As we all know, the New York Jets have come as close to reaching the Super Bowl as any team over the past couple of seasons. Each of their last two seasons has ended in the AFC Championship game, and they were so close to finally getting to the big game before falling short to the Steelers a little over a week ago.
Now, with Super Bowl XLV just four days away, it's time to break down what the Jets have to do to get to next year's Super Bowl in Indianapolis.
It can't be that hard considering they only need one extra win right? Well, it's more than just winning the AFC title game next season. It's going to be very tough for the Jets to reach a third straight conference title game and in order to do so, they must make some offseason improvements as well as performing better in certain areas on the field.
They have a nice young core and quarterback Mark Sanchez will enter his third season, but will he have all of his weapons coming back with him?
Here are five things the Jets must do in between now and next February to reach Super Bowl XLVI.
If the Jets had any one thing that stood out about how they played this past season, it was their difficulty playing hard for the entire length of a game. The Jets showed signs of not being able to close games out in the fourth quarter all season, and it really showed in a game against the Houston Texans in Week 11.
The Jets were at home and kicked a field goal to start the fourth quarter to take a 23-7 lead. They'd end up giving up 20 unanswered points to trail, 27-23. Thanks to Mark Sanchez showing signs of being clutch, he led the Jets to victory with a touchdown drive in the final minute to win, 30-27.
It didn't look like too big of a deal back then, but their inability to play well from the start ruined their season when it counted the most. The Jets would have most likely been playing this Sunday if it wasn't for their lackadaisical start against the Steelers in the first half when they were getting pounded, 24-0, late in the second quarter.
Everyone, including the Jets, said all week leading up to the game that there would be no hangover from the big win against the Patriots; whatever the reason was, they weren't into it from the start.
They would obviously make the big comeback that would be spoiled on the final play of the game, but they had no excuse for getting outplayed in the first 30 minutes of a conference title game.
Whether it was the players' mindset coming off an emotional victory or the coach not getting them ready to play, the Jets must always play hard for an entire game. It's what probably cost them a shot at a title this season.
After a one-year experiment, it's time for the Jets to let go of running back LaDainian Tomlinson. The 31-year-old didn't have a bad season at all, rushing for over 900 yards and scoring six touchdowns. There's more to it than just his stats.
First of all, most of Tomlinson's numbers were put up in the early part of the season when he still had fresh legs. His production tapered off after the first five games of the season. After rushing for 70 or more yards in four of the first five games, he didn't rush for more than 57 in any of the next 10 games.
His biggest game of the season was in Week 4 in a blowout against Buffalo. He carried the ball 19 times for 133 yards and two touchdowns, which accounted for more than 14 percent of his season yardage in one game. That shows both an inflation of his year-end stats and that he wore down as the season went on.
The other thing that was really a negative for the Jets considering Tomlinson, was how his presence didn't allow for the younger back in Shonn Greene to get the more important carries.
Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer was enamored with Tomlinson's career numbers and Hall of Fame status that he would be reluctant to move away from him, even when a certain play didn't suit him anymore.
As an older running back in this league, there were times when the 25-year-old Shonn Greene should've gotten more carries in a game, and by not, the Jets would suffer.
It has to be about allowing someone younger to step into the primary role and not hand the starting job to an older player who's not capable of playing a full season anymore, but is given the job because of his celebrity status.
In the big goal-line debacle by the Jets against Pittsburgh, Tomlinson shouldn't have been the one to get the ball on fourth down. But, yet again, Schottenheimer felt too much respect for Tomlinson and it didn't work out.
The Jets primary back next season should be Greene with perhaps Joe McKnight being the backup if he shows signs in camp.
It's going to be really tough, especially with the new CBA forthcoming and the possibility of a lockout looming, but the Jets should find a way to bring both Braylon Edwards and Santonio Holmes back.
Mark Sanchez had a fine sophomore season in the NFL, and he also had two legitimate receivers to throw to for the first time. The two receivers combined for 1,650 yards and 13 touchdowns, giving Sanchez the opportunity to look for an open target anywhere on the field.
If the Jets lose out on one of these guys, it'll make things tougher for Sanchez, who's settling in as a solid quarterback.
Both guys bring different styles to the game. Braylon Edwards is more of a deep threat and although Holmes can catch one down field as well, he can also make the short intermediate catches. Holmes along with fellow receiver Jerricho Cotchery is also pretty good at making the third down plays.
By having both guys on the field at the same time, it allows Sanchez to make different plays, feel more comfortable, and get into a rhythm.
When he's facing a team with a weaker secondary, unlike the one the Jets have, Sanchez can have a field day. Against both the Lions and Texans during the season, each receiver went for at least 78 yards in each game. That's over 150 yards combined, and when that happens, the Jets are in good shape—they won both games.
Once again, it'll be tough to pull it off, but general manager Mike Tannenbaum and owner Woody Johnson should find a way to get both guys back next season.
The Jets haven't proven they can be the last team standing in the AFC, but they have proven one thing: they can win playoff games on the road.
The Jets in each of their past two seasons, have won two road games to get to the AFC title game. That's pretty impressive of a quarterback and head coach to pull off such a feat in the first two seasons of their careers. It's not helping in the grand scheme of things, though.
Why have the Jets always been on the road? Because they can't win a division and get past the big, bad Patriots.
They had their opportunity to win the AFC East this season. The Jets were not only leading the division at 9-2, but owned the best record in the entire conference. Instead of a home game and even a first-round bye, the Jets fell to the sixth seed and once again had to beat a team in the other building to make it to the promised land. That isn't going to work.
Now, there are teams that have pulled off winning three playoff road games to make it to the Super Bowl—such as this year's Packers—but it wasn't meant to be for both sixth seeds.
A season that should've ended up 13-3 or better with the way things were going, fell apart after getting torched 45-3 to the Patriots in Foxborough.
If the Jets can finally unseed New England and win a division for the first time since 2002, perhaps they can host the AFC title game and finally make it to their first Super Bowl since 1969.
Everyone knows because it's so obvious—the Jets biggest problem on defense is they don't have a pass rush.
Just like the veteran running back LaDainian Tomlinson should go, so should linebacker Jason Taylor. Although he played in all 16 games this season, Taylor had a grand total of 36 tackles and five sacks. That's not going to get it done, plus the fact he'll turn 37 when the season starts.
The Jets need to either look into free agency or go into the draft to get a quality linebacker that'll put pressure on quarterbacks.
One of the reasons the Jets have lost the last two AFC title games is because of their lack of pressure on opposing QBs.
Look no further than against Ben Roethlisberger. They allowed him to rush on his own, with a slight injury no less, for 11 carries and 21 yards. One of those carries being for 12 yards on a huge third down play. That's unacceptable and in order to fix the issue, a legitimate pass rusher must be brought in.
There are some options for the Jets. In free agency, they can go after Chiefs linebacker Tamba Hali, who in his prime had a great season for Kansas City. On a division-winning team, Hali recorded 14.5 sacks, including two on Joe Flacco in the playoffs, and 52 tackles. He's had a great career, and would give the Jets the presence they need to intimidate opposing quarterbacks.
In the 2011 NFL Draft coming up in April, the Jets could go after an array of quality linebackers. The top five guys to look at would be Von Miller of Texas A&M, Ryan Kerrigan of Purdue, Justin Houston of Georgia, Quan Sturdivant of UNC, and Kelvin Sheppard of LSU. All of those players can help the Jets out so that opposing quarterbacks can't carry the ball a dozen times themselves in the biggest game of the season.
The Jets haven't had a legitimate pass rusher in years and if they plan on participating in Super Bowl XLVI, they better get one.