Will 2013 be the final act for Mark Sanchez and Rex Ryan?
It may be too early to evaluate the New York Jets' 2013 schedule for the following reasons:
- The NFL draft won't take place until April 25. Teams who are counting on the draft to fill critical needs haven't had the opportunity.
- The Jets are an unknown commodity. They're not a stable franchise where we know the personnel and can predict their performance level. Even the starting quarterback is a mystery.
The Jets will play a third-place schedule. In addition to their AFC East rivals, they'll play each team in the AFC North and NFC South, plus the 2012 third-place finishers from the AFC South and AFC West.
Reviewing the Jets' opponents' 2012 records reveals the following facts:
- Their combined record was 102-106.
- Five of the 13 opponents had .500 or better records.
- Their NFC South opponents had a combined 11-5 record against AFC opponents.
- Their non-divisional AFC rivals had a 19-17 record outside their own divisions, including two victories against the Jets.
- Atlanta (299), Pittsburgh (314) and Miami (317) were among the stingiest teams in allowing points.
- The Jets scored fewer points in 2012 than any of their 2013 opponents.
The Jets will face three of the NFL's top five leaders in passing yardage:
It's a schedule that will pose challenges for a team that's trying to implement a new offense, hasn't settled on a starting quarterback and may have a 50 percent turnover in starting personnel.
Unless otherwise indicated, sources are as follows:
Darren McFadden hit a career low of 3.3 yards per rush in 2012.
Change is the buzzword at Oakland. Matt Flynn currently occupies the starting quarterback position after his acquisition from Seattle. However, defense is the area of the most radical upheaval. Nine new starters are on the current depth chart. The only returnees to the starting lineup are defensive end Lamarr Houston and strong safety Tyvon Branch.
It's not that the defense was horrible last year; they ranked 18th in a 32-team league. It's the need to replace players lost in free agency. That will make the Raiders' defense an unknown quantity until it gets used to functioning as a unit. The sooner the Jets get them, the better.
The Raiders' offense was ranked 18th in the league as well. Yet, they had difficulty scoring points. The team scored 289 points last year as opposed to the Jets' 281. Running back Darren McFadden almost reached 1,000 yards of total offense with 707 yards rushing and 258 yards receiving.
Tight end Brandon Myers caught 79 passes for 806 yards. However, he signed with the Giants. The best returning receiver the Raiders have is wide receiver Denarius Moore, who caught 51 passes for 741 yards.
In other words, McFadden is the Raiders' major offensive threat. The Jets' key to victory is to take him out of the offense and make Flynn beat them with his arm. If Flynn can emulate Carson Palmer's ball distribution, which yielded 4,018 passing yards, the Raiders can keep it close.
However, given the turnover at quarterback combined with the almost completely new defense, this could be the easiest game of the year for the Jets.
Trent Richardson was Cleveland's best offensive threat in 2012.
It's a new era in Cleveland. Despite signs of progress in 2012, the Browns replaced head coach Pat Shurmur with Rob Chudzinski.
The Browns played better than their 5-11 record indicates. Three of their five victories were against AFC opponents outside the AFC North, so the Jets have no room for complacency. However, the Browns only won one game on the road. That might work in the Jets' favor.
Opponents outscored them 368-302, which averages to just over four points per game. Five of their losses were by a touchdown or less.
Chudzinski needs to improve an offense that ranked 25th in the NFL in 2012 and lacked 1,000-yard producers in both rushing and receiving. The defense was slightly better, ranking 23rd.
Their leading offensive threat, running back Trent Richardson, carried the ball 267 times for 950 yards and caught 51 passes for 367 yards. Josh Gordon, with 50 catches for 805 yards, led the wide receivers.
Defensively, the Browns' highest-profile free agents are outside linebacker Paul Kruger and defensive end Desmond Bryant, both of whom are projected to start. Kruger had 9.0 sacks in 2012.
Offensively, the 2012 Browns were similar to the Jets. Defensively, the 2012 Jets were superior. If the Jets' defense overcomes its personnel changes and plays to its 2012 form, the Jets should prevail.
