ESPN's 2011 NFL preseason power rankings are out and they do not resemble those that ESPN released in last season’s Week 18 edition. The reigning champion Green Bay Packers made the biggest improvement, jumping from number nine last August to number one, and the Eagles have become a heavy favorite to win the Super Bowl after their impressive offseason.
Now if it were up to Rex Ryan, we all know that the Jets — sitting at seven — would be number one on the list. But according to the rankings, Rex’s team is number seven, only one spot better than they were going into the playoffs a season ago. The boisterous Jets coach is not shy about calling his team the best in the NFL but realistically he knows that teams like the Patriots and Eagles have more talent on their rosters.
That said; the Jets deserve to be a top five team. New York has made the AFC Championship Game two years in a row, beating New England in the AFC Divisional Playoffs and outlasting the Patriots in the playoffs for two consecutive years. The Jets have a top five defense in the league with key players like Antonio Cromartie, Jim Leonhard, and Brodney Pool returning in 2011.
This defense is a whole lot better than New England’s unit which finished 25th in total yards in 2010. There is no reason to think that Gang Green’s defense won’t be among the best in 2011 as Mohammad Wilkerson and Kenrick Ellis will fill the team’s need for an effective pass rush.
It must also be noted that the Jets signed the best offensive player available in free agency in Santonio Holmes, in addition to the big target receiver Plaxico Burress. With a young quarterback like Mark Sanchez going into his third season after gaining so much confidence following last year’s playoffs, the passing game will become more of a factor than ever in New York.
And just when opposing teams have to worry about Holmes and Burress in the passing game, New York has two quality backs in LaDainian Tomlinson and Shonn Greene in the running game. The mixture of youth and experience with players like Derrick Mason, LaDainian Tomlinson, Plaxico Burress, Santonio Homes, Shonn Greene, and Dustin Keller provides New York with a good opportunity to go far this season.
Sanchez is ready to become a leader and take the next step in the National Football League. The offense will only go as far as he takes it, so if last year’s playoffs are any indication of how he will perform this season, the Jets offense is in good shape.
Sitting at number five on the power rankings is Pittsburgh. Though they defeated the Jets in the AFC Championship Game, the Jets were and still are the better team. New York has more playmakers on the offensive side of the ball along with a very effective ground and pound style of play. While Pittsburgh has been quiet in the offseason, New York has been extremely active. If both teams met again in the AFC Championship Game, the Jets would have a really good chance to come away victorious.
It will be tough for Gang Green to overtake New England who recently added Chad Ochocinco, Albert Haynesworth, and Shaun Ellis to their team. Miami will also be a challenge after adding Reggie Bush, Kevin Burnett, Jason Taylor, Mike Pouncey, and Matt Moore to their roster. You also can’t call Buffalo a pushover as they also had a positive offseason, adding Brad Smith, Nick Barnett, and Tyler Thigpen to the team.
The power rankings consider the Jets to be the third best team in the AFC but they made some of the biggest moves in free agency to improve on the team that was one win away from the Super Bowl. With Darrelle Revis on defense, the Jets can shut down any offense in the league.
Finally, one of reasons why New York should leapfrog Atlanta is because of the Falcons struggles to win when it matters most. Two times Matt Ryan has made it to the playoffs and he has yet to win a game. “Matty Ice” first has to prove to the critics that he can come away with a playoff victory before Atlanta is considered a heavy favorite. Sanchez has a playoff record of 4-2 in his first two seasons as a pro. Even more impressive is the fact that all of these wins came on the road.
There is no question that Mark Sanchez is a clutch quarterback when the game is on the line. For all of the criticism he receives, he provides the Jets with a good opportunity to win a championship. His growth will only continue while he plays alongside Holmes, Burress, Tomlinson, Greene, and Keller with an offensive line consisting of Nick Mangold, D’Brickashaw Ferguson, and Brandon Moore among others.
If they stay healthy, Rex Ryan’s team is a real contender to win it all.