The New York Jets have played in the conference championship in back-to-back years. They also lost both games and played those two games on the road.
However, it won’t be easy.
Tom Brady and the New England Patriots stand in their way and don’t look like they’re ready to relinquish their throne. The Patriots have spent the offseason adding veterans like Chad Ochocinco, Albert Haynesworth and Shaun Ellis.
The Jets haven’t had a quiet offseason, either, but most of their efforts were spent re-signing their own and letting go of older veterans. While the Jets probably aren’t better on paper than last year, that doesn’t mean they don’t have a shot to dethrone the Patriots.
These five reasons will help propel the Jets to win the AFC East crown.
Entering his third year in the league, Mark Sanchez is no stranger to the spotlight. The former Trojan has arguably been the most scrutinized QB the last two years.
Deserving or not, the burden falls on Sanchez this year.
We saw a marked improvement from Sanchez between his rookie and sophomore seasons. He improved his touchdown mark by five, cut his interceptions by seven and threw for over 40 more yards per game.
Now in his third year, he has to take another step and grow as a quarterback. He has shown at times, particularly in the playoffs, that he can be a good quarterback, but he has yet to put it together a full 16-game season.
He has the weapons around him to succeed. Now he has to go out there and do it.
The Jets will go as far as the right arm of Sanchez carries them.
At this time last year, Darrelle Revis was in hiding as he held out for a new contact. When he finally ended his holdout, it left him out of football shape and he ended up hurting himself in Week 2.
He was not the same player until later in the season, when he returned to engulfing wide receivers on a weekly basis.
What a difference a year makes.
This year, Revis is in training camp with the Jets from the start. Good thing, because the Jets will need him in the season opener to shut down Miles Austin.
Rex Ryan recently said that at the end of the season Calvin Pace’s broken foot, which caused him to miss the first four games of the season, was only 20 percent healed.
The Jets signed Pace to a monster deal in 2008 to be the team’s ace pass-rusher.
While he hasn’t played poorly, after three years, he’s been a mild disappointment. He's played only 16 games once and hasn't had more than eight sacks.
Ryan declared Pace 100 percent at the start of training camp and said he would get more opportunities to rush the passer. The Jets pass rush is a weak point on an otherwise strong defense, but a healthy Pace has double-digit sack potential.
One area where the Jets struggled last year was in the red zone. They scored just 20 touchdowns on 50 attempts in the red zone, good for a 40 percent success rate. They ranked 28th in red-zone completion (49.3) and were tied for 30th in yards per attempt (2.7).
They should be vastly improved this season.
One reason is the addition of WR Plaxico Burress. Nobody knows for sure what to expect out of Burress after he spent two years behind bars, but the one thing he hasn’t lost is his height. The Jets will use his 6'5'' frame early and often against teams, especially near the goal line.
Another reason is the addition of former Cols offensive coordinator Tom Moore to the coaching staff as an offensive consultant. Moore had great success with Peyton Manning in Indianapolis, especially in the red zone.
In the Jets' AFC Championship Game loss to the Steelers, it was Rashard Mendenhall, not Ben Roethlisberger, who inflicted the most damage on the Jets. A subpar Pittsburgh offensive line pushed around the Jets defensive line.
They made it a priority to get deeper and younger on the defensive front in the offseason. After drafting two defensive linemen with their first two picks, Muhammad Wilkerson and Kenrick Ellis, the Jets did just that.
They will provide depth, allowing the Jets to employ a six-man defensive line rotation, keeping everyone fresh.
If the 350-pound Ellis can command double-teams, it will free up the rest of the defense to rush the passer.