New York Minute

September 11, 2009 3:21 PM

Jets Might Be a Surprise Playoff Contender

There is a lot of anticipation in New York as the NFL season prepares to get under way.

Most of the talk centers on the Giants, who are generating a lot of attention as a preseason NFC favorite to win the East and reach the Super Bowl. They improved their depth on the defensive line, have one of the league’s top quarterbacks and a strong running game.

They also have a strong pedigree, winning the Super Bowl in February of 2008 and a coach most regard as one of the best in the business in Tom Coughlin. There is no reason not to believe the Giants won’t be playing in January and perhaps making it to the Bowl once again.

But the intriguing team in New York is the Jets, who turned over some key personnel after going 9-7 last year. They have a new quarterback in Mark Sanchez, and a new coach in Rex Ryan but the most important thing is this: a new defense, orchestrated by Ryan, which will go a long way toward determining Gang Green’s fate this fall.

The Jets open their season Sunday in Houston.

The key addition to the defense is linebacker Bart Scott, who came over with Ryan from the Ravens. He will play on the inside with David Harris, and with a defensive line anchored by Kris Jenkins, the team should be difficult to run on.

“I expect him to play lights out,’’ Ryan said of Scott at Thursday’s news conference. “I expect him to be a physical presence like he always is and bring that type of mentality to the defense. He already has. The great things is, I think he feels great about David (Harris) playing right next to him. That’s the big two right there in the middle and then you’ve got (Kris) Jenkins in there with them. He’s just a guy that’s fantastic for the whole unit.”

If Scott and Co. can control opponents’ rushing attack, the Jets appear to have a strong secondary that will make them difficult to attack through the air. Darrelle Revis was an All-Pro selection last year, and CB Lito Sheppard joined the team from Philadelphia. Kerry Rhodes was one of the best safeties in the league in 2007 and veteran Jim Leonhard also comes over from Baltimore. The defensive backfield should be one of the team’s most improved areas this season.

The key will be getting a pass rush, but Ryan’s aggressive mentality should help the team keep heat on the quarterback.

The Jets were in the running for a playoff spot last year until a late-season swoon derailed their season and led to the firing of coach Eric Mangini. The Jets were 8-3 after beating Tennessee on Nov. 23, but followed with consecutive clunkers against Denver and San Francisco. After beating Buffalo in Week 15, the Jets lost to Seattle and Miami and missed the playoffs. In their final five games, they surrendered an average of 24.4 points per game.

It didn’t help that quarterback Brett Favre, as we found out this week, played most of the season with a torn biceps. The No. 4 Sideshow is off to Minnesota now, and Sanchez takes over with a veteran offensive line and shifty running back Leon Washington.

The Jets won’t be a high-octane offense, but maybe it won’t have to be. If the defense plays as well as Ryan promises, this could be a team that is fighting for a postseason berth in December. Maybe both New York NFL franchises will be playoff-bound, which would be a welcome sight for New York fans.

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