C.J. Spiller rushed for 1,244 yards in 2012, averging 6.0 yards per carry.
The Jets would prefer not to imitate the Buffalo Bills, a team that constantly changes its leadership in an effort to regain past glory. The Bills replaced head coach Chan Gailey with former Syracuse coach Doug Marrone.
Now, after releasing Ryan Fitzpatrick, they need a quarterback. They recently signed Kevin Kolb, who currently tops their depth chart. However, polls like ESPN's show strong support for drafting West Virginia's Geno Smith.
Whoever plays quarterback will have several strong weapons at his disposal. Running backs C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson combined for 1,681 yards rushing. Spiller contributed 1,244 of those yards as Jackson missed six games.
Meanwhile, wide receiver Steve Johnson caught 79 passes for 1,046 yards. Tight end Scott Chandler added 43 catches for 571 yards.
On defense, safety Jairus Byrd was a top free-agent prospect before the Bills imposed the franchise tag.
However, the Bills' offense finished 2012 ranked 18th in the NFL while the defense finished 22nd. With the only free-agent starters projected to be Kolb at quarterback and Manny Lawson at weak-side linebacker, that doesn't appear likely to change unless they upgrade through the draft.
Without a second 1,000-yard receiving threat, the Jets' defense can focus on stopping Johnson, while not neglecting the always dangerous Chandler, in obvious passing situations.
Their run defense must encourage Spiller to try and outrun his blockers. He could stretch plays to the outside on his own and break long gains in college. He's learning that tactic doesn't work in the faster NFL.
Meanwhile, Stephen Hill will be back in the lineup ready to repeat his success in 2012's season opener.
The Jets hope to repeat the results of that game, when a healthy Jets' squad defeated the Bills 48-28. They'll have plenty of time to figure out how after Week 2's Thursday night game at New England.
Bills' WR Steve Johnson during the Bills-Jets' 2012 season finale
The Bills' greatest home-field advantage isn't "the 12th man" that they celebrate on the "ring of honor" at Ralph Wilson Stadium. It's the weather.
If the teams were to play there in December, that's to the Bills' advantage. However, this year's game is in mid-November. It will be cold, possibly in the 30s, but the likelihood of snow is low.
What's more, it follows the Jets' bye week. They'll have plenty of time to digest the lessons of their Week 3 Bills' game. We, and they, will know how potent the Bills' offense is, for example. For that matter, we'll know much more about the Jets as well.
In any event, the Jets should still win, but the margin of victory will be less.
Defensive ends Jared Odrick (left) and Cameron Wake
Last year's Miami Dolphins were surprisingly stingy with points, surrendering 317. That was three less than conference-leading Pittsburgh, who had the NFL's No.1 defense.
The Dolphins tried to upgrade their passing game to match by signing former Jets' tight end Dustin Keller and Pittsburgh Steelers' wide receiver Mike Wallace once the free-agent season began.
The Dolphins signed three new defensive starters as well: middle linebacker Dannell Ellerbe, weak-side linebacker Philip Wheeler and cornerback Brent Grimes. They already have a leading pass-rusher in Cameron Wake, who in 2012 finished fourth in the NFL with 15.0 sacks.
However, losing Reggie Bush and his 986 rushing yards leaves the Dolphins' running game thin. The trio of Daniel Thomas, Lamar Miller and quarterback Ryan Tannehill produced a combined total of 786 yards in 369 carries. Unless the Dolphins find a way to improve that number, their offense will live and die with the pass.
That will make things easier for the Jets' defense. If they can apply constant pressure on Tannehill, he will have to resort to the relatively ineffective ground game, despite the presence of Keller and Wallace. Likewise, if Keller repeats the injuries that hobbled him in 2012, the Dolphins' passing game will have lost a potent weapon.
In other words, the key to this game is if the Jets can force the Dolphins to use their ground game. If that happens, and the Jets neutralize Wake, they have a great chance to win.
Chris Johnson ran for 122 yards and a touchdown against the Jets.
When the Jets played the Tennessee Titans in a Monday night game to close 2012's Week 15, they were still in the playoff hunt. A victory would have evened their record at 7-7, keeping their playoff hopes alive.
