With the 2012 NFL season about to begin, the question will inevitably be asked:
Who is the best team in New York?
Except this year it will be asked both in New York City and in Buffalo.
The New York Jets and New York Giants only play each other once every four years and do not usually have much of a rivalry. Even so, this past year the rivalry (including some trash talk) developed some intensity.
At the same time, the Jets and the Buffalo Bills have always been rivals in the AFC East. The rivalry has waned a bit in recent years with the Bills not being as competitive. Nevertheless, the improvement of quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick and running back Fred Jackson—along with the offseason pickups of Mario Williams and Mark Anderson—have heightened this rivalry.
With the Bills potentially in the 2012 playoff picture, the question can be asked:
Are the Jets the third best team in New York State?
If you judge only based on the results of the 2011 season, the rankings between the three New York teams are quite clear.
The Buffalo Bills were one of the worst teams in the NFL and came in last place in the AFC East. Clearly not a successful season.
On the other hand, a lot has happened since the end of the 2011 season. The Bills made the biggest splash in free agency, picking up two-time Pro Bowl defensive end Mario Williams.
At the same time the Giants—despite last year's Cinderella run—are not being viewed as one of the favorites to win Superbowl XLVII.
By taking a look at the three New York teams, I will decide if it is reasonable to consider the Jets the third best team in the state heading into the 2012 season.
Best reasonable scenario: 12-4
Worst reasonable scenario: 6-10
Predicted result: 10-6
The defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants face the toughest strength of schedule in the entire NFL (54.7 opposing win percentage). In addition to playing a first-place schedule, they play the NFC South and the AFC North—two of the toughest divisions in the NFL.
The Giants will need to have a more consistent season than they did in 2011 in order to survive their difficult schedule. Fortunately, they have not been as injury-prone this offseason as they were in 2011.
Unlike last year, it will be important for the Giants to start the season strong. They face a particularly difficult stretch starting in Week 12. They go up against the Packers, the Saints, the Falcons and the Ravens in a five week period.
With a schedule lacking in pushovers, the Giants will need to play better than they did in 2011 to make the playoffs.
Fortunately for them, they look better and healthier on paper than they did at the start of 2011. Star defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul has had another year to develop. The same goes for wide receiver Victor Cruz.
Expect the Giants to start out stronger this year, but beware of the tough competition they will be facing all year long.
Best reasonable scenario: 12-4
Worst reasonable scenario: 7-9
Predicted result: 10-6
The offseason drama surrounding the Jets has led some people to predict hard times for the 2012 season. However, their easy schedule and talent-filled roster provide reason to expect otherwise. Given how easy their schedule is compared with 2011, and given that nearly all of their starters have returned, it is reasonable to expect improved results in 2012.
Jets fans should hope that quarterback Mark Sanchez can begin to reach his potential in 2012, or else there may be pressure to let celebrity backup Tim Tebow get playing time. However, as long as new offensive coordinator Tony Sparano can get an average amount of production out of the offense, then the Jets should be in good shape.
They still have one of the toughest defenses in the league, which they have strengthened with defensive end Quinton Coples and safeties Laron Landry and Yeremiah Bell.
No matter what happens, Jets fans will have something from which to garner hope all season long. They have an extremely easy tail-end of their schedule, finishing against Arizona, Jacksonville, Tennessee, San Diego and Buffalo. If the Jets are anywhere in the playoff hunt entering Week 13, they should feel great about their chances.
The Jets face only four playoff teams this year. Without pulling off any major upsets, they could go 11-5 or 12-4. Their top priority needs to be to play consistently well and beat the teams that they are easily capable of beating.
Best reasonable scenario: 11-5
Worst reasonable scenario: 5-11
Predicted result: 8-8
The Buffalo Bills benefit from the same easy AFC East schedule that the Jets do. In fact, their schedule is even easier, because they play the fourth-place schedule rather than the second-place schedule. This means they get to play Kansas City and Cleveland as their cross-division games.
Fortunately for Buffalo fans, the Bills will play against only three of the 2011 playoff teams—the fewest that it is possible to play in a given year. Without putting a significantly better product on the field than last year, the Bills could realistically go 9-7 or 10-6.
Two of the biggest question marks for the Bills this year will be whether aging running back Fred Jackson is still athletic enough and whether star defensive end Mario Williams can stay healthy. While the Bills lack defensive depth, a premier pass rusher can make up for a lot of sins in the NFL. The addition of defensive end Mark Anderson also has the potential to enhance their pass rush.
The Bills will be hoping to turn their matchups against the Jets into more of an even rivalry. Of their last eight meetings, the only Bills' victory came in an overtime game in 2009. The Jets have won the last five meetings, and the two losses per year have made it difficult for the Bills to move into playoff contention.
Regardless, the Bills can hang their hats on the fact that they made more offseason moves than the Jets did and feel optimistic heading into their Week 1 matchup.
It is possible that the Bills will contend for a wild-card playoff spot this coming season. However, to reach the playoffs for the first time in 13 years, they will most likely need to at least split their two games with the Jets.
Expect this rivalry to be more meaningful and intense than it has been in recent history.
Taking everything into account, it does not seem reasonable to consider the Jets to be the third best team in New York at this moment. Moreover, while they are currently in the No. 2 position, they are closer to the No. 1 Giants than they are to the No. 3 Bills.
The Jets are deeper and stronger than the Bills
Until the Bills can beat the Jets head-to-head or have a successful season, they cannot stake a claim on the No. 2 spot. The Bills still match up poorly against the Jets, and the addition of Mario Williams is unlikely to be enough to shift the balance in the rivalry entirely.
This should be a positive year for the Bills, and they may be wild card contenders. However, they will more likely be looking up at the Jets than looking down.
Jets vs. Giants: Division crowns
The Giants still look stronger than the Jets on paper. They have less holes and a higher-powered offense. The biggest disadvantage they have this year is strength of schedule. The gap of schedule strength is as big as they come. For this reason, it is likely that the Jets will end the year with a better record.
However, the edge goes to the Giants in large part because they are much more likely to win their division. The entire NFC East plays more or less the same hard schedule, and the Giants are clear favorites to win the division. Don't be shocked if the Giants win their division with a paltry record of 9-7 or 8-8.
On the other hand, the Jets are far from being the favorites to win the AFC East. The New England Patriots are—as usual—the favorites. With their easy schedules, expect AFC East teams to put up strong records. It will most likely require around 12 wins to take the division, and there will probably be one or even two wild-card contenders.
Jets vs. Giants: The wild card
While the Giants appear to be the superior team currently, the Jets are the more likely team to take a wild-card spot. In addition to the strength of schedule disparity, the Giants should expect to face some tough wild-card contention in the NFC. This will likely include teams like the Chicago Bears, the Detroit Lions and the Atlanta Falcons. The NFC East is not a good bet to field any wild-card contenders in 2012. So for the Giants, the mindset needs to be the division or nothing.
The Jets are in the opposite situation. Due to the incredible consistency of the New England Patriots, the AFC East is one of the hardest divisions to win. However, the Jets should be viewed as very strong wild-card contenders. Expect one or both New York teams in the AFC East to be in the wild-card hunt come December.
First place: New York Giants
Close second place: New York Jets
Distant third place: Buffalo Bills