By Joel V
The last time the Jets were written off as also-rans, they went 10-6 and were a missed field goal away from reaching the AFC title game. Yet here we are again, with the rest of the league and its supporters assuming the Jets will be dreadful in 2013. Don’t bet on it, I say. Sure, the Jets won’t win it all, but they’ll be a lot better than you think.
The past couple of years have been a paradise for the growing legion of Jets haters out there. Coming off of two consecutive AFC Championship Game appearances, the Jets stumbled badly in 2011, posting an 8-8 record and missing the playoffs. Unfortunately for the Jets, that was just the tip of the iceberg. Then the Jets signed Tim Tebow, gave Mark Sanchez an unnecessary and undeserved extension and failed to sign any players that could actually help the team.
The past twelve months have seen Tebow’s assimilation (or lack thereof), the Jets’ refusal to do a second season of "Hard Knocks," an opening day blowout win that was the highlight of the year, Darrelle Revis’ season ending injury, Santonio Holmes’ season ending injury, Jim Harbaugh running the Wildcat just to mess with the Jets, Sanchez hitting Tebow in the helmet with a pass, the butt fumble and Greg McElroy supplanting Sanchez as Jets starting QB.
There’s nowhere to go but up.
Many NFL pundits and fans are under the impression that the Jets are going to mail it in this year. The theory is that they’ll bottom out and get a top pick in next year’s draft. Sorry to say, it won’t work out that way for the Jets.
Players don’t care about the ideas of management. They have to play their best every day because their livelihood depends on it. Mark Sanchez is playing for his job and his future in football. The Jets’ unproven receivers are playing for the chance to shine in the national spotlight. The growing number of first-round picks on the defensive line will compete against each other for starting jobs. Last, but certainly not least, Rex Ryan is fighting for his coaching life, lest he end up with enough spare time to research how to connect his Nintendo Wii to Netflix at www.internetproviders.com.
The Jets don’t care if they’re supposed to lose. They’re going to try to win. And if teams look past them, they will definitely win their share.
The prevailing logic is that the Jets are going to draft a quarterback in 2014. The selection of Geno Smith may change that. After all, Smith was reported by CBS Sports to be a lock for a top-five selection in the draft. Why draft a top QB when you already have one and you’re paying him second-round money? Not to mention the fact that rookies frequently play at elite levels, as evidenced by Russell Wilson in 2012 and Cam Newton in 2011.
Besides, take away the quarterback controversy and you’ll realize that this isn’t a bad team at all. Chris Ivory is 25 years old and has averaged 5.1 yards per carry for his career. Santonio Holmes is a Super Bowl MVP, and the Jets’ offensive line might not be what it once was, but still boasts frequent Pro Bowlers D’Brickashaw Ferguson and Nick Mangold. Muhammad Wilkerson is developing into a fine defensive end; if Quentin Coples can live up to his potential, the Jets’ D-line could be something special. And we know nobody can replace Darrelle Revis, but Antonio Cromartie played at a very high level after Revis’s injury. Assuming first-round pick Dee Milliner slides into a starting role, there’s another hole filled.
The Jets have historically collapsed under the weight of great expectations. They’re a blue-collar team with a blue-collar fanbase. They don’t play the role of favorite very well. But they love being the underdogs, and they love being overlooked. And there will be no team in the NFL written off more than the Jets. That gives them the perfect opportunity to surprise people. Will they win the Super Bowl? Of course not. But don’t be shocked if it’s Week 16 and they’re still fighting for a playoff spot.