This week, we’re taking a look at the New England Patriots’ competition in the AFC East. Check out the Miami Dolphins’ notebook from Tuesday, and check back Thursday for the Buffalo Bills’ notebook. Today, let’s assess the Patriots’ biggest divisional rival, the New York Jets.
2008 finish: 9-7 (third in AFC East; missed playoffs)
Key additions: Head coach Rex Ryan, defensive end Marques Douglas, inside linebacker Bart Scott, inside linebacker/special teamer Larry Izzo, cornerback Lito Sheppard, strong safety Jim Leonhard
Key losses: Head coach Eric Mangini, quarterback Brett Favre, wide receiver Laveranues Coles, tight end Chris Baker, tight end Bubba Franks, defensive end Kenyon Coleman
Key draftees: USC quarterback Mark Sanchez, Iowa running back Shonn Greene
Why the Jets can threaten the Patriots: The Jets had an extremely busy offseason, adding impact players at positions of need while filling out an already-talented roster with more useful depth. But their most significant moves were the subtractions of head coach Eric Mangini and quarterback Brett Favre. According to multiple reports out of New York over the last year, neither figure was good for the locker room, and that likely played a substantial role in the team losing four of its last five games after seizing the AFC East lead. New head coach Rex Ryan has already built team chemistry by joking about Patriots head coach Bill Belichick’s godfather status in the division.
The Jets have also added Greene to a ground attack that was fifth in the league last season with 20 rushing touchdowns and ninth with 2,004 yards. Providing Thomas Jones and Leon Washington remain committed despite some contract squabbles, the Jets will have the running game they’ll need to compliment their young starting quarterback. Plus, they return every starter on their offensive line, which is one of the better units in the game.
Ryan has been a great defensive mind during his time with the Baltimore Ravens, and he should help improve the Jets’ unit that underachieved in 2008. Lito Sheppard and Darrelle Revis have the potential to be the among the best set of starting cornerbacks in the NFL, and Scott adds a playmaking dynamic to a strong group of linebackers. We’ll also see if Ryan can uncap the potential of pass rushing defensive end Vernon Gholston after he struggled under Mangini.
Why there might not be enough in New York: All of the Jets’ positives — and there are many — could be offset by one giant question mark: youth at quarterback. There is Super Bowl talent across the board, but there will be a boatload of pressure on Ryan to start the rookie Sanchez over three-year veteran Kellen Clemens, who showed some real potential with his rocket arm during his eight starts in 2007. Ryan hasn’t yet announced a starter, but it would be smart to lean toward Clemens’ experience.
Added to that is the team’s extremely thin group of wide receivers. Laveranues Coles signed with the Cincinnati Bengals, leaving Jerricho Cotchery as the No. 1 guy in a group that also includes Chansi Stuckey and Brad Smith, who combined to catch 44 passes last season, less than Washington’s 47 by himself.
Sure, Dustin Keller was a force at tight end in his rookie campaign, but there’s nothing behind him, either. Want proof? The Jets are converting former Patriots defensive lineman Kareem Brown into a tight end.
The Jets have serious playoff potential, but they’ve got to establish some offensive balance if they have any plans to get past the Patriots or Pittsburgh Steelers in January.