One thing was blatantly obvious during the Jets surprising 2006 season: Head coach Eric Mangini is brilliant.
Consider what Mangini had to work with: a broken-down Chad Pennington, two rookies starting on the offensive line, a running back situation that not even the Titans would envy, and a defense utterly devoid of star power.
Any ordinary coach would have lost 10 games. Rich Kotite would have lost 20.
But Mangini made it work.
Mangini's brief stint under Bill Belichick in New England did him a world of good. The coach proved himself to be a master motivator, a master game planner, and a master at making enemies with the organization that got him to where he is today.
What's even more impressive is that Mangini did it all under exacting scrutiny. New York media and fans were understandably apprehensive about a 35-year-old with one year of coordinator experience taking over their team. A year later, they're harboring Super Bowl hopes.
Nice work Mangenius.
The Jets didn't do anything out of the ordinary in 2006—they just executed game plans and showed up prepared every week. Mangini's young team bought in to his system, and they've become playoff favorites because of it.
The postseason talk is realistic in New York, especially given the acquisition of RB Thomas Jones. The former Bears starter came up big for his team last year when QB Rex Grossman was playing poorly. He runs with authority, and he provides great leadership.
More importantly, he's ten times better than what the Jets had at running back in 2006.
New York's rushing attack finished 20th in the league a year ago, which kept the passing game from really blossoming. Jones will keep opposing defenses from focusing on the pass, and the improved offensive balance should help the unit better its 25th-overall ranking.
Also helping the offense's production will be the continued development of the line. Ferguson and Mangold each made a mark last year, proving that they can be stalwarts up front for many years to come.
Defensively, the surprising play of Kerry Rhodes made a big difference in the team's secondary, where his presence at safety helped compensate for lackluster play at cornerback. The Jets addressed that weakness through the draft by picking Pitt corner Darrelle Revis, who should start right away opposite Andre Dyson.
There's no doubting that the Jets' roster will make them better in 2007 than they were in 2006. Their schedule, though, is another story.
Last year, the Jets coasted to the playoffs against a laughable slate of opponents. They only beat one winning team (the Patriots), and they closed out the season against the likes of Houston, Minnesota, and Oakland.
This year, the Jets open against New England before visiting Baltimore. They play the Eagles and Bengals and Steelers and Cowboys in successive weeks. They do close the season against Tennessee and Kansas City, but it remains to be seen how meaningful those games will be.
In any event, optimism is running high again in New York. The Jets are a playoff team on the verge of a division title, and they have one of the brightest young coaches in the game. How they play against better opponents will go a long way towards deciding their postseason fate.
Based on Mangini's rookie performance, there probably isn't much to worry about.
Projected finish: 9-7, 2nd AFC East
Keep your eyes on: WR Jerricho Cotchery—That is, if you're not already watching him.
Take your eyes off: TE Chris Baker—Catches half as good as he blocks.