New York Jets: 6 Keys to Winning an AFC East Championship
The New York Jets have been to as many AFC Championship games in the past two years as many times as they've won their division in the past 40.
Since Joe Namath left, the New York the Jets have only won two AFC East Division titles (1998,2002). Meanwhile, New England has dominated the AFC East the past decade, having won seven of the last eight division crowns.
Rex Ryan and Co. have strong convictions about the Jets winning the Super Bowl, and they have come within a game two consecutive years. However, coming close is not going to cut it in New York, and maybe the Jets would have advanced to the big game if they could have won their division and played some home playoff games or gotten a bye.
With 2011 comes new hope. It will be difficult for the Jets to dethrone the Patriots, but winning a division is never easy (unless you're in the NFC West).
Here are the six keys to the New York Jets winning an AFC East title.
6. Dustin Keller's Consistency
Entering his fourth NFL season, there is a lot expected out of Dustin Keller. He has shown flashes of brilliance in stretches the past two seasons. He scored a TD in every Jets playoff game in 2009, and started off red hot in 2010, only to see his production fall off in the middle of the year.
There is no denying there is potential for a deadly Sanchez to Keller connection that would serve the Jets well for years to come, but Keller needs to be more of a consistent producer and less of a streaky threat.
With the departure of Jerricho Cotchery, Braylon Edwards and Brad Smith, Dustin Keller is the most familiar receiving target for Sanchez. Keller will assume a large role in the offense because of this and needs to step up as an offensive leader.
It will be interesting to see how things change now that the Jets have brought on Tom Moore as an offensive consultant. Moore has always loved featuring tight ends prominently in his offenses, making Dallas Clark one of the most feared pass catching tight ends in the league.
Keller's speed and hands make him a difficult matchup for defenses around the league, and if he can consistently produce, especially in the red zone where the Jets struggled last season, the Jets will be that much closer to a division title.
5. Brian Schottenheimer's Play Calling
It's a New York Jets tradition to complain about the offensive coordinator's play calling, and Brian Schottenheimer is well aware of it.
Schottenheimer's offense has shown that it can be very effective at times, and others, it has been downright anemic.
The Jets were 11-5 last season, and in four of those losses, the Jets offense put up a total of 18 points and failed to score a single touchdown. For an offense with as much offensive talent as the Jets, it is unfathomable to have games where the offensive production is so miniscule.
If the Jets offense could have put some points on the board in those losses, the Jets may have been able to win the division last season.
Then there is of course the AFC Championship game. Schottenheimer's decision to pass on a 3rd and long deep in their own zone resulted in a defensive touchdown for the Steelers, increasing the deficit and making a comeback seem close to impossible. His calls on the goal line in Pittsburgh perplexed many New Yorkers, culminating in a momentum shifting halt to the Jets comeback hopes.
Schotty is under heavy pressure to call better games and utilize all the weapons the Jets have at their disposal. He can not let his unit disappear for games at a time as it did last year.
4. Kyle Wilson and Muhammad Wilkerson Making an Impact
Rookie Muhammad Wilkerson and sophomore Kyle Wilson will have a lot to say as to whether or not the Jets make the Super Bowl in 2011.
Midway through his rookie season, Wilson was benched in favor of Drew Coleman, and so over the offseason, Wilson has worked extensively with the best cornerback in the league, Darrelle Revis. He will be reassuming his role as the nickel corner, and the Jets need him to step up and play a role on defense. Teams will be sure to test Wilson often with the ultra-talented duo of Revis and Cromartie on the outsides, and so the Jets need him to find his game in 2011.
The New York Jets made Muhammad Wilkerson their first round draft pick out of Temple. With the departure of Shaun Ellis, Rex Ryan has already named Wilkerson their opening day starter at DE.
Filling Ellis' role won't be easy for a first year player coming out of the Big East, but Rex Ryan has expressed nothing but confidence in the young man since the beginning of camp. Wilkerson will be asked to contribute immediately to the Jets D-line, and if he can live up to the Rex Ryan hype, the Jets will have a feared pass rusher for many years to come.
With proven veterans on defense like David Harris, Bart Scott, Jim Leonard, Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie, these two young defensive players will have to step up to make the defense complete. The Jets have their sights set on being the best defense in the league, but will only be as strong as their weakest links.
3. Shonn Greene Carrying the Load
The New York Jets drafted Shonn Greene out of Iowa in 2009, trading up 12 spots to select him in the third round. Clearly the Jets were high on Greene coming out of school, and this is the season where we will see if he was worth trading up for.
Greene has shown that he can be effective in the backfield in spurts, but has yet to go a full season as the workhorse, the way Curtis Martin did for so long. Rex Ryan and Brian Schottenheimer have repeatedly said that Greene will be carrying the bulk of the load for the Jets this season, but fans are wondering whether he can endure 16 games.
Despite the offensive weapons the Jets possess, they are still at heart a ground and pound team, and Greene will need to show that he can sustain his style of running throughout an entire season. He has played exceptionally well in the playoffs and has had some great statistical games, but whether or not he can be effective as the feature back remains to be seen.
The Jets front office has confidence that Shonn Greene will have a breakout season, and Jets fans know he needs to for the Jets to win the division.
2. New England Losing More Than Two Games
Jets fans know that if the Patriots win another 14 games this season, there will be no AFC East Champion t-shirts being sold on Jets.com.
Rex Ryan knows that if nobody else in the league besides them (and somehow the Browns) can beat the Patriots, the Jets will have to be road warriors again in the playoffs.
Ryan even mentioned it in a press conference, saying, "I think we have to find somebody out there to beat New England besides us, I think that would help," Ryan said. "Anybody out there that wants to sign up for it? Are you good enough as a team to beat the New England Patriots? Forget about us; are you good enough to go out and beat New England Patriots? I'm challenging the league."
Ryan knows he needs the Patriots to have more than two losses if he wants his team to have a shot at the East.
1. Mark Sanchez Needs to Take over
Mark Sanchez has a lot of hurdles to overcome to get beyond the AFC Championship game.
He has to quickly develop chemistry with new receivers Plaxico Burress and Derek Mason. He needs to up his completion percentage and TD passes from a year ago. He needs to be consistently effective throughout the entire season, not letting his offense go stagnant for stretches of the season. Most importantly, he needs to show that he is the man the Jets thought they were getting when they traded two draft picks and players to the Browns to draft him.
Mark Sanchez has shown growth between his first and second seasons, improving his TD mark from 12 to 17 and decreasing his INTs from 20 to 13. His growth needs to continue into his third year because Rex Ryan has said Sanchez will be passing more this year and will have more responsibility.
The last two years, Sanchez has played phenomenally in the playoffs and has shown he is a big game quarterback.
What Sanchez needs to realize, though, is that every game in the NFL is a big game. Rather than saving his best for the playoffs, Sanchez needs to show his greatness consistently throughout the season. Rex Ryan believes this is Sanchez's team, and so he designated him as the team captain before camp. Now Mark needs to go out and show everyone that this is his team, and lead them to an AFC East Title.
In Joe Namath's third season with the Jets, he won Super Bowl III. Every Jets fan is hoping that in Mark Sanchez's third season, he can accomplish what Joe did way back in 1969.
Follow Adam Ramirez on twitter @AdamRamz1