Alex Flanagan (from NFL Network): What are the expectations you have for (the New York Jets)?
Rex Ryan: Oh, I've got huge expectations for this football team. I'm not a guy (who) says, "Well, we've got a four-year plan," because my contract is four years. I expect to win this year. And I expect to win big.
Flanagan: How big?
Ryan: All the way. That's the only goal we got; it's to win the Super Bowl.
Flanagan: Any thought about not putting the pressure on yourself talking about a Super Bowl, and maybe starting a little bit smaller?
The bravado is contagious.
When Rex Ryan accepted the job to coach the New York Jets, he understood that he would have to emerge as a destroyer of worlds. His role was not designed to be served as a one-dimensional leader of men, but to inspire the intangibles.
Rex Ryan was called upon to dismantle the walls of fear that surround New York—brick by brick.
Four decades of futility and seasons lost to missed opportunities have created a negative stigma around his team. The dark cloud hangs ominously overhead.
With a new defense that promises to bring forth an apocalypse of offensive suffocation, hard hits, and swagger, Ryan has Jets' fans finally asking, "Why not?"
He has inspired a sense of entitlement, made fans believe that this is their time, and convinced the world that the New York Jets will finally demand the respect they deserve—one bone-crushing tackle after the other.
And then the NFL released the 2009 schedule.
With games scheduled against the NFC and AFC South, the Rex Ryan era commences with games against two divisions that sent four teams to the postseason in 2008.
Separate the Weak from the Obsolete
Strength of schedule is unfortunately defined by the winning percentages of yesteryear. Far too much credit is given to standings that eventually become irrelevant.
The argument against the Jets in 2009 is largely predicated on what their opponents did in 2008, rather than what the Jets plan to do in the near future. While the AFC and NFC South ranked among the most competitive divisions in 2008, a closer look at their opponents provides a slightly skewed portrait.
The Tennessee Titans went on a 10-game win streak to start 2008 until they faced a team with a winning record of their own. The Jets ended the Titans' run in dominant fashion.
The Indianapolis Colts finished out their season on a nine-game streak, with their most notable victory coming over the Pittsburgh Steelers.
That streak took advantage of a favorable schedule with games against the Detroit Lions, Cleveland Browns, Houston Texans, Cincinnati Bengals, Jacksonville Jaguars, and San Diego Chargers.
Sharing their division with the Texans and disappointing Jaguars surely contributed to a lighter load for the Colts and Titans.
While the competition had it's moments of ferocity with games against the Steelers and Baltimore Ravens, the majority of the AFC South's pairings were less challenging.
The surprising Atlanta Falcons and the run-heavy Carolina Panthers led the way in the NFC South, but the New Orleans Saints and Tampa Bay Buccaneers kept the race for the division interesting. When it was all said and done, the division took advantage of less impressive opponents from the AFC West and NFC North en route to the postseason.
Both divisions they faced sent teams to the playoffs with 8-8 and 10-6 records, respectively.
Of the four teams to reach the postseason from the AFC South and NFC South, all four were immediately sent home, despite two of them having home-field advantage.
The Plans Revolve Around Confidence
None of this is to say that the New York Jets will have an easy trip as they navigate through these divisions. But any fear while looking down the schedule is premature.
The AFC East is a monster in it's own right. In a league where a 9-7 team from the NFC can play in the Super Bowl, it hardly seems fair for the 9-7 Jets and 11-5 New England Patriots to have watched from home.
Such is life. And such is the disappointment that will inspire these Jets to play even harder.
Based on the Jets' offseason transactions thus far and the seasons their 2009 opponents had in 2008, none of them stand out as being head-and-shoulders above New York.
If anything, the competition is more comparable.
The New York Jets—that Rex Ryan hopes to define—will be the team that their opponents should be concerned about. Not the other way around.
With personnel improvements to the defense, the handcuffs removed from the offense, and a staff that has all but guaranteed creativity, the focus should be on how many ways the Jets can surprise their opponents in 2009.
"(Opponents) don’t know and we don’t know… and that’s the beauty of the whole thing," said newly-acquired linebacker Bart Scott to Jane McManus. "We don’t know what the hell we’re doing, so how the hell (are) they going to know what the hell we’re doing?
We just make stuff up on the fly…it’s like it’s open to interpretation.”
The Jets' pitfalls in 2008 revolved around placing too much focus on what the other team does well, rather than establishing their own identity.
In losses to the Oakland Raiders and Denver Broncos, Mangini concocted a pass-heavy offensive gameplan against teams that were susceptible to the run.
In a loss to the Seattle Seahawks, Mangini failed to blitz against a patchwork offensive line, backup quarterback, and backup running back.
Those New York Jets would hesitate with their current schedule. Rex Ryan's Jets don't care about the other team. As far as he's concerned, they're only in the way.
"How're you going to inspire your football team?" asked Ryan in his interview with Flanagan.
The same way he's inspired the fans.