As far as I can tell, Rex Ryan and Mark Sanchez are the first rookie head coach and quarterback duo to reach the AFC Championship game in their first two years in the league.
You may not put too much stock in a Jets preview that is written by an avid Patriots fan but trust me, Kenny Mo is also a sports fan who will give you an honest and unbiased opinion.
I’m also a diehard Red Sox fan but I was cheering up a storm the other day when the Yankees made history belting three grand slams. I even applauded Dave Righetti on a Fourth of July many years ago when he threw a no-hitter against my Red Sox.
But when it comes to my job as a sportswriter my very first boss, Joe Palladino, always told me sportswriters don’t cheer for one team or another. Just do your job. Okay, Joe, here it goes: The Jets will be in the postseason, plain and simple.
Ryan spent 22 years as an NFL assistant coach and was the defensive coordinator in 2000 when the Baltimore Ravens allowed just 23 points in four playoff games to win the Super Bowl.
In 2009 Ryan, the son of former NFL head coach Buddy Ryan, took the head coaching job of the New York Jets. They drafted rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez and the 9-7 Jets shocked all of football by staging an underdog run that ended in the AFC Championship game loss to the Colts.
In 2010 the 11-5 Jets did it again, this time upstaging the mighty Colts and Patriots along the way before falling to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC Championship. The offense was eighth in the AFC, scoring 367 points, but it was the defense that allowed 304 points—third in the AFC—that fueled the postseason run.
Ryan is a defensive guru just like his dad. But in order for the Jets to make another run in the post season they will need to step up on both sides of the ball and there are a couple of issues to be addressed in order for that to happen.
Issue No. 1: The wheels on the LaDainian Tomlinson bus are starting to show some wear. Shonn Greene will need to step up and show that he can be the man for all 16 games of a grueling season in order for the Jets to have a respectable running game.
Issue No. 2: How do you upgrade a receiving core that lost its top pass catcher in Braylon Edwards (gone to San Francisco) and a proven receiver in Jerricho Cotchery (gone to Pittsburgh)?
The Jets are banking on 34-year-old Plaxico Burress, who has been out of football for two years after serving a 20-month prison sentence. They also brought in 37-year-old Derrick Mason, who no doubt has lost a step or two over the past few seasons. The Jets do have a threat on the wings in Santonio Holmes and a trusted tight end in Dustin Keller, but will that be enough to give the Jets offense equal balance on the ground and through the air? That remains to be seen.
Issue No. 3: Can the Jets get over the Patriots’ mystique? Last season both teams barreled into a Monday night showdown at 9-2 on the season. The Patriots humiliated the Jets, 45-3, in front of a national audience. The Jets did win the game that counted, a 28-21 victory knocking the Patriots out of the playoffs. But the sting of that Monday night loss might still keep Ryan awake at night.
Don’t be too surprised if the Jets defense leads the league in the least amount of points allowed. Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie are the best in the business along with strong safety Jim Leonhard, making the Jets secondary one of the best in the league.
Nose tackle Sione Pouha along with linebackers Bart Scott, David Harris, Calvin Pace and Bryan Thomas know how to go after the ball. The addition of rookie pass rushers Muhammad Wilkerson and 6-foot-4, 346 lb. Kenrick Ellis will be a force to be reckoned with.
But the Jets defense will need to be a little more opportunistic as they only came away with just 12 interceptions last year, ranked 25th in the league.
While the Jets defense is holding opponents in check, the offense will still need to put points on the board. Nick Mangold at center along with guards Brandon Moore and Matt Slauson form a strong pocket out in front of Sanchez.
Greene (766 yards, two TD) and Tomlinson (914 yards, six TD) will need to kick up a little more than a cloud of dust for the Jets to have an effective running game.
Sanchez threw for 3,291 yards and 17 TD last year but will need to show a little more consistency as he only completed less than 55 percent of his passes.
While the Jets do have a very talented football team, wrestling the AFC East title away from New England could be a major undertaking. The Jets will once again win a wild card spot and be victorious in every playoff game they play. That is until they meet up with their nemeses, the Patriots.
My prediction is that the third time will not be a charm for the Green and White as Bill Belichick will simply outcoach Ryan on the offensive side of the ball in a very tight, low-scoring affair.
Ken Morse is a contributing sports writer for the Citizens News.