It is all about whether the Jets can build on last week's wild- card win over the Bengals and get to the AFC Championship Game. As it should be.
But no matter what happens against the Chargers, we can say this much with certainty: This will not be the last time we see Rex Ryan's Jets in a position to make some playoff magic. In fact, I believe we are just at the beginning of an era in which the Jets will be major players in the AFC East and in the postseason.
Ryan, his coaching staff and his players are focused squarely on the Chargers and the chance to move within one victory of the team's first Super Bowl appearance in 41 years. But with this coach, with this team, with this general manager and with what is now going on with the Patriots, the Jets are going to be major players in this division for a good long while.
Don't make the mistake of thinking the Patriots came undone completely with last week's wild-card loss to the Ravens at home; it still is too early to pronounce an end to that team's chances. A team in transition? Absolutely. A team with no future? Don't think so.
Tom Brady still is only 32 and will be two years removed from a knee surgery that players routinely say takes that long to fully recover from. Bill Belichick still is the coaching gold standard in this league. There is no question the defense needs to be revamped after the departures of Mike Vrabel, Richard Seymour, Tedy Bruschi and Rodney Harrison, but Belichick has amassed a ton of draft picks and figures to restock the roster in a reasonably short period of time.
But the Patriots no longer can look at the Jets as the pushover they've been in recent years. Ryan has infused an energy in this franchise the likes of which we haven't seen since the Bill Parcells era. And I would argue that there's a very good chance the Ryan regime will last much longer than Parcells' run of three years as head coach and one year as GM.
A rookie coach in Ryan, a rookie quarterback in Mark Sanchez and a vibrant general manager in Mike Tannenbaum: It looks to be just the right combination for a sustained run of success.
Sanchez already has shown the ability to be a franchise quarterback, even if his major responsibility right now is to not screw things up with turnovers. He has shown the ability to adapt to the NFL game, especially in recent weeks. Since throwing 14 interceptions in a seven-game span, Sanchez has thrown only four in his last six games. The Jets are 5-1 in those games.
Throw in the best offensive line in the game, a one-two punch of running backs Thomas Jones and Shonn Greene, a solid receiving corps featuring Jerricho Cotchery and Braylon Edwards, and a terrific receiving threat in tight end Dustin Keller, and the Jets have the makings of a solid offense for quite some time.
And with a defense that went from 16th to first in one fell swoop this season, there's no reason to think the Jets can't remain dominant.
Add in a general manager in Tannenbaum who isn't afraid to pull the trigger on trades, and this organization has the makings of a playoff team next season and beyond. Tannenbaum's draft-day blockbuster deal to get Sanchez last April might prove to be the most significant of them all.
Sure, the Jets want to beat the Chargers and continue on this unlikely playoff journey. And yes, it will be a terrific accomplishment if Ryan can get this team to the AFC Championship Game - and possibly even the Super Bowl - in the coming weeks.
But they should know - and their beleaguered fans should know - that this franchise no longer is to be defined by all the misery that has come before.
It should be defined by the hope of what is yet to come.
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