2009 New York Jets, 2010 New York Jets–both teams were contenders for the Vince Lombardi Trophy, but crumbled only quarters away from going to their second Super Bowl in franchise history.
For the 2012 New York Jets, the answer to that question is yet to be resolved, but here is my take on whether or not this year's Jets team is one that can make it to New Orleans in February.
Since then, they have swapped guys in and out (especially on offense), which has resulted in the loss of some veteran leadership from great players like Thomas Jones and LaDainian Tomlinson. The offense has also seen quite a bit of drama between Derrick Mason and wide receivers complaining to start off the 2011 season, and Santonio Holmes getting into a fight with Wayne Hunter to end it.
Meanwhile, on defense, a veteran Jets favorite, Sean Ellis, departed and joined the rival New England Patriots. The Jets have welcomed new faces in guys like Muhammad Wilkerson, Quinton Coples, Aaron Maybin and a few others.
What got the Jets to those two consecutive AFC championship games were the defenses Rex Ryan and Mike Pettine put together during those seasons. In 2009, the Jets had the league’s No. 1 defense, and in 2010 they were able to stay in the top five.
A lot of the Jets’ success in 2012 will depend on the defense. When the defense performs at its best, the team is at its best, and a big key in those defenses was free safety Jim Leonhard. While on the field, Leonhard is a big leader in the secondary; he makes many adjustment calls right before plays, all the while doing his own job very well.
In 2009, Leonhard played all 16 games and the Jets did very well on defense, aside from their second-half slip-up against Peyton Manning and the Colts.
In 2010, Leonhard suffered a midseason leg injury that sidelined him all the way through the playoffs, and although the Jets still had a top defense, they could not keep the Steelers from scoring enough to beat them and advance to the Super Bowl.
Leonhard returned from his injury in 2011, but during the Jets’ Week 14 game against the Kansas City Chiefs Leonhard went down with another leg injury. He got the same diagnosis, only he will not be returning in 2012.
The Jets are going to try and remedy the loss of Jim Leonhard and inadequate play of Eric Smith by bringing in veterans LaRon Landry and Yeremiah Bell.
What the Jets will be looking for in these two is to stop tight ends from having field days against the defense. While cornerbacks Darrelle Revis, Antonio Cromartie and Kyle Wilson kept receivers on lockdown in 2011, the tight ends would run around the field making plays and helping their teams win. Players like Rob Gronkowski and Brent Celek absolutely embarrassed the Jets defense when they faced each other during the season.
Keeping these talented tight ends under control will be a big goal for the Jets defense.
Something else that the Jets defense will need to do in order to make their way back to the top is pass rush.
In 2009, when Rex Ryan took over as the New York Jets' head coach, a lot of focus was put on his exotic blitzes and where all the pressure would be coming from.
In 2009 and parts of 2010 those blitzes worked, but in 2011, teams learned how to handle them and the Jets defense all of a sudden became less intimidating.
During the last two drafts, the Jets have used their first-round picks to pick up two defensive ends to try and resolve the problem with their pass rush. And since Ryan is not going to shy away from his crazy blitzes with different players, the Jets also drafted Demario Davis, a linebacker out of Arkansas State who already has high expectations coming into this season.
During OTAs, he saw time with the first team sub-package, mainly because of his versatility. He has great burst to get to the quarterback, but has great footwork so that he can also drop back into coverage.
Meanwhile, on offense, no matter how many times it is said, it is true: the Jets have to get back to the ground and pound. Hopefully with Tony Sparano at offensive coordinator, that could happen. His play style is more in sync with Rex Ryan’s than Brian Schottenheimer’s was, which after 2009 and 2010 became "air the ball out with Mark Sanchez" (which obviously did not work out too well).
If the offense can just play smart football with the defense backing them up, there is no reason why the Jets should not win games.
All in all, the New York Jets right now are a Super Bowl caliber team.
The thing is, that is only on paper. Just like the 2010 season, they have the players necessary to make a run at the Lombardi Trophy. Unfortunately, it does not matter what a team’s roster looks like—what matters is what happens on the field and whether that roster of men can execute.
In order for the Jets to be a true Super Bowl caliber team, the defense will need to bring back the 2009/10 days where they got after the quarterback and did not allow a single first down for drives at a time.
Meanwhile, the offense is going to have to play a smarter game of football. With quarterbacks like Tim Tebow and Mark Sanchez who are not the best throwers in the NFL, ground and pound has to make a comeback in order to give the offense more options.
With more options comes a higher chance of success, and with a higher chance of success, there is a higher chance of victory.