After a preseason that the Jets and their fans are no doubt happy to be done with, we are only a few days away from a game that actually counts. With that in mind, lets break out the crystal ball and see how the Jets will do in several key areas this season:
Assuming he’s healthy, Mark Sanchez will start all 16 games:
The starting offense may not have scored a touchdown, but one reason for optimism is the progression of Sanchez. With a supporting cast severely limited due to injury, he was still efficient, completing 24 of 35 passes despite several key drops. While I believe Sanchez will play well enough to justify being the team’s starting quarterback, my prediction has just as much to do as the man behind him. With the starting offense continually stalled throughout the preseason, Tim Tebow had every opportunity to turn up the heat with a couple of strong outings, but instead completed 36% of his passes and averaged 4.2 yards per attempt, solidifying many of the criticisms about him as a traditional signal caller. Sanchez is the man this season, and if he proves he isn’t the answer going forward, the Jets will search outside the organization for the man who is
Shonn Greene, however, will not:
Greene has had every opportunity to prove that he can be the workhorse everyone wants him to be. He failed to beat out an aging LaDanian Tomlinson in 2010 and underwhelmed as the lead back last season. Greene is the type of back who can only go as far as his offensive line can take him and given the problems they have had recently, the match is far from ideal. I believe that Bilal Powell, the newly anointed 3rd down back who has impressed in the preseason, or Joe McKnight, who brings some much needed elusiveness to the table, will be called upon to do what Greene cannot at some point in the season.
Dustin Keller will again be the team’s leading receiver:
Last season Keller established career highs in receptions (65) and yards (815), both team highs. Keller has improved in each of the last two seasons and entering a contract year while entrenched as Sanchez’s most comfortable target, he seems poised for a true break out campaign. This prediction is more about my optimism regarding Keller than any pessimism about Santonio Holmes. I believe Holmes is in line for a bounce back season, but he has only had one season with over 1,000 yard receiving, and that was in the pass-happy 2009 Steelers offense. This year’s passing game will feature the kinds of safe throws that cater to Keller’s strengths rather than Holmes’ who functions as more of a big play receiver.
No Jet will record 10, but the team will be near the top of the league in sacks:
Too often last season, the defense was hamstrung by the lack of a consistent pass rush. Rather than throwing $100 million at one dominant pass rusher, like the division rival Bills did with Mario Williams, the Jets have chosen to stock pile a variety of young talents who they hope can break out. Aaron Maybin came off of the Bills’ scrap heap to lead the team in sacks last season with six. He packed on 15 lbs of muscle in the offseason and has had an excellent training camp, appearing poised to improve on that number. The biggest reason for optimism though is 1st round pick Quinton Coples, who has flashed signs of brilliance in the preseason, recording a sack in each of the four games and showing the motor that many wondered about at draft time. Additionally Muhammad Wilkerson returns for his second season, a season that many are forecasting as a break out campaign. He can line up in a variety of positions on the defensive line and is valuable in both the 4-3 and the 3-4, his versatility will open up opportunities for the aging, but still skilled Calvin Pace, and a slimmed down Bart Scott. While they don’t boast the quality of having one dominant sack artist, they certainly have the quantity to be a strong unit.
Darrelle Revis’ Defensive Player of the Year campaign will again be derailed because nobody will throw at him:
Unfortunately, to win the award as a defensive back, you almost always have to put up gaudy interception numbers. But shouldn’t a player like Revis be rewarded for being so dominant that he’s not targeted enough to rack up those numbers? Here are some advanced statistics from last season that reflect how much of a force he was, via ProFootballFocus.com
• He allowed just 41.2 percent of all targets to be completed.
• He led NFL with a QB rating of 45.6 on passes into his coverage (among qualifying corners).
• He allowed just 26.1% of targets in fourth quarter to be caught for a QB rating of 1.3.
• He recorded 20 total pass breakups (interceptions + passes defended).
• He allowed just one touchdown all season despite 85 targets
Those numbers add up to one of the greatest seasons ever for a cornerback that will soon be entering the echelon of the all time elite if he continues this level of play. Unfortunately, those numbers have come at the expense of his interception total (only four, after failing to record any in 2010.) Entering what essentially amounts to a contract season and in line to become perhaps the highest paid defensive player of all time, Revis has all the motivation to turn in another dominant year. He will look to set the tone in the opener against the one receiver who got the better of him last year: Stevie Johnson of the Bills.
The Jets will finish the season in 2nd place:
Lets get this out of the way first and foremost: The Patriots are still far and away the class of the AFC East and the Dolphins seem poised to contend for the worst record in the entire league. However, after 12-year playoff drought (the longest active streak in the league), the Bills have emerged as a potential contender, and a favorite sleeper of many experts. I just don’t see it. While they addressed their biggest need in the offseason by adding established pass rushers Mark Anderson and the aforementioned Mario Williams, I am not a firm believer in Ryan Fitzpatrick, who’s play fell dramatically in the second half of last season. For everything he did well early last season, Fitzpatrick is a career backup who is physically limited. There is a lot of talent around him including Johnson and running back Fred Jackson, who was leading the league in rushing entering week 11 before his season was ended with a broken fibula. He also has a stat-friendly spread offense at his disposal, but I don’t believe Fitzpatrick is the man to put all of these positives to full to use. While many believe the Jets and Bills are trending in opposite directions, I view the Jets as the better team in 2012.
But they’ll still miss the playoffs for the 2nd straight year:
This is one prediction I hope I am dead wrong on. The Jets defense will return to their previously elite status this season, but it won’t be enough to make up for an offense that is going against the grain of the pass-happy NFL of 2012 and returning to its “Ground and Pound” roots. The problem is that the running game has shown no evidence in the past year, including this year’s preseason, that they can consistently move the ball. Between that and the glaring lack of experience in the receiving corps, the offense will go through some extended periods of stagnation during the year and really tax a defense that is aging in several key positions. While I believe they will be in the hunt the entire season, the Jets have all the makings of an 8-8 team.
Finally, the Jets will (again) lead the NFL in media coverage:
We’ve talked plenty about the dual GQ cover boy quarterbacks, but perhaps this team’s deepest position is their group of lightning rod stars. From Rex Ryan and Bart Scott, the coach and linebacker who often sound like a WWE tag team, to the surly Santonio Holmes, to Antonio Cromartie, who famously struggled to remember all of his kids’ names on Hard Knocks. This is as eclectic of a bunch as there is in the NFL and win, lose, or draw, they will be front-page news and must-see T.V. throughout the 2012 season.