Sometimes they’ve looked awful. Others, dominant. And yet, in both years in which Ryan has been in charge (including the one where his starting quarterback was a rookie), the team has reached the AFC Championship and earned the last laugh over all but three teams in the league.
This year is different.
After beating Peyton Manning and Tom Brady in consecutive playoff games this past postseason and starting off 2-0 this year (while averaging almost 30 points per game to boot), everybody now recognizes this is officially a championship contender and a force to be reckoned with in the AFC, even in their current momentum doesn’t hold up.
If the playoffs started today, how far would this team go?
You could probably say that all depends.
Who they playing?
Key Matchup: Andre Johnson vs. Jets secondary
Players like Andre Johnson are the reason players like Darrelle Revis make so much money. If the Jets can contain Johnson, their defense can handle anything else the Texans throw their way, and the game should be theirs to win. If they can’t, they’ll be just another victim on the stud receiver’s ever-growing list.
Gut Feeling: The Texans are more balanced, and at this point, they also look better on paper. But they’ve looked better on paper for a while now, and despite being the consensus pick to become the league’s next big breakout team each of the last few seasons, so far, it just hasn’t happened.
This might be the year that it does, but until we see them play a team that’s actually won a game, we still won’t know what we’re dealing with, and we still can’t assume they’d be able to overcome the extreme experience disadvantage that’d be at when playing the Jets in the playoffs.
Key Matchup: Bill Belichick vs. Rex Ryan
The greatest coaching rivalry in the league right now is always a sight to see and is usually the deciding factor whenever these teams meet. Ryan has won three of the five games they’ve played so far, including the most recent one (which was also a playoff game, by the way), but Belichick has absolutely whooped Ryan’s Jets to the tune of 45-3 as recently as last December. One of these guys gets the best of the other every time, and with both teams playing as well as they are right now, either has a legitimate shot to walk away victorious.
Gut Feeling: This has all the makings of a high scoring game, and historically speaking, the Patriots usually win those contests. The truth is, as menacing as the Jets defense has played (they’ve allowed the third fewest points in the league this year), the Patriots offense has looked even better, and from what we’ve seen so far, we have no reason to expect that it wouldn’t prevail.
Key Matchup: Bills running backs vs. Jets defense
The Bills have torched opposing defenses so far this season, and leading the charge has been a vicious ground game that currently tops the league in yards, yards per carry and breakaways (five runs of at least 20 yards so far, tied with Oakland).
The New York defense, on the other hand, is giving up only 3.3 yards per carry against the run right now (seventh in the league) and has yet to allow a single run over 20 yards. This game will be won (or lost) in the trenches.
Gut Feeling: The Bills are red hot right now, but nobody is sold on this team quite yet, and it’s way too early to think they have what it takes to upend a fellow 2-0 powerhouse like the Jets. Who have they beaten so far, anyway? The Chiefs? Who hasn’t? The Raiders? Yeah, by three points on a last minute prayer. Show up on Sunday against the Patriots, then we’ll talk.
Key Matchup: Mark Sanchez vs. Baltimore defense
Sanchez has been more active in the Jets offense this season (he threw 44 passes in Week 1), but he hasn’t been much more impressive. So far, he’s thrown four touchdowns to three interceptions, he’s produced two fumbles and his passer rating is dialed in at a perfectly mediocre 87.7. The Baltimore defense can still victimize this guy (the same way they did in their one and only meeting last season), and assuming they do, this one could get ugly.
Gut Feeling: When a good defense meets a good defense, the result is usually a dull, low-scoring stalemate decided by two lackluster offenses not used to having to shoulder the load. Baltimore has already proven its offense can shine in this exact scenario by dropping 35 on the stingy Steelers defense in Week 1, and with Sanchez still looking so average, the dirty birds have to get the slight edge in this one.
Key Matchup: Jets running backs vs. Steelers defense
A 2-0 record has so far covered up a struggling New York running game that’s averaging only 74 yards per game right now (28th in the league) and will probably be playing this weekend without its All-Pro starting center, Nick Mangold. The Steelers know how to exploit this weakness as well as anyone, and if they’re able to do so successfully, they’ll wind up leaving the game in the hands of someone they feel very comfortable with: Mark Sanchez.
Gut Feeling: Sanchez has done his part to compensate for the lack of a Jets running game this season, but at this point, he’s just not the kind of quarterback you can see beating the Steelers defense on his own. When these two played in the AFC Championship game just this past January, Sanchez had one of his better statistical games (233 yards with two touchdowns, no interceptions and a 102.2 passer rating), and it still wasn’t enough. So far, he’s given us no reason to expect the result would be any different if the two played again today.
Key Matchup: Phillip Rivers vs. Jets defense
The Chargers live and die on Phillip Rivers’ arm these days (his 88 pass attempts this year are tied with Tom Brady for the most in the league), and the Jets have built their entire team around their ability to stop opposing quarterbacks. This game will obviously be won or lost in the air then, and based on how well the Jets performed in similar situations against Indianapolis and New England during last year’s playoffs, we all know they’re up to the challenge.
Gut Feeling: The Chargers are kind of a sad story at this point. They’re still a good team, still a contender and still a threat to anyone they face, but they definitely aren’t the juggernaut they once were, and the window for a Super Bowl title definitely seems to be closing. With Darrelle Revis, Antonio Cromartie and the rest on hand, Rex Ryan has all the weapons he needs to shut down San Diego’s one-dimensional attack, and with the Charger defense giving up almost 350 yards a game right now (15th worst in the league), he might even have enough weapons to turn this one into a blowout.