The New York Jets have improved mightily over the past two seasons. Since they fired Eric Mangini as head coach and started over with Rex Ryan on the sidelines and Mark Sanchez at quarterback, they've come about as close to the Super Bowl as a team can get without making it.
In 2009 and 2010, the Jets made runs to the AFC Championship game; both times, they won two road playoff games before falling short. The Jets appear to be set up for long-term success because of their young quarterback, solid coach, and strong defensive core.
Not even the Super Bowl champion Packers are guaranteed a return trip to a conference title game, though—and that's what's made these past two seasons a huge disappointment for the Jets. And unlike 2009, the Jets didn't exactly back into the playoffs last year, making the title-game loss sting all the more.
After all, the Jets have a coach who's guaranteed a Super Bowl victory in each of his first two seasons—and he's already said the Jets will win it this coming season. That's a bold prediction, considering the NFL season itself is up in the air, and the Jets have 17 free-agent players to address when the lockout finally gets resolved. Ryan's bluster is getting old at this point—the Jets need to actually win the championship one of these seasons.
Of course, it's obvious who the Jets really want to be: the New England Patriots; you can see it in the way they act and how badly they want to get a ring. Of course, all 32 teams want to win, but it's more than that with the Jets—they want to begin their own dynasty...and topple another in the process.
If you listen to Rex Ryan in his press conferences or watch various Jets players in postgame interviews, chances are you'll hear references to Patriots coach Bill Belichick or QB Tom Brady. It started with Ryan's comment at his introductory press conference about not coming to the Jets to "kiss Bill Belichick's rings."
The past two seasons have seen ample back-and-forth dialogue between the two teams, and the Jets had their opportunities to back up the smack talk by raising the Lombardi Trophy—or even winning the AFC East. Neither has happened.
Sure, the 2010 season was a strange, unexpected roller coaster. Who would've thought the Jets could knock the Patriots off on the road in a divisional-round matchup after getting drubbed 45-3 in Gillette Stadium a few weeks earlier?
The Jets stunned everyone across the country—and they did it after beating Peyton Manning and the Colts the previous week. But we all know what happened a week later, as the Jets lost a heartbreaker in Pittsburgh. Another season gone and once again, no ring to show for it—or even an AFC East title. Strange and unexpected doesn't make a successful season.
So, will the Jets ever be a better team than the Patriots? New England's absolutely owned the AFC East since Brady became the starting quarterback, and they've won eight of the last 10 division titles. The Jets thought they had the division to themselves last season, but the 45-3 drubbing in Foxboro showed they still have a mountain to climb.
One of these seasons—and Ryan has pointed this out as well—the Jets have to win the division and host a playoff game. It's their best chance at reaching the Super Bowl, but it'll be hard for the Jets to dethrone the Patriots anytime soon.
You can almost compare the Patriots to the Yankees. They never seem to lose talent or star power. They always reload—and right now, they're very dangerous.
Many pundits didn't predict the Patriots to have a very good 2010 season. Some picked them to finish below the Jets and Dolphins in the division. So much for that. New England decided to leave no doubt that they're still a juggernaut, going 14-2 and cruising into the playoffs.
They've still got the tremendous duo of Brady and Belichick, of course, but they also have a younger offense that showed how talented it is.
The Pats have two fine young tight ends in Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski; both had solid rookie campaigns. They've also got some talented young defensive players—Devin McCourty had a monster rookie season at cornerback, coming up with seven interceptions.
You can look at practically any position on the roster and find great talent; the Pats aren't going anywhere and are only getting better. They went 14-2 last season with five rookie starters on offense and defense—just imagine what they'll do in 2011 if there's a season.
With all that in mind, how can the Jets possibly take the division from the Patriots, let alone emulate them for a decade? Well, the Jets still have a great team, and some of the 17 free agents will likely return. You can even argue that last season's Jets team was deeper than the Patriots.
The Jets have good receivers, a young running back, the best cornerback in the league, a nice offensive line, and a quarterback who's maturing very fast. They're helmed by a coach who's gone to the conference title game in each of his first two seasons. And still, even all of that may not be good enough to push the Jets past the Patriots.
Sure, the Jets could beat the Patriots twice next year if all goes right, like in last year's playoff matchup. But they can't be better than the Pats over 16 games. Heck, the Patriots finished ahead of the Jets in 2008 without Tom Brady.
Until the Jets either win the division or finally win the Super Bowl, they'll never be better than the Patriots. They might have just as big a spotlight on them because of their boisterous head coach, but until they get a ring—and two more after that—the Patriots will still be on top.