To avoid another train-wreck season, the New York Jets must receive a marvelous coaching effort from Rex Ryan, game-managing play from either Geno Smith or Mark Sanchez, steadiness in the running game and inspired play from Muhammad Wilkerson and Co. on defense.
If everything doesn't go as planned, though, a four-win campaign isn't out of the question.
Based on the roster makeup, a .500 record would be encouraging.
In an attempt to flesh out what we'll see from Gang Green this season, let's examine the current state of the organization, from head coach to quarterback to safety and everything in between.
Whenever comprehensive analysis of a football team gets overwhelming, just revert to the team's quarterback situation. The organizations with good ones win, and the organizations with bad ones lose. That's just how it goes today. No single facet of a team has a larger impact on win-loss record than the play of its quarterback. Check the last 10 Super Bowl winners and the teams that miss the playoffs every year.
Because of that, examining the Jets' quarterbacks is the only logical place to begin.
Mark Sanchez isn't a franchise signal-caller. The film says he's not, the stats say he's not. Individually, he wasn't very good during the back-to-back AFC title appearances in 2009 and 2010. However, he's not as bad as he was in 2012, when the talent around him was, on occasion, practice-squad worthy.
It would take an absolutely brilliant, borderline miracle of a coaching job by Rex Ryan to get Sanchez to play at game-manager level.
The jury's still out Sanchez's competition, Geno Smith. He appears to have more desirable quarterbacking traits than No. 6 and enters the NFL with moxie and confidence Gang Green hasn't had under center in a long time. While he's far from a finished product, he at least represents hope for the Jets at the game's most vital position.
In summation, though, this is a relatively weak position, which could have a negative ripple effect on the rest of the team.
The Jets advanced to consecutive AFC title games in Sanchez's first two seasons because of stingy defense and a punishing, clock-devouring running game.
It was vintage Rex Ryan football.
He'll try to institute a similar style this year, but, unfortunately, the personnel at his disposal isn't what it once was.
Nick Mangold and D'Brickashaw Ferguson remain the offensive line lynchpins, but Willie Colon, Stephen Peterman, Vlad Ducasse and Austin Howard are far from stalwarts at their respective positions.
Chris Ivory and Bilal Powell are running backs who run with authority, but if big holes aren't opened, they'll struggle. On the outside, Stephen Hill, a freakish athlete, needs to show much more refinement as a receiver, and Santonio Holmes is still recovering from the foot injury that ended his 2012 campaign. Jeremy Kerley is the most viable pass-catching option on the roster.
Nothing against Ivory, Powell, Hill, Holmes and Kerley, but that collection of skill-position talent simply isn't strong enough to mask many quarterback deficiencies or necessarily make a quarterback's life easier.
In 2012, the Jets finished the year with the third-fewest yards and points per drive, according to FootballOutsiders.com. As long as they're healthier as an offense in 2013, they should improve upon those efficiency figures, but not by much.
The word "guru" gets used to describe coaches far too often, but Ryan is undoubtedly deserving of the title. His core defensive beliefs, philosophies and instruction are, arguably, the finest in football, and that won't change.
The personnel he'll work with on defense, as a whole, is more impressive than the offensive personnel.
Muhammad Wilkerson, whom ProFootballFocus.com (subscription required) rated as the second-best 3-4 defensive end behind J.J. Watt in 2012, has All-Pro potential as a disruptive defender who can play anywhere along the line and make an impact. Rookie Sheldon Richardson has similar penetrative skills at the defensive tackle spot.
Those two will be tone-setters for the rest of the defense.
Dee Milliner was sound during his days in the ultra-competitive SEC, and Antonio Cromartie is fresh off an underrated 2012 season.
Ryan will certainly get the most out of this unit, but although it'll be better than the offense, it's probably a year or two away from returning to elite status.
Don't let his bravado cloud your assessment of him—Ryan is an excellent coach. While he's far more proficient defensively than he is offensively, his defensive brilliance can carry a team. New York's defense will be better this season than it was last season, and it will keep the Jets in games when the offense isn't exactly clicking.
Marty Mornhinweg takes over for Tony Sparano running the offense, which is intriguing. He spent the last decade in Philadelphia with the Eagles and Andy Reid, where moving the football on offense was rarely a problem.
It'll be hard for him to be more uninspiring than Sparano was in 2012.
After Mornhinweg became the Eagles' offensive coordinator in 2006, they never finished worse than 15th in yards per drive or worse than 24th in points per drive (the latter occurred last year), per Football Outsiders. Mornhinweg should infuse some creativity and explosiveness to the offense, two aspects that were noticeably missing under Sparano and that are desperately needed.
Remember, though, the talent he has to plug into his system in New York is rather futile compared to what he had in Philadelphia.
Getting enamored with a team's schedule is risky business. With injuries, unforeseen individual performances—both bad and good—and with general luck and randomness, there's just no way to concretely predict how strong or weak a team will be.
The 2012 season was the first time in 17 years five new teams weren't in the playoffs. Talk about parity.
Every NFL schedule is difficult.
The Jets are less talented than most NFL teams. Their quarterback situation isn't desirable. Neither is their pass-catching contingent or safety tandem. But their defensive line and cornerback grouping are above average. We aren't quite sure about their running game, offensive line or overall depth, but we do know Ryan and Mornhinweg will tap into the club's full potential—or, at least, come close to doing so.
A variety of things went wrong in 2012, and the Jets mustered a 6-10 season, one loaded with embarrassing moments. They didn't significantly upgrade their roster, so more mediocre results should be expected.
A train wreck, though?
Not with Rex Ryan calling the shots.