Instead, the offense went almost completely stagnant. Mark Sanchez seemed to kill every promising drive with turnovers. Nevertheless, the score was only 14-10 Titans, as the clock wound down and Sanchez had one more chance to produce the winning score.
Instead, he fumbled the snap. The Titans won. The Jets fell to 6-8 and never won another game.
It is now 2013, and the Jets have a chance for revenge. The Titans don't appear that different. Or are they?
They signed two new starting guards, Andy Levitre and Robert Turner. Their starting quarterback from that Monday night game, Jake Locker, is still in that position. However, he may get competition for his job from former Buffalo starter Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Finally, the backup running back to Chris Johnson is two-time 1,000-yard rusher and former Jet Shonn Greene.
Nevertheless, the key to winning this game is the Jets' offense. Their defense played well enough in 2012. The offense missed opportunities and made mistakes. If Marty Mornhinweg addresses the turnover issue, particularly at quarterback, the Jets can win this game.
Santonio Holmes caught nine passes for 147 passes in Miami.
Jets-Dolphins games used to be celebrated rivalries, like the epic battles between Ken O'Brien and Dan Marino. Later, even when the Jets fielded teams that were mediocre or worse, they always managed to find that little something extra they needed to compete.
The Dolphins finished a game ahead of the Jets in 2012. Adding Dustin Keller and Mike Wallace may bolster their offense enough to make them a playoff contender. By the time of this season finale in Miami, the teams' directions will most likely be clear. Pride and job preservation may be the only motivations to excel.
This game may be the last time we see Rex Ryan and Mark Sanchez on the Jets' sideline. That in itself would make the game significant.
Let's hope the game has meaning for more positive reasons.
Quarterback Cam Newton seeks to regain his 2011 Pro Bowl form.
Last year's Carolina Panthers' team was better than their 7-9 record indicates. Their offense, led by second-year quarterback Cam Newton, was ranked 12th, while their defense, led by the NFL's leading tackler, middle linebacker Luke Kuechly.
The Panthers did not have a 1,000-yard rusher. However, Newton is a double threat, capable of generating offense with his arm or his legs. In two, seasons, Newton threw for 7,920 yards and rushed for 1,447 more. His favorite target, wide receiver Steve Smith, caught 73 passes for 1,174 yards.
To win, the Jets' defense must keep Newton in the pocket and contain Smith. Forcing the Panthers to rely on a more conventional offense may stifle it sufficiently for the Jets to keep things under control.
When the Jets have the ball, they'll need to do more than contain Kuechly. They must protect their quarterback from the duo of defensive ends Greg Hardy and Charles Johnson, who combined for 23.5 sacks in 2012.
Only one game separated the teams' win-loss records in 2012. However, the Panthers have enough weapons, plus home-field advantage, to make them the favorite in this game.
Roethlisberger threw for 275 yards against the Jets in 2012.
In 2012, the Pittsburgh Steelers led the NFL in defense. Their 314 points allowed was the fewest in the AFC. However, their offense placed 21st, and they only outscored their opponents by 22. That may explain why the Steelers finished 8-8 and missed the playoffs.
Free agency claimed running back Rashard Mendenhall and wide receiver Mike Wallace this offseason. Mendenhall only contributed 192 yards rushing in an injury-plagued season. Wallace, however, was the team's leading receiver with 64 catches for 836 yards. Returning tight end Heath Miller was second with 71 catches for 816 yards.
The Jets will face a couple of old friends: wide receivers Plaxico Burress and Jerricho Cotchery. They back up the current starting wide receivers Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown. Brown and Sanders ranked third and fourth in receiving with a combined total of roughly 1,400 yards.
How well the offense, and the team, does this year may depend on quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's ability to stay healthy. In 2012, he missed three games in which the Steelers went 1-2.
If the Jets want to avenge their 2012 loss to the Steelers, their defense will have to rise to the occasion and stop Roethlisberger from having a big day. If the Steelers don't upgrade their receiving corps in the draft, this may not be the challenge it once was.
However, the Steelers will be coming off their bye week. Coach Mike Tomlin will have plenty of time to prepare what resources he has to face the Jets.
