A look at what's happening around the New York Jets:
1. Say it ain't so: The Jets will be hard-pressed to match last season's 10-6 record. Their schedule is brutal, their roster is no better than last year's and their quarterback situation is a question mark (for now). History, never a friend to the Jets, is also against them. Teams that make major jumps in one year almost always slide back the next season. It's the law of the jungle in the NFL, where parity-inducing factors conspire against upstart teams.
The Jets made a six-win improvement last season, something that happened 39 times from 1990 to 2014 -- the era for the current playoff format. A look at how those teams fared the following year:
Won fewer games: 31
Won the same number of games: 5
Won more games: 3
To be fair, six of the 31 teams that regressed in the win column still made the playoffs, including one team that won the Super Bowl -- the 2005 Pittsburgh Steelers. Even with those teams factored into the equation, the data is still overwhelming: It's really hard to maintain a two-year progression.
In case you're wondering, the three exceptions were the 1998 Jets (12-4), the 2003 Carolina Panthers (NFC champs) and 2006 Chicago Bears (NFC champs). Maybe the current Jets can derive inspiration from their '98 ancestors. Quick, somebody get Bill Parcells on the phone.
2. The Big Chill: Speaking of the tough schedule, Todd Bowles said he's not concerned that five of the first six games are against 2015 playoff teams. He knew he'd have to face those opponents anyway, so he doesn't get caught up in the order. Bowles said the first thing he checks on the schedule is the number of cold-weather games in December. For the record, five of their six post-Thanksgiving games are in cold weather, including four at MetLife Stadium. The other venue is Gillette Stadium. Translation: The back end of the schedule is no picnic, either.
3. Phantom Fitz: Bowles' approach to the Ryan Fitzpatrick contract impasse is straight out of the coaching handbook. It's the "Next Man Up" philosophy, treating Fitzpatrick as if he's injured and unavailable. That may help the coach's mindset, but it doesn't work in the locker room. The players know Fitzpatrick is sitting at home, healthy, waiting to play. They talk to him regularly, so they're constantly reminded of his absence. Until there's closure, it will continue to be a distraction.
4. Spin master: As much as he wants Fitzpatrick to return, Brandon Marshall is trying to be a good teammate to Geno Smith, talking him up to the media. Marshall told the story of how Smith gave him a pep talk after a bad practice last week. Marshall said Smith chided him for having poor body language, adding, "I didn't like what he was saying because I was all in my emotions, but at the end of the day, he was right."
You may recall that Marshall and Smith lived together near the Jets' facility last offseason. They became close and had "some tough conversations" last season, Marshall said. In the aftermath of the IK Enemkpali fiasco, perhaps? Asked for specifics, Marshall turned to humor, saying they argued over Smith's penchant for leaving empty pizza boxes around the apartment and forgetting to turn off the lights. Funny man, that Marshall. It was a clever way to handle a delicate situation.
5. The Bryce is (getting) right: After a slow start to the offseason, Bryce Petty was sharper last Wednesday, the final voluntary practice open to the media. The second-year quarterback attributed his early hiccups to defensive wrinkles that caught him off guard. At Baylor, he saw mainly vanilla pass coverages, so this is all part of the learning process.
"I really feel like the last couple of days I've come on strong," Petty said Wednesday.
The three-day mandatory minicamp, which begins Tuesday and is open to the media, will be another small step for Petty, who could get lost in the quarterback shuffle if he doesn't make progress over the next few months.
6. Heir Jordan: Third-round pick Jordan Jenkins is getting a real chance to win one of the outside-linebacker jobs -- presumably, Calvin Pace's old spot on the strong side. In last Wednesday's practice, Jenkins took most of the first-team reps. The position is wide open, so don't be surprised if he emerges from a pack of mostly inexperienced players. It's not an easy position to master, but he's a smart kid. In fact, he scored a 33 on the Wonderlic intelligence test, the second highest among linebackers in the draft and tops among the Jets' draft choices.
The Jets have an excellent, if not extensive, history with former Georgia linebackers. In 1991, they picked Mo Lewis in the third round, and he started from Day 1. He's arguably the best linebacker in team history.
7. Folk hero: Kicker Nick Folk, who missed the second half of last season due to a significant quadriceps injury, appears to be just fine. It'll be hard to unseat him in training camp, but I don't think rookie Ross Martin will go quietly. Moments after Folk drilled a 58-yard field goal in practice on Wednesday, Martin, who went undrafted out of Duke, stepped up and matched it. The Jets have a new special-teams coach, Brant Boyer, who said everyone starts with a clean slate. It should be interesting to see how he puts his stamp on the unit, which struggled last year. There won't be any free passes.
8. Mo in the house: Muhammad Wilkerson created a headline last week, when he was spotted in the locker room during the media period. It was odd because he still hasn't signed his franchise tender, but from what I hear, his appearances at One Jets Drive aren't infrequent.
9. Gimme a break, Rex: Former Jets coach Rex Ryan came off as insensitive last week when discussing Enemkpali and the infamous punch that broke Smith's jaw last August. Ryan said, "Everybody sees him as the guy who punched Geno or something like that. This guy's just a football player and that's what he wants to be known as, and that was just an unfortunate thing that happened to him."
Happened to him? Enemkpali threw the punch, not Smith. We all know Ryan likes to defend his players, but this was over the line. Enemkpali is a disgraced linebacker, not a martyr.
10. Ali and Papa: Linebacker Lorenzo Mauldin, who once shook hands with Muhammad Ali at a Louisville football game, spoke eloquently of that experience in an interview a few days after Ali's death. The Louisville football program attracted other celebrities as well, including a pizza mogul with ties to the Louisville area.
"I'm not going to lie, I feel like most of the games he was at, we won," Mauldin of Ali. "We had Papa John, too. We had everybody showing up, so it was like, 'All right, let's give 'em a show.'"
Ali and Papa John. I bet this is the first time they've ever appeared in the same sentence.