Jets Need To Keep Up With Stacked AFC East

Brian FitzsimmonsContributor IMay 28, 2009

FLORHAM PARK, NJ - MAY 02:  Head coach Rex Ryan of the New York Jets speaks to the media during minicamp on May 2, 2009 at the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center in Florham Park, New Jersey.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

During their busy offseason, the New York Jets hired a new coach, bolstered their defense, and drafted a potential franchise quarterback. However, it’s a distinct possibility they still fell further behind in the division ranks.


Welcome to life in the AFC East.


It’s a fool’s game to predict next season’s Super Bowl champion or the destiny of each team at this time, but trying to decode the calculus of football’s most talented division is enticing nonetheless.


New York has done a sufficient job sweeping the shattered fragments of hope from its disappointing 2008-09 campaign under the carpet.


Shortly after the curtains closed on a 9-7 season, head coach Eric Mangini received a much-deserved pink slip, and the in-house cleaning continued as Brett Favre was given his outright release. In addition, the Jets’ brain trust did nothing short of hold the door open for an unhappy Laveranues Coles to walk through.


The high-profile additions turned out to be more magnified transactions, though. New York hired defensive-whiz and Baltimore Ravens defector Rex Ryan as the team’s fourth coach this decade. Linebacker Bart Scott and safety Jim Leonhard then decided to reunite with their former leader by signing free-agent contracts.


Finally, the Jets pulled the trigger on the gutsiest moves of all on draft day, trading three players along with the No. 17 pick to the Cleveland Browns for the fifth pick and, ultimately, a shot to acquire quarterback Mark Sanchez. They also dealt a fifth-round selection to the Philadelphia Eagles for two-time Pro Bowl cornerback Lito Sheppard.


With the new defensive signings set to join forces with Kerry Rhodes, David Harris, Darrelle Revis, and Calvin Pace in Ryan’s new scheme, New York could wreak havoc on opposing quarterbacks.


If the Jets are planning to book a trip to the playoffs, however, they will need Sanchez to duplicate the sterling effort of Ryan’s former rookie quarterback, Joe Flacco.


Judging by questionable camp results and the inability to oust Kellen Clemens from the apparent open starting-quarterback competition, Sanchez isn’t ready to shine brightly yet.


With that in mind, it’s a bit sobering to think the New England Patriots will benefit from a healthy Tom Brady, the Buffalo Bills added Terrell Owens, and the surprising Miami Dolphins reportedly are the front-runners to land Plaxico Burress.


New York ranked third among AFC teams with 410 total points last season and still couldn’t find a way to survive a 1-4 slide after starting 8-3. As frustrating as Favre and Coles were at times, they were two key components of that potent offense.


Those departures will undoubtedly put more weight on the shoulders of Sanchez, top wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery, and running back Thomas Jones, who ended his offseason boycott of voluntary team activities and showed up for Wednesday's practice in Florham Park, N.J.


For the Jets, it’s comforting to know they aren’t the only team with several question marks.


By trading Matt Cassel to the Kansas City Chiefs, New England is forced into hoping Brady’s devastating knee injury is fully healed. The Patriots, who had claimed five consecutive division titles before the Dolphins ended that run last year, still have enough reinforcements to be labeled a Super Bowl contender whether Brady is 100 percent or not.


Meanwhile, Miami’s tepid offense—led by former Jets quarterback Chad Pennington—remains its Achilles’ heel, and Buffalo is left wondering if Owens' arrival will be enough to avoid a fourth straight 7-9 finish.


Clearly, New York is far from being a sure-fire winning candidate in the AFC East. Therefore it is vital for Ryan’s loaded defense and new-look offense to keep up with the pace of this much-improved division.


In these rough waters, it could be the difference between treading water and drowning.