game time on the field with his new teammates trying to get assimilated to a new situation. That's a pretty bleak outlook.

It's possible, even probable, that the Jets would bring a veteran QB in to compete with Wilson if the Rodgers injury is serious. What's Philip Rivers doing these days? Are Matt Ryan and Nick Foles interested? We already know Carson Wentz looks good in green.

I bet the Jets to miss the playoffs at +120 heading into the season, and it was one of my favorite bets of the preseason at three units, in part because of this daunting starting schedule. Not that the Jets could ever afford to go without Rodgers, but if ever they could lose him, this was the worst possible time.

Bettors should beware of blindly fading the Jets week-to-week. Spreads for backup quarterbacks tend to be overinflated against the team missing its starter, and New York's defense is good enough to keep them competitive in games.

But I can't get on board with any positive Jets futures outcomes until we see Rodgers back out on the field, healthy, and looking good in green. Right now, it's hard to imagine when we'll see that next.

The AFC is loaded. I thought the Jets were the ninth or 10th best team even with Rodgers. If he's out for any length of time, I cannot see this team even competing for the playoffs. I'll be looking at more tickets for the Jets to miss the playoffs and also to finish last in a division with three other talented defenses.

It could be a long season for Jets fans.

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