The debate about whether or not the Jets have luck or ability has been raging all week.
Damien Woody will probably crush the windpipe of the next person to suggest the Jets have been lucky while others have concluded that there's not much of a difference so long as the team wins games. Chase Stuart, writing for the Times, does some statistical analysis and comes down on the lucky side of the ball.
Stuart looks at the final scores of the Jets victories this season and finds that they have two convincing victories against seven close games, i.e. games in which the trailing team is within three points in the fourth quarter. He then rejiggers their record to account for those games and comes up with an adjusted winning percentage that he then compares to other teams to try and project future successes.
Not surprisingly, Stuart's findings are that teams with more convincing wins tend to win more games going forward than teams that play a lot of close games. That's to be expected since reasonable people have long ago accepted that getting a break here or there has nothing to do with the grittiness of the team in question. The spread isn't particularly large, but it does back up the feeling that the Jets could have played exactly the same and wound up with a different record.
Something that backs up that point of view is the fact that the Jets went 0-4 in close games last season en route to their 7-7 record. That was when Rex Ryan famously and incorrectly declared his team's playoff chances dead, and it was also a point where a lot of Jets fans believed their team was better than their record. That was borne out in the playoffs, but there's more than luck at work here.
Mark Sanchez deserves a good bit of the credit for the swing in close games this season. He hasn't become a perfect quarterback, far from it, but he has become a quarterback that makes a lot fewer mistakes in 2010 than he did in 2009. That's pretty significant when you're a team that's finding itself in a lot of close games and, like it or not, a team built like the Jets is going to play a lot of tight ones over the course of a season.
One of the themes of this offseason was that the Jets could only go as far as Sanchez could take them. Right now we only know that he isn't driving them into the ditch again, which, when you think about it, is an awfully big imporvement.
It's hard thing to express statistically and it comes awfully close to that bogus area of "knowing how to win," but Sanchez seems to have taken a quantum leap this season in the area of running an offense. That growth doesn't put him into the elite of the league, but it takes him out of the bottom of the barrel. Faint praise, perhaps, but no need to be greedy when modest gains were really all anyone needed to see to make the Jets a big winner.