NFL 2014 Preview: New York Jets

Geno Smith. (Bill Kostroun/AP)

Sportsnet is breaking down everything you need to know about each of the 32 teams—including why you should or shouldn’t be rooting for them this season—in the month leading up to NFL kickoff on Sept. 4. Today, the New York Jets.

Last year’s record: 8-8

Coach: Rex Ryan

2014 is about… Offence. With Rex Ryan at the helm, the Jets have had no problem putting a quality defence on the field season after season. Where they struggle is on offence, and changing that was the focus of the off-season. If the Jets fail to show an improvement on that side of the ball, Ryan could find himself without a job in the New Year.

Core players: Geno Smith (QB), Muhammad Wilkerson (DE), Sheldon Richardson (DT), Eric Decker (WR).

But they lost… Mark Sanchez (QB). Gone are the days of Jets fans fearing what unbelievably stupid play their embattled quarterback will make next; they’ve got Geno Smith for that now. In all seriousness, the release of Sanchez came about a year too late. After two relatively successful seasons in Sanchez’s first two years, Santonio Holmes (WR) was a non-factor on the field and a distraction in the locker room during his final two seasons in the Big Apple. The former Steeler was sporting a monster contract, and the Jets had no option but to let him go. Guess what? He’s still a free agent. Speaking of monster contracts, Antonio Cromartie (CB) also became a victim of his own inflated salary despite playing well after the exit of Darrelle Revis. Unlike with Holmes, Cromartie’s absence could hurt the Jets, especially with recent injuries at the position.

Yeah, but they got… Jets GM John Idzik acquired plenty of upgrades where his team needed them most. Eric Decker (WR) was brought in after two off-the-chart seasons playing with Peyton Manning in Denver. Can he be nearly as effective with far less talent under centre? After last season’s running-back-by-committee approach, it appears the Jets have a No. 1 back again in former 2,000-yard rusher Chris Johnson (RB). Johnson is coming off knee surgery but could thrive in Ryan’s running-back friendly offence. Finally, Michael Vick (QB) was signed to back up Smith and step in if the starter’s sophomore season is as inconsistent as his first. At his best, Vick is a dynamic, playmaker; at his worst, he’s an injury-prone, turnover machine.

Growing from within: Geno Smith (QB) will be under a pile of pressure to perform in his second year. With Vick itching to jump into the starting role and Ryan’s job on the line, Smith is expected to make significant strides in 2014. Muhammad Wilkerson (DE) and Sheldon Richardson (DT), aged 24 and 23 respectively, have emerged as the Jets’ two most important players on defence. Wilkerson—the 30th overall pick in 2011—was a beast last season, reaching double digits in sacks (10.5). Richardson—drafted 13th overall in 2013—is the reigning rookie of the year and a bulldozer along the defensive line. Look out for these two. The loss of Cromartie will have to be made up by Dee Milliner (CB), who has disappointed since being selected ninth overall in 2012 and is now doubtful for the season opener with a high ankle sprain. When healthy, Milliner’s expected to get some help from rookie Calvin Pryor (S), who Ryan and the Jets have high hopes for.

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Why this team? Because if the offence can get it together, who knows how far this team can go. The Jets went to two straight AFC title games with Mark Sanchez under centre, for Pete’s sake! A Ryan defence will always keep New York in games; imagine a throw-back Chris Johnson–Michael Vick combination on the other side of the ball? Maybe it’s a pipe dream for Jets fans, but the potential is there.

Why not? Because more likely than not, this offence won’t get it together and the Jets will be as dysfunctional as they’ve been the last few years. Can you really see Geno Smith or Michael Vick leading this team to glory? Neither can we.

Perfect for fans of… The John Tortorella–coached New York Rangers. Nobody knows the wrath of the New York media like good ol’ Torts and Jets coach Rex Ryan. But it goes a bit further than that; under the spotlight of the Big Apple, these teams showed elite talent at times—especially on defence – but in the end it has been their offensive deficiencies that have been the franchise’s downfall. Another disappointing season, and Rex Ryan could meet the same fate as Tortorella.

How much hope? 6/10. At its best, a crisply functioning Rex Ryan squad can wreak havoc. Unfortunately, that’s only come to fruition twice. The good news is that if there is one team that could end the Patriots’ run of five straight AFC East titles, it’s this one.

Will you be mocked for front-running? You may not be mocked, but you certainly won’t be praised. Also, be prepared for a Mark Sanchez tattoo jab or three.

A Meme to Remember: Never forget

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