The pressure is on in New York. For the past two seasons, the Jets have been built for the Super Bowl. A team capable of beating anybody.
Assuming the lockout situation ends well, the upcoming season shouldn't be any different for Gang Green.
It's hard for any coach working with a team of this caliber NOT to think they are Super Bowl favorites, but, Ryan puts extra pressure on himself and the team by publicly guaranteeing (once again) they will win it all.
The Jets only have one Lombardi Trophy—courtesy of Joe Namath's guarantee before Super Bowl III. Unlike Rex, he cashed it in. Being Super Bowl III's MVP was the cherry on top.
This time, Rex's guarantee does not carry as much weight because he didn't back it up the first time. He's aware of this and yet makes the bold prediction again. Now, anything short of appearing in the Super Bowl will cause the NFL to view Rex Ryan as a loud mouth who can't back up his statements.
As the only team to reach the Conference Championship the last two seasons, Ryan has no problem driving to the bank. Unfortunately, his young QB has prevented him from walking in.
It is no secret the Jets win in spite of Mark Sanchez. Even though he's played in the AFC Championship twice in two years, Sanchez might be the reason why the Jets barely made the playoffs in both years.
The Jets' success may have also undermined Sanchez's liability to the team. While the QB's stat sheet improved last season, he still holds New York back.
His skills could've benefited from another year at USC, but then again, he likely would've ended up elsewhere.
Jets fans have been patient because they realize a young QB needs time to develop. If Sanchez does not improve in 2011, patience will start to run out in the Big Apple.
Aside from normally high expectations in New York, impatience might also stem from comparisons to other young QBs as Sanchez enters his third season.
Joe Flacco and Matt Ryan both have three seasons under their belt. Flacco improved each year while Ryan had a sophomore slump but bounced back with a career year.
Then there are the QBs from Sanchez's draft class.
Matthew Stafford has looked great on the field, but injuries have prevented him from staying on it. Josh Freeman had a rookie season similar to Sanchez, throwing 18 INT and fumbling 10 times. But Freeman had the opposite of a sophomore slump and made remarkable strides as the surprise story of 2010.
The Jets would be happy with either of those four QBs. In Stafford's case, the Jets' offensive line would've kept him upright and injury-free.
Most recently, Colt McCoy, Tim Tebow and especially Sam Bradford looked promising as rookies this past season.
The Jets cannot regret their draft day decision. Stafford was already off the board, making Sanchez the best QB available. Freeman, the 17th pick in that draft, was virtually an unknown.
Taking him with the fifth pick would have been a huge reach. The Jets couldn't afford to take that gamble.
Many fans feel a consistently average QB that isn't anything special can take the Jets to the Super Bowl because of the running game and defense the Jets have.
Don't forget special teams, either. Brad Smith is one of the league's premier returners, often giving the Jets favorable field position on offense.
Sanchez is more than capable of being above average. His main problem is consistency.
Some believe Brian Schottenheimer's play-calling as offensive coordinator is to blame for Sanchez's struggles. While the play-calling can be better, it doesn't excuse Sanchez's turnovers.
When he doesn't make many mistakes, the Jets win. His worst passer rating in a win last season was 59.9, but he didn't turn the ball over.
When they lose, however, his stats are atrocious and full of turnovers.
With the support Sanchez has, he does not need to carry the Jets. The same can be said of Ben Roethlisberger. The minimum requirement for each is to be a game manager. However, good performances from both QBs puts their respective teams over the top.
Rex Ryan's guarantee puts Mark Sanchez under the microscope more than anyone on the Jets. Since he plays such an important position, he will be the first to receive blame whenever the Jets come up short.
In Sanchez's defense, he is not the only issue the Jets have.
Multiple veterans will not be on this team next season. Damien Woody, Kris Jenkins and Jason Taylor were released. Vernon Gholston was waived.
The Jets also have to address free agents Antonio Cromartie, Brad Smith, Santonio Holmes and Braylon Edwards.
Assuming the Jets retain all of the above players, they still need to address their defensive line. Shaun Ellis is aging. Although Mike DeVito and Sione Pouha have been solid, they are better suited as backups.
The Jets can also upgrade at the OLB spot opposite Calvin Pace. Worst case scenario, it gives the team much needed depth.
How far will the Jets go this season?
There is also a void at RT with Damien Woody gone.
If they don't resign their free agents, will New York decline next season?
Off the field, the Jets can only withstand controversy for so long. Whether it be character issues, lawsuits or other silly distractions, they will eventually start affecting the Jets' chemistry and possibly their performance on the field.
To continue their success, the Jets have to cut down on distractions.
They also have to beat the Patriots.
A major barometer for success in New York is beating New England. The Jets did a good job eliminating the Patriots in the Divisional Round of the NFL Playoffs, but New England is still the AFC East favorite heading into next season.
The Jets must sweep the Patriots to win the division and gain home-field advantage.
With the Super Bowl attitude Rex has injected into this organization, the expectations continue to rise. The Jets have enjoyed immediate success since Rex's arrival.
Is New York due for an underachieving year?
If the Jets fail to make the playoffs for any reason, the media storm in New York will rain hard on the organization.
The talent is there. It's just a matter of execution. The Jets will live and die with how Mark Sanchez executes. After all, he is the QB Rex Ryan wanted leading his team.
After two straight seasons of hype, it's time to live up to it.