After Week 12, the 2008 New York Jets season was looking like one to be remembered. Instead, it ended up with fans trying hard to forget.
Expectations were high, and deservedly so. But even with the help of several high-priced free agent additions, and a future hall-of-fame quarterback at the helm, the team failed to make the playoffs for the second year in a row. At the season's start, the Jets front office appeared to have a "win now" mentality. So when you lose, where do you go from there?
If you're team owner Woody Johnson and GM Mike Tannenbaum, you go to a new general. The two relieved former head coach Eric Mangini of his duties in favor of Baltimore's defensive specialist, Rex Ryan.
Upon hearing Coach Ryan's very first press conference, you knew that the upcoming season would be no effort to rebuild. "Win now" is still the mantra of this new regime, and anything short of a playoff berth (at the very least) would be considered a failure.
And at this moment, reaching the playoffs doesn't seem like an unrealistic goal.
The Jets 2009 defense is already shaping up to be stronger than its predecessor. Free-agent linebacker Bart Scott followed Ryan from Baltimore to New York, and he will make an immediate impact alongside Jets standout David Harris.
Safety Jim Leonhard, who also played for Ryan last year, will join Kerry Rhodes and cornerbacks Lito Sheppard (acquired via trade from Philadelphia) and budding star Darelle Revis, to provide what should be one of the best pass-coverage units the Jets have seen in years.
Despite the lack of a dominant pass-rusher, this defense has potential to be one of the top five in the league. And let's not forget, it was an excellent Baltimore defense last year that took the Ravens all the way to the AFC divisional playoff game.
To go deeper than that, you'll also need a good offense—and that's where the Jets may struggle this year.
The loss of Laveranues Coles leaves the team without a legitimate number-one wide receiver. Thomas Jones led the AFC in rushing last year behind a beefed up offensive line, but a contract dispute may prevent that from happening again.
And while Kellen Clemens looks like he'll be the team's starting quarterback during Week One, a few bad games will open the door for Mark Sanchez, the fifth overall pick in this year's draft. If Clemens does poorly and Sanchez can't produce right away, it's a realistic possibility that Gang Green could miss the playoffs for the third straight season.
Of course, there are questions at the beginning of every year. One thing you can count on is that this team will be far more prepared than they were at the start of 2008. Individually and collectively, they have the talent to succeed in this league.
How far they go will ultimately be up to them, but there's plenty of good reasons to believe that the Jets will be back in the playoffs in 2009.