New York Jets Season Preview: It Could Go Either Way
Last season, the New York Jets went 4-12, taking a huge step backwards after a promising 10-6 campaign the season before.
While they were not slated to do great things, last season was still a disappointment across the board.
The offense did not play up to par, the defense was shaky at best, and the special teams, while decent, did not do enough to make up for the issues of the team.
They cannot be blamed for this though, considering that a near miracle was needed to make the Jets relevant last season.
All the while, the New England Patriots were busy putting up Madden '08-type numbers all season long; running the table all the way to the Super Bowl, where they were upset by the New York Giants, 17-14.
In addition, the Buffalo Bills showed improvement in a campaign that has them hoping for big things this season. The Miami Dolphins went 1-15 though, so at least the Jets did not finish in last in the AFC East.
Hoping to jumpstart themselves to a winning season this year, the Jets went crazy in free agency and trades.
Alan Faneca was brought in to shore up the offensive line, Kris Jenkins was traded for to stop the run, which has been a weakness of the team for years, and Calvin Pace was brought in to provide a pass rusher from the linebacker position.
In connection with this, many of the weak links of the team were let go. Jonathan Vilma, a great linebacker, but not a good fit in the Jets' defensive scheme, was traded to the Saints, and other players were also let go as well.
Then came the draft. Many wanted Darren McFadden, or RUN-DMC for short, but the Oakland Raiders snatched him up from the Jets with the fourth pick in the draft, giving them a stable of running backs that rivals that of nearby USC. Vernon Gholston was taken sixth overall by the Jets, in a hope that he will be the next, great pass rusher from the linebacker position.
Dustin Keller was then acquired after the team moved back into the first round to select him. Big things are expected from him as a possible wide receiver/tight end hybrid. He is expected to stretch the field for the Jets, which will make the team much more of a threat offensively.
Later in the draft, Erik Ainge was taken in the fifth round from Tennessee, and many are considering this a steal. If he works out, then the Jets got him for almost nothing, and if he does not, at least it was only a fifth-round pick that was spent on him.
Before we know it though, training camp will begin. Then the season will start. The big question is: How will the Jets fare this season?
First, let's look at the AFC as a whole.
The conference is loaded with talent. From the Cleveland Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers, to the Indianapolis Colts and Jacksonville Jaguars, all the way to the San Diego Chargers, the conference is stacked. If you put any of these teams in the NFC, they would dominate year in and year out.
Of course, we cannot forget about the AFC East either, and the New England Patriots. They went undefeated until the final game last season, and this cannot be taken lightly. Even though they have lost a lot in terms of personnel, let's face it, they are still the Patriots, and unless Tom Brady gets hurt, an 11-5 season is probably the worst that they will do.
The Buffalo Bills are much improved as well, as was stated before. They have slowly been getting better over the past couple of seasons, and they will sneak up on teams this season.
Even the Miami Dolphins seem to be getting better, which, while they will not make the playoffs this season, they will make the AFC East one of the toughest divisions to play in throughout all of football. They will prove to be a tough test week in and week out.
With all of this in mind though, what about the Jets specifically? Quarterback seems to be the biggest issue for this team, yet again. Chad Pennington, Kellen Clemens, and Erik Ainge do not have anybody losing sleep at night.
As of now though, this seems to be one of the only issues on the team. The running game will be solid this time around, as Thomas Jones, Leon Washington, Musa Smith, and Jesse Chatman will have fullback Tony Richardson clearing the way for them. In addition, the offensive line, with the addition of Faneca, should be much improved.
Now, for the defensive side of the ball. Kris Jenkins should shore up the defensive line, at least making them a factor in games now.
The linebackers are fearful for opposing teams to think about as well. David Harris, Pace, and Gholston will provide so much athletic ability at the position that the linebacking corps will be a game-changing unit.
Finally, the secondary, anchored by the great Kerry Rhodes, will at least avoid letting the big play burn them time and time again, which has been a problem in recent seasons.
Looking now at the special teams. While they are not amazing, they are still an above-average unit. Leon Washington will provide a huge spark while returning kicks, Mike Nugent will at least hold the kicking position down, and the rest of the unit will feed off of the energy provided by these two to yield above-average results.
So, minus the quarterback position, the Jets seem to have everything that a team needs for the most part, correct?
Not so fast! Remember, the Jets have to play the Patriots twice, which, no matter what anyone thinks, will probably result in two losses. In addition, the Bills and Dolphins will give the team four, hard-fought games, which may fatigue the Jets later in the season.
When combined with the Jets' history of injuries during the season, this is cause for concern.
So what is going to happen this season?
Chad Pennington will somehow, someway, get a few wins for the team again, but he will go down with an injury since he is advancing in age. If this does not happen, which seems unlikely at this point, he will probably be replaced the second something goes wrong on the Jets, which always seems to be the case.
Kellen Clemens will then step in, and he will provide amazing highs, and amazing lows as well. He will win a few games he shouldn't, but lose a few games that he should win as well. This will lead to the fans demanding Ainge as their new quarterback, and by the end of the season, he will be the man behind center.
With Thomas Jones running for somewhere over 1,100 yards with an improved offensive line, a stellar receiving corps, and a defense that will not allow points by the boatload, along with special teams that will take some of the pressure off, he will just be expected to manage the game, and not hand it away to the other team in the process.
He will succeed at times, but fail in others. All in all, since the schedule is somewhat easy, a 9-7 mark seems about right this season, which, while good, will not be enough for the playoffs at the end of the season.
It will take at least 10 wins to make the playoffs in the AFC this season, and with teams like the Patriots, Colts, Chargers, Jaguars, Browns, Steelers, and the vastly improving Houston Texans, there are just too many solid teams for the Jets to leapfrog over this season for a playoff berth.
The games are played for a reason though, so hopefully, with a little bit of luck, the Jets can sneak into the playoffs and go on a magical run like the Giants did last season to win it all, even though that is not the call here currently.
'09 will be a great year for the Jets, perhaps even a memorable one. The forecast for '08, though much improved, will not be enough this season when all is said and done.
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