Drew Brees faces a pass defense ranked second in the NFL in 2012.
Last year's New Orleans Saints' team was a classic example of a "good hit, no field" unit. Drew Brees had his usual excellent season, leading the NFL in passing yardage. The problem was the Saints' defense. They finished dead last.
So far, cornerback Keenan Lewis is the only new defensive starter they have signed.
However, the Saints will most likely be favored to win this game. The logic will be that the Jets' offense lacks the weapons to match Brees, no matter how poorly the Saints' defense plays.
Brees has a trio of receiving threats: Wide receivers Marques Colston and Lance Moore each topped the 1,000-yard mark. Colston caught 83 balls for 1,154 yards, Moore caught 65 balls for 1,041 yards. Not far behind Colston and Moore was tight end Jimmy Graham, with 85 catches for 982 yards.
Should the Jets manage to shut down this trio, Brees can hand off to running backs who combined for over 1,500 rushing yards: Mark Ingram, Pierre Thomas, Darren Sproles and Chris Ivory.
It's probably too much firepower for the Jets' defense, especially if Darrelle Revis departs. The only chance the Jets probably have is if their defense forces turnovers in good field position, and their offense capitalizes on every one.
However, if the Saints' offense plays to potential and their defense improves as well, it will be a long afternoon.
Doug Martin will face a defense that ranked 26th against the run in 2012.
The most interesting issue about the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' game may be that of the uniform cornerback Darrelle Revis will wear.
Tampa Bay has long been the leading candidate to acquire Revis. The deal may even be old news by the time you read this. However, it's bound to be a headline on game day no matter which side of the field Revis occupies.
Revis's switch to a Tampa Bay uniform could significantly upgrade a defense that ranked 29th in the league in 2012. Combining that upgrade with a ninth-ranked offense could make a long afternoon of the Jets' opening game.
They'll have to figure out how to stop running back Doug Martin, whose 1,454 rushing yards ranked fourth in the NFL last year. If they stop Martin, Tampa Bay quarterback Josh Freeman will "resort" to wide receiver Vincent Jackson, whose 1,384 yards on 72 receptions averaged out to 19.2 yards per catch.
The Bucs haven't done much offseason retooling so far. Their only projected new starters are free safety Dashon Goldson and strong-side linebacker Jonathan Casillas.
This game could have two rankings, one with Revis playing for the Jets and one with him playing for Tampa Bay. However, unless the teams consummate a deal before publication, this ranking assumes that the Jets' primary concern will be Tampa Bay's offense. Tampa Bay will most likely be the favorite in either case.
Joe Flacco has a rich new contract. Can he be the Ravens' leader?
The Baltimore Ravens are defending Super Bowl champions. However, their losses on defense because of free agency and retirement may make them less formidable an opponent than they were in 2012.
To recap, five defensive starters are gone. Linebacker Ray Lewis retired. Free safety Ed Reed, cornerback Cary Williams, strong safety Bernard Pollard and linebacker Dannell Ellerbe have signed with other teams. Starting nose tackle Ma'ake Kemoeatu is an unrestricted free agent, but has yet to sign with anyone.
Granted, the Ravens have signed two new defensive starters, free safety Michael Huff and linebacker Elvis Dumervil. However, this will be the first team in recent history where the strength of the team lies in its offense.
But the offense has problems of its own. Quarterback Joe Flacco and running back Ray Rice will have to compensate for the loss of free-agency wideout Anquan Boldin and his 921 receiving yards.
In other words, if the Jets can stop Rice and make Flacco beat them through the air, they might have a chance. It won't make them favorites, especially on the road, but the odds for victory are better than against New England or Atlanta.
Geno Atkins led the 2012 Bengals with 12.5 sacks.
Cincinnati could be dangerous in 2013. Not only did the Cincinnati Bengals make the playoffs with a 9-7 record in 2012, they approach the April draft with the most cap room of any 2012 playoff team. With $29.4 million free, the Bengals could make a significant move between now and Opening Day.
