Though 2012 has been a train wreck for the New York Jets, they do have some reasons to be hopeful for next year.
Gang Green's disastrous season has been well-documented.
Mark Sanchez has totally imploded. Tim Tebow has been a non-factor. Darrelle Revis went down with a torn ACL in Week 3, and Santonio Holmes was lost to a Lisfranc foot injury just a week later. The loss of Holmes left the Jets' inept QBs with no reliable options at wideout.
Though the 6-8 Jets weren't eliminated from playoff contention until Week 15, their season was truly lost much earlier. That said, amidst the disappointments of 2012 are some reasons to be excited for the 2013 season.
Return to Revis Island
At first glance, it seems like New York did not miss Darrelle Revis.
Playing largely without the All-Pro cornerback, the Jets are ranked second in the league against the pass, but that figure is skewed by two factors: how teams have attacked the defense and what QBs the defense has faced.
New York's opponents have not accrued many yards through the air because they are too busy running the ball. While the Jets have faced 446 pass attempts this season, the fifth-fewest in the league, their opponents have carried the ball 434 times, the fourth-highest mark.
The Jets defense has also come away with a paltry 11 interceptions this season. It might seem like that low number is a result of their opponents' limited pass attempts, but it's more likely due to Revis' absence.
On the other hand, that means they only have seven interceptions in their 12 other games. At that non-Revis rate, the Jets would have a single-digit interception total this season.
The Jets defense has fallen off from its usual dominance this season. Bringing back one of the best defenders in the league should help the D return to its stifling ways.
A Beast on the D-Line
The Jets' struggles in run defense fall largely at the feet of the linebackers. Bart Scott, Calvin Pace and even 28-year-old David Harris have all shown signs of aging this season. These slow-footed tacklers are simply not the run stuffers they used to be, and it has shown.
However, one of the big men up front has done his part against the run and proven himself a rising star.
Muhammad Wilkerson is just in his second year, but the Temple University product has emerged as one of the best defensive linemen in the league.
Through 14 games, Wilkerson has recorded 61 tackles. Only two other D-linemen in the league have more: J.J. Watt, who is putting together an MVP-caliber season for the Houston Texans, and Justin Smith, the anchor of the suffocating San Francisco 49ers defense.
Equally impressive is how Wilkerson has produced without much help around him. He has been New York's best defender in recent weeks. Despite lining up as a 3-4 defensive end, Wilkerson has gotten to the quarterback for three sacks in the last five weeks, giving him four on the year.
Tack that on to three forced fumbles, a blocked kick and a fumble return for a touchdown, and it's clear that Wilkerson has broken out. The Jets' 2011 first-round pick is paying off, and he should only keep getting better.
A Diamond in the Rough
With Santonio Holmes out, Dustin Keller hobbled and Plaxico Burress off the team, the Jets' corps of receivers seemed lacking. Sanchez needed all the help he could get, but it wasn't clear who could step up and make plays.
Enter Jeremy Kerley.
The second-year wideout from Texas Christian University became Sanchez's primary option by default, taking the opportunity to showcase his abilities.
In the clip above, Kerley begins the play lined up in the slot at the bottom of the screen. He starts his route towards the sideline, then beats Bills corner Leodis McKelvin upfield with one quick cut. By the time Kerley gets to the end zone, he has just a fraction of a step on McKelvin, but that's just enough space for him to separate and pull in the catch with an acrobatic leap.
Kerley has caught just one more touchdown this season, but his 53 receptions for 739 yards are somewhat miraculous considering the circumstances.
First off, Mark Sanchez has been throwing him the ball all year; none of Kerley's teammates have even half as many catches or yards.
Second, Kerley is a slot receiver who has been playing most of the year without a legitimate threat on the outside. He has had to search for holes in the coverage without anyone stretching the field and with a quarterback who has completed just 54.8 percent of his passes.
With Santonio Holmes back and a new QB in town, New York's passing game should only be better in 2013. It will be interesting to watch how a lightning bug like Kerley can operate under more favorable conditions.
After this travesty of a season, at least the Jets will have some new people running the show.
Mark Sanchez will certainly not be under center. The Jets have already announced that he will be benched in favor of Greg McElroy, and both Sanchez and Tebow will reportedly be shopped in the offseason.
There will also likely be a new coach roaming the sidelines. Rex Ryan captivated Gang Green Nation with his physical, aggressive defense and swaggering personality, but the act has grown old. Now Ryan's bluster rings hollow, and he has not been able to solve any of the problems that have plagued his team in 2012.
Lastly, Mike Tannenbaum's tenure as Jets GM may finally be coming to an end. He's responsible for Sanchez's ludicrous contract and for the disappointing personnel suiting up in green and white this season. Tannenbaum survived the housecleaning when Eric Mangini was axed back in 2008, but he isn't likely to make it out employed this time.
This is a bitter, cynical thing to be excited about, but clearing the deck is a reason to hope. And with guys like Revis, Wilkerson and Kerley to rebuild around, 2013 isn't likely to be a repeat of this year's futility.