COMMENTARY | The New York Jets: Super Bowl contenders. It seems like an anachronism, a joke, a distant memory. Amazing that it was less than two years ago. The Jets, coming off of back-to-back trips to the AFC Championship appearances, one of the most complete teams in the NFL, were heading for shot number three at their first Super Bowl since 1969.
But that was almost two years ago. Now it is 2013, and writers and analysts across the country are competing to see who can have the most pessimistic prediction for the Jets. First it was 7-9 at best, then a repeat of 6-10, then 4-12. Now with the preseason looming, the real crazies are coming out, with predictions like 2-14 or 0-16.
There is nothing quite like mob mentality, and it feeds on itself. If the offseason lasted forever, then without a doubt after a few years of this, we as a nation would all agree that the Jets will go 0-16 and we would all be calling for Geno Smith's retirement before his first snap.
Yet the beauty is that the offseason does not last forever, and that with real games comes reality. And how quickly we forget reality.
... That the Jets Usually Win
How quickly we forget that the Jets win more than they lose. Pessimists often call for more of the same, citing "same old Jets." But if the Jets win the majority of their games, does "same old Jets" mean more wins than losses?
In the Rex Ryan era (since 2009) the Jets are 34-30 in the regular season and 4-2 in the playoffs. The year before Ryan was hired, the Jets went 9-7. If the Jets were to lose 13 games or more (as seems to be the common prediction), it would be the first time since 1996.
Thus, we should at least remember that predicting a 3-13 season is not predicting more of the same but is in fact predicting something radically new.
... That the Jets Were 6-10 Last Season
How quickly we forget that these Jets (that's right, even with Mark Sanchez) won six games last year and were in playoff contention until Week 15. Despite having no Darrelle Revis (injury), no Santonio Holmes (injury) and no Sione Pouha (injury), the team won six games.
Now when citing why the Jets should be worse this year, the common logic is the loss of Revis, the loss of Pouha and the inconsistency of Holmes. But wait. If the team won six games without those guys last year, why would not having them this year mean they should be worse? The Jets have lost nobody who contributed significantly last year (yes, I am counting LaRon Landry). So how could any rationalist expect the team to be worse than last year?
... That Mark Sanchez Does More Than Buttfumble
Anyone who has followed the Jets the past six months knows that it is somewhat obligatory to mention the word "buttfumble" in any Jets-related piece. I think it is at a point now where fans will actually show up to games expecting Sanchez to take a snap and run headfirst into the rear end of whichever offensive lineman he wants to embarrass that day.
How quickly we forget that Mark Sanchez has a winning record as a starter in both the regular season and playoffs. How quickly we forget that he has outplayed both Peyton Manning and Tom Brady head-to-head. Sure, that one play (which did not even matter because the Jets had lost that game anyway) was pretty silly. But acting like it will ever happen again is simply foolish.
And how quickly we forget that Sanchez was the starter last year and had his worst year. What we learned in 2012 is that no matter how awful Sanchez plays, the Jets can still win six games. Six games is their absolute floor, because with Sanchez having a terrible season (the worst of his career by far) the rest of the team still managed to pull out six victories.
... That Rex Ryan is a Defensive Genius
How quickly we forget that as long as Rex Ryan is the head coach of the Jets, they will field a smart, strong, vicious, proud and unpredictable defense that will terrorize opposing offenses. With huge new pick-ups this year in Sheldon Richardson, Dee Milliner, Antwan Barnes and Antonio Garay to go along with quality veterans like Muhammad Wilkerson, David Harris, Kenrick Ellis, Quinton Coples, and Antonio Cromartie, there is no doubt the Jets will once again field an elite defense.
My conclusion is the only logical one. This team is the same or better in every respect from last year. However terrible your memories of the 2012 Jets might be, that team went 6-10. Thus (with an easier schedule this year to boot), the absolute floor for the Jets is 6-10. A more reasonable prediction would be 8-8 or 9-7.
And this is all assuming Sanchez is still the quarterback. If rookie second-round pick Geno Smith can surprise everyone and take the starter job (and succeed), then the sky is the limit. But if we want to play it safe, we should not expect Smith as a rookie to necessarily be much better than Sanchez.
If you want my prediction, I expect that whoever plays quarterback (either one last year of Sanchez or a learning year for Smith), the Jets will go 8-8. There is room for that to fall as low as 6-10 if things go poorly but also room for the team to have good fortune and go as high as 11-5.