Shane Weisberg: Jets 2011 Season Preview

Opinion: 

“It may be hard to believe, but even though the Jets got worse on offense, defense, and special teams, they still are in a good position to reach the playoffs once again. But after two consecutive seasons in which they fell one game short of reaching the super bowl, just making the playoffs is not good enough. 

The Jets lost three key players on offense during the shortened off season. Right tackle Damian Woody retired, wide receiver Jericho Cotchery was cut (he eventually signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers), and utility man Brad Smith signed with the Bills. As replacements, the Jets signed veteran receivers Derek Mason and Plaxico Burress (combined age of 71 years old). Mason is coming off the worst season of his career with the Ravens and Burress is coming out of jail. Wayne Hunter, a career backup, will start at right tackle.” 

The Jets have gloated about the fact that 10 of 11 starters are returning from their 2010 defense, but that one loss may prove to be a big one. After 11 years with the Jets, defensive end Shaun Ellis signed with the Patriots in the off season. Ellis was a respected team leader on defense as well as a top run stopper. 1st round pick Muhammed Wilkerson will replace Ellis, but his shoes will be hard to fill. Safety Jim Leonard has returned from the injury that ended his 2010 season and cornerback Antonio Cromartie will once again play opposite Darrelle Revis.


The loss of Brad Smith also hurts the Jets on special teams. Smith was one of the league’s top kick returners and helped the Jets win many key games. But with kickoffs coming from the 35-yard line this year, kick returns will have less of an impact. Nick Folk will once again be their kicker, and T.J. Conley will replace Steve Weatherford as the punter. Rookie Jeremy Kerley will return kicks and punts. He will also run the wildcat offense, another of Brad Smith’s many role.


But even with these changes, the majority of the team that went to back-to-back AFC Championships is returning. This year, two players are going to have to take more responsibility if the Jets are finally going to achieve their goal. Mark Sanchez is now in his third year with Jets and Rex Ryan has showed his confidence in Sanchez by naming him offensive captain. Sanchez needs to complete more passes and throw fewer interception if he is going to take the next step and become a great NFL quarterback this year He will have the benefit of throwing to reliable vetern receivers, but due to the shortened offseason, there will be an adjustment period while Mason and Burress learn the Jets’ system. He will rely heavily on receiver Santonio Holmes and tight end Dustin Keller to start the season.


With Ladanian Tomlinson another year older, Shonn Greene is now the clear number one running back. The Jets will always be a run-first team, and they need a successful running attack to give Sanchez the opportunity to throw the ball effectively. Tomlinson will still get playing time, mostly as a third down back where hs pass catching skills will be most useful, but Greene will get the majority of the runs.


Though the Patriots have improved a lot since their 2010season in which they went 14-2, the Jets still have the talent to win this division, and after playing six consecutive road playoff games, the Jets need to win the division to make sure the are playing games in the recently renamed MetLife Stadium.


Here are my preseason predictions for each of the Jets’ games this season:


Week         Opponent          Date        Prediction
1                Cowboys            9/11              W
2                Jaguars              9/18              W
3                @Raiders           9/25              W
4                @Ravens           10/02             L
5                @Patriots           10/09             L
6                Dolphins             10/17            W
7                Chargers            10/23            W
8                –BYE–
9                @Bills                11/06             W
10              Patriots               11/13             L
11              @Broncos          11/17             W
12              Bills                    11/27             W
13              @Redskins         12/04             W
14              Chiefs                12/11              W
15              @Eagles            12/18              L
16              Giants                12/24              W
17              @Dolphins          01/01             W


Final Record: 12-4

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