Last year’s preview prediction: 10-6
Last year’s actual finish: 8-8.
2011 season recap: Opened 2-0, then lost three straight on the road, but then won three in a row to hit 5-3 heading into a pivotal home game against New England. The Jets were throttled at home, 37-16 on Sunday Night Football and then had a short week visit to Denver on a Thursday night. They suffered a crushing defeat, 17-13, a loss that I thought was the worst since Dan Marino’s fake-spike in 1994. The Jets rebounded by beating three bad teams, but then lost three straight to finish the season and miss the playoffs for the first time since 2008.
Strengths: Defensive line featuring Mo Wilkerson, Coples and Kenrick Ellis. Aaron Maybin had six sacks in 13 games; he should be good for double-digit sacks this year. Talented pair of cornerbacks. Middle linebacker David Harris is one of the 10 best in the league at his position. Nick Mangold is probably the best center in the NFL.
Weaknesses: Every facet of the offense. Safety and linebackers are below average.
But did you look at how poorly the defense performed against good teams in 2011? By “good” I mean teams that finished 8-8 or better. The gory details:
(Boy, imagine if Dallas or Philly didn’t combine for seven turnovers. Each topples 500 yards of offense, right?)
This is why, when people say, “the Jets were 5th in yards per game in 2011 at 312 allowed! That stat matters!” they have no earthly idea what they’re talking about. Those numbers were skewed because the defense feasted on bottom-feeders like Jacksonville and Miami and Buffalo. The yards per game permitted against teams .500 or better was 347.
How does any of that inspire confidence heading into 2012? Three of their first five games are against playoff teams (at Pittsburgh**, vs. San Fran, vs. Texans). If they can survive that gauntlet at 2-3 (wins over Buffalo and Miami?) and then beat Andrew Luck in week six, Mark Sanchez will keep his job. If they’re 1-5 or 2-4, I think we can pencil in Tim Tebow as the starter in week 7 against the Patriots (October 21st) at home. CBS will carry the game at 4:25, and it’ll be a ratings bonanza … if Tebow starts.
The schedule eases up in the 2nd half: Dolphins, bye, Seahawks, Rams, Patriots, Cardinals, Jaguars, Titans. That’s an 8-week stretch with many winnable games. If the Jets defense is improved, it should be able to dominate two rookie QBs, two 2nd year QBs, John Skelton and Sam Bradford.
The key will be whether or not they can survive the early onslaught and Sanchez can keep his job.
Eternally optimistic situation: Greene (RB) and Keller (TE), both playing for contracts, have career years. Sanchez finally completes more than 60 percent of his passes and has a YPA over 7. All rookie Stephen Hill does is go up and grab touchdowns. The front four is the best in the AFC, leading to creative Rex Ryan coverage packages, confusing QBs. Hunter’s replacement on the line, Austin Howard, is a rock. The shaky safeties hold up and perform well. The Jets go 11-5 and win the AFC East because … Tom Brady gets injured. Rex makes his 3rd AFC title game trip in four seasons and finally they win one, defeating Houston and advance to the Super Bowl.
My ACTUAL Prediction on 2012:
7-9. No playoffs. And GM Mike Tannenbaum will be the scapegoat. Yes, Woody loves him, and the two have been friendly forever, but Tannenbaum’s recent struggles in free agency and the draft add up to a change in the front office. Except Woody doesn’t make the move – the new President, Neil Glat, does. Yes, Glat is more of a financial/business guy, but the guess here is that Woody brought in the team’s first President since 2007 for a reason: to be his hatchet man.
* Fun fact about Sparano … last year, Tim Tebow beat Rex Ryan with a late miracle comeback … and Tim Tebow beat Sparano’s Dolphins with a late miracle comeback. I still wish I were inside the Jets’ war room when they made the decision to trade for Tebow.
** Last time the Jets visited the Steelers in the regular season? Perhaps the best-coached game of the Brian Schottenheimer era. It helped that Brad Smith ran the opening kickoff back for a TD, but the defense was outstanding (Drew Coleman had two sacks!!) and Braylon Edwards caught eight passes for 100 yards in a 22-17 victory. Of course, they went back to Pittsburgh a month later and lost the AFC title game after falling behind 24-0.