I would like to start off by saying how much I love the Jets roster. Line play, a run game, and defense can take a team quite far in the season.
If you want an example, look at the Tennessee Titans last year. They weren't flashy but they smashed and dashed their way to a league-best 13-3 record, including a stomping of the eventual Super Bowl champion Steelers.
The Jets have at least two of those qualities and quite possibly all three. Their OL, one of the worst in football in 2007, has quickly become one of the strongest units in the NFL. Signing future hall of famer Alan Faneca and steady vet Damien Woody gave some leadership to a line that was young and talented.
This helped D'Brickishaw Ferguson to blossom in year three and Brandon Moore to become a legitimate starting guard. The interior of Moore/Mangold/Faneca should be one of the best interiors in football, if not THE best, and a rock in Ferguson protecting the blindside makes for one damn good line.
With good line play, a powerful and balanced rushing attack will follow, as it did last year for the J-E-T-S. Thomas Jones had the best season of his career, with 1,312 rush yards and a career high 13 touchdowns on a 4.5 yards per carry average.
Unfortunately, Jones is starting to hit the age where he could fall off at any minute (and Jets fans know about that, considering the Curtis Martin story), so it was necessary to find some depth for Jones.
The Jets did exactly that in getting the powerful Shonn Greene, winner of the Doak Walker award in 08 at Iowa and a third round pick for the Jets. I like Greene to be a short yardage/injury insurance guy for Thomas Jones, but it's imperative the Jets find touches on offense for the EXPLOSIVE Leon Washington.
I personally would lighten his load on return duty to guarantee more touches offensively. You cannot keep explosive talent like Leon Washington on the bench, getting only 76 carries in the year. Either way, the Jets have three backs they can hit the defense with.
The defense looks promising as well. Kris Jenkins transformed that Jets run defense at the nose, and Shaun Ellis is a rare 3-4 end capable of compiling sacks. David Harris and free agent signing Bart Scott make up a strong set of inside linebackers. Calvin Pace is a solid pass rusher on the outside, notching seven sacks in his first year as a Jet.
Cornerback Darelle Revis played at an elite level last year, and Kerry Rhodes is one of the league's best at safety. Jim Leonhard was brought over to man the SS spot, which allowed the Jets to move Abram Elam.
So the Jets have the roster to compete in the division... for second place, that is. There are some flaws on this team, and they won't be covered up in one offseason.
The quarterback position has some promising young talents in rookie top pick Mark Sanchez and Kellen Clemens, but expecting a rookie to hold the fort is a tough task and Clemens thus far has been underwhelming in action.
The Jets failed to acquire a receiver in the offseason, a crying need. After Jerricho Cotchery (who's a No. 2 receiver on a team with weapons at the spot), there is a bunch of guys with little to no NFL resume.
Who is going to man the No. 2 corner spot? The Jets went out and traded for Lito Sheppard, but the former "Pro Bowler" (words used loosely) is an awful cover corner who made the Pro Bowl based on his playmaking. The problem there is Sheppard gambles to make those plays, and outside of two years those gambles led to bad play.
The Jets simply are not powerful enough to top the New England Patriots, if Tom Brady can stay under center and pick up where he left off in 2007. Brady is the league's best quarterback for my money, and the Brady to Moss and Brady to Welker connection was nearly unstoppable, especially when paired with a veteran offensive line.
I like the Jets defense and running backs better than the Patriots, but if you cannot score with the Patriots you cannot beat them. I don't expect a repeat of 2007's 16-0 by the Pats, but I expect them to rise to the cream of the crop once again after a "down" 11-5 season.
However, Jets are in the mix with Miami and Buffalo. Miami won the division last year, but they were sparked by a Wildcat scheme that hasn't been seen as an NFL offense since the old single-wing formation in the early stages of football.
The schedule also gets rougher for Miami, having to take on the Chargers and the Steelers in addition to a run through the AFC South and NFC South.
I don't see Miami sneaking up on teams this year, and they will have trouble masking serious holes in their wide receiving corps and their secondary. Not to mention, Joey Porter had a career year at the age of 31... who knows if he'll replicate it? Beyond Porter, there is a barren wasteland when it comes to pass rushers.
The eternal stepchild of the division, the Buffalo Bills, are pretty tough to read. You have to like their explosive set of wide receivers with Lee Evans and Terrell Owens. Marshawn Lynch, though he'll be suspended to start the year, is a powerful back with a non-stop engine.
The defense has some good, promising players with LB Paul "Poz" Posluszny, DE Aaron Schobel, CB Terrence McGee, CB Leodis McKelvin, DT Marcus Stroud, S Donte Whitner, and rookie pass rusher Aaron Maybin.
But after failing to properly replace departed tackle Jason Peters, will the Bills be able to keep Trent Edwards upright? And is Trent good enough to get the ball to his receivers? I don't believe so.
As such, I do believe the Jets can and will finish No. 2 in the AFC East. The combination of defense and run game will be good enough to simply overpower some teams on the schedule. The Jets struggled down the stretch when Brett Favre played like, well, Brett Favre, and were hurt by a ton of turnovers.
Rookie quarterbacks don't usually translate immediately to the NFL (despite the successes of Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco, and Ben Roethlisberger), but if (when) Mark Sanchez gets the starting nod he is in a good position to act as a game manager while he gets used to the pro passing game.
Great run game + game manager QB + great defense = very good, but not quite Patriots.