However, the Bengals have some weapons already. BenJarvus Green-Ellis supplied a solid running attack with his 1,094-yard season. Wide receiver A.C. Green added 1,350 yards, with tight end Gresham adding 737 yards more. In other words, the Bengals have multiple ways to win.
The Bengals have offensive vulnerabilities. Green-Ellis averaged 3.9 yards per carry in 2012. He may lack playmaking ability, despite a run of 48 yards. Andy Dalton took 46 sacks in 2012, suggesting possible protection issues.
It is essential that the Jets pressure Dalton while keeping him in the pocket. If they force the Bengals to rely on the run, the Jets have a chance to contain the Bengals.
When the Jets have the ball, they must control linebackers Vontaze Burfict and Rey Maualuga, who combined for 135 solo tackles, and linemen Geno Atkins and Michael Johnson, who combined for 24.0 sacks. Pass protection will be a major theme of this game, no matter who has the ball.
Combining the Bengals' relatively stable lineup with their home-field advantage makes this game almost as difficult as those against powerhouses New England and Atlanta.
Mark Sanchez threw for 301 yards in the Jets' Thanksgiving loss.
Combine 2012's top-ranked offense with a "bend but not break" defense and you get an opponent that's used to success. That's the New England Patriots.
The team has learned to cope with roster turnover. This year's example is at wide receiver, where Brady has two new starters: Mark Jenkins and Danny Amendola. Gone is Wes Welker, who accepted an offer from Denver. However, star tight end Rob Gronkowski remains as does running back Steven Ridley, who rushed for 1,263 yards in 2012.
New England's defense, especially its secondary, was constantly criticized. Yet, the Patriots only surrendered 331 points, 14 more than conference-leading Pittsburgh. Teams move between the 20s against New England, but don't progress in the red zone.
To beat New England, the Jets must sustain long drives to keep Brady off the field. When the New England offense takes the field, constant pressure on Brady is the key to success.
Establishing this pressure is why the Jets signed players like outside linebacker Antwan Barnes and nose tackle Antonio Garay. They'll earn their money if they make Brady's life in the pocket miserable.
The Jets competed well against New England at Foxborough. To do so again requires pressure defense, winning the turnover battle and taking advantage of offensive opportunities. It's a tall order and will be one of the most difficult challenges of the year.
Quarterback Matt Ryan had his best year in 2012.
The Atlanta Falcons' game pits the Jets against an NFC opponent that was a stone's throw away from reaching the Super Bowl. As if that weren't enough, the Falcons were 4-0 against AFC opposition in 2012. Even worse, the game is at the Falcons' wildly supportive home field.
If the Jets want to win, all they have to do is keep Atlanta's offense off the field. That's much easier said than done. Last year, Matt Ryan threw for 4,719 yards. Of those yards, three players shared 3,479 of them: wide receivers Julio Jones (1,198 yards) and Roddy White (1,351 yards) as well as ageless tight end Tony Gonzalez (930 yards).
Shutting down three 1,000-yard receivers (Gonzalez is close enough) is an imposing challenge. However, doing just that might be the key to victory. However, instead of 800-yard, 3.6 yards-per-carry running back Michael Turner, Matt Ryan now has free-agent acquisition Steven Jackson, whose 1,024 yards (4.1 yards per carry) represent a modest upgrade.
On defense, the Falcons replaced John Abraham and his 10.0 sacks with former Giant Osi Umenyiora, whose last double-digit sack year was 2010 when he recorded 11.5.
If it weren't for the longstanding problems the Jets have in Foxborough, this game would be the hardest on the Jets' schedule. However, until they end the Foxborough losing streak, any other challenge will be secondary.
Jeremy Kerley caught seven balls for 120 yards in 2012's loss at Foxborough.
Until the Jets win a regular-season game in Foxborough, this annual match will be their biggest challenge. They came so close in 2012, taking a commanding first-half lead, then ultimately losing 29-26.
This year, the Jets will go through an offseason upheaval while New England remains relatively stable. This doesn't figure to be the year the losing streak ends.
The short preparation time doesn't help the Jets. This will be a Thursday night game following a challenging opener against Tampa Bay.
Nothing is impossible. However, a win at Foxborough seems highly unlikely in 2013.