It’s definitely been a while; nine years to be exact, since the New York Jets last claimed the AFC East title. The only two Jets still on the roster from that 2002 team are Shaun Ellis and Bryan Thomas.
Ever since Tom Brady took the reins in New England after the Jets Mo Lewis sidelined Drew Bledsoe in 2001, the Patriots have dominated the league and have continued to win year in and year out. The Jets are responsible for creating the beast that is Tom Brady, and they have had to deal with him for a decade as he has torn apart just about every defense in the league on his way to eight AFC East titles in 10 years.
Only two other teams won the division in that time frame. The Miami Dolphins took one of those in 2008, and the Jets claimed the other back in 2002. It is clear to say that New England has been the class of the division since 2001.
Despite the Jets failures to win the AFC East the last eight seasons, New York has taken full advantage of the Wild Card which was implemented in 1970. While New England has won the division 80 percent of the time over the past 10 seasons, the Jets have been in the playoffs six times over that same time frame, grabbing a Wild Card spot in 2001, 2004, 2006, 2009 and 2010.
Gang Green has had a lot of success the last two seasons entering the playoffs as a Wild Card team, reaching the AFC Championship game the past two seasons. There is, of course, a reason why winning the division is a bigger accomplishment. Home-field advantage, first-round byes, and higher seeding makes it a whole lot easier for teams that win their respective divisions. There is no doubt the Jets want to win the AFC East in 2011.
It is finally time for a change in the landscape of the AFC East. No longer can the Jets afford to allow New England to claim the throne year after year, and no longer will the Jets allow that to happen. New York will win the AFC East in 2011 leaving the Patriots and Dolphins out in the cold to fight for a Wild Card spot.
This is the year they will do it. Mark Sanchez, Shonn Greene, Darrelle Revis and the rest of the youthful players on the Jets roster have lots of games under their belts and know what it takes to accomplish such a feat. Valuable experience for the 24-year-old Sanchez will prove to be extremely helpful in the Jets quest for the AFC East throne. As we have learned from Brady, a good quarterback can take a team to the next level, and I believe this is the year Sanchez will break out and have a great season. The New York Jets are Mark Sanchez’s team in 2011.
Everyone says that defense wins championships. If that is true, then one big advantage that the Jets have over every other divisional opponent is their play on the defensive side of the ball. New York has unquestionably the best defense in the AFC East with a shutdown corner in Revis who can completely eliminate any wide receiver in the league. Jim Leonhard, who is also a key piece, will be coming back from injury and will improve a defense that we saw get shredded by the Steelers in the playoffs.
Gang Green also added two quality pass rushers to the roster by way of the draft. Muhammad Wilkerson and Kenrick Ellis will provide the Jets with a much better pass rush than New York had last season, which was the Jets biggest weakness.
The 2010 AFC East-winning New England Patriots were the 25th-best defense a season ago allowing 19 points, 108 rushing yards, and 258 passing yards per game. New England won their games because of their offense, and with Brady now 34 years old, how many more MVP-type seasons does he have in him?
The Miami Dolphins are also contenders for the AFC East throne in 2011 with their sixth-ranked defense a season ago. But without a reliable quarterback, it will be difficult for them to go toe-to-toe with the likes of the star-studded Jets and Patriots.
Quite possibly the biggest reason why the Jets will win the AFC East crown is their hunger to finally host a playoff game in front of a raucous crowd of 82,000 passionate Jets fans at the state-of-the-art New Meadowlands Stadium. The Jets want home-field advantage more than any other team after having to play all of their playoff games on the road the past two seasons.
Back when Rex Ryan first took over and the Jets were a mediocre team, the goal was to just get into the playoffs any way possible. After two straight seasons of losing in the AFC Championship game on the road, however, the expectations are higher from the fans, players, and Ryan.
The Jets have the talent and the will to finally overtake the Patriots after failing to do so since 2002. Getting into the playoffs as the final seed will simply not be good enough. Expect New York to finish with 12 or more wins on their way to a No. 1 seed in the AFC.