- Rich Cimini, ESPN Staff Writer
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Of the five panelists asked to pick the AFC East, four have the Jets finishing second and Matt Williamson picked them to finish third. Here's my intelligence report on New York:
Five things you need to know about the Jets:
1. Mark Sanchez is going to have a shaky start: The third-year quarterback lost three-quarters of his receiving corps on the eve of training camp (Braylon Edwards, Jerricho Cotchery and Brad Smith), and it's going to take time to get comfortable with his new weapons, Plaxico Burress and Derrick Mason. Fortunately, he still has Santonio Holmes, who will be the go-to guy. During this transition period, the Jets will have to rely on their running game and defense to carry the day. Once the passing game is up to speed, offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer will be able to open things up. After two years of protecting him with the strong running game, the plan is to put more on Sanchez's shoulders. He'll be fine as long as he improves his accuracy.
2. The defense could dominate: If there's one thing Rex Ryan does well -- other than yapping -- it's coaching defense. Barring injuries, this should be a top-three unit for the third straight year. The Jets return 10 starters, nine of whom have been in Ryan's system for two years -- rare continuity. There should be very few mental mistakes, and the familiarity with the scheme should allow Ryan and defensive coordinator Mike Pettine to cook up some exotic packages. The major flaw is the lack of an elite pass-rusher, but they'll manufacture pressure with an array of blitzes.
3. They're not going to win many footraces: Save for Holmes, TE Dustin Keller and CB Antonio Cromartie, you can't say the Jets have any players exceedingly fast for their positions. The Jets are a big, physical team; they're not going to out-quick many opponents. Burress and Mason are 34 and 37, respectively; third-down back LaDainian Tomlinson is 32; and the middle of the pass defense -- safeties and linebackers -- will get exploited by certain teams. They will continue to struggle between the hashmarks against tight ends and slot receivers.
4. The new kickoff rule will hurt: You could argue that the Jets won three games last season, including a playoff game, because of long kickoff returns. It was an absolute weapon for the Jets, who relied on the return game to change field position. Now, with Smith gone and with touchbacks expected to increase, the Jets are losing a bullet in their revolver. Mike Westhoff is one of the smartest special-teams coaches in the business, but it's hard to scheme up a kickoff return when the ball is flying out of the end zone.
5. Built to win now: This is a smart, veteran team that knows what it takes to get to the playoffs. They're hungry, too, having lost the last two AFC Championship Games. It has to happen this season because they probably won't have Tomlinson, Burress and Mason in 2012, and the highly paid linebacking corps is one year away from an overhaul. They have 19 starters back, which gives them an edge in the post-lockout world. The key is staying healthy, because there are thin areas on both sides of the ball.