- James Walker, ESPN Miami Dolphins reporter
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There are no AFC North teams remaining in the playoffs.
But in many ways, the New York Jets are the next best thing.
The Baltimore Ravens, Cleveland Browns, Pittsburgh Steelers and even the Cincinnati Bengals all had their hands in getting the Jets within one game of the Super Bowl. Their fingerprints start at the top with head coach Rex Ryan and trickles down to the players and into the postseason.
With help from Scouts Inc.'s Matt Williamson, we take an in-depth look at how the AFC North helped build this year's biggest surprise team.
Acquisition: Rex Ryan, head coach
Former team: Ravens
How the Jets got him: After firing Eric Mangini, who now coaches the Browns, New York held an open search last year for its next head coach. Ryan, Baltimore’s former defensive coordinator, was a hot commodity after helping lead the Ravens to the AFC title game. His brash nature and reputation as a players’ coach was a stark contrast from the Mangini era in New York.
Williamson's analysis: He's brought both scheme and swagger, and you need both to succeed in this league. Ryan brought confidence, he comes from a winning organization, and he’s taken this team to the final four just like the Ravens were last year. The Jets are flawed, much like the Ravens were last year. They’re similar football teams. But Ryan is a schematic genius, and he's brought his players along with him to make it work. It’s really hard to find any faults with anything he’s done as of late with the Jets.
AFC North impact scale (1-10): 10
Acquisition: Bart Scott, linebacker
Former team: Ravens
How the Jets got him: Ryan needed to bring a stud linebacker with him from Baltimore to help implement his system in New York. The Ravens tried to keep Scott in free agency, but New York's $48 million offer was just too much for Baltimore. Scott is now a key cog in the Jets' top-rated defense.
Williamson's analysis: He also brings a lot of swagger with him and confidence. But he's a very versatile player, too. That's one thing about all those Ravens through this great defensive run that they've had. They want guys who can do a lot of different things well. They aren't just specialists, and Scott fits that mold really, really well. He plays the pass well, he blitzes well, he stops the run well and has good range. He also is a leader. That all goes a really long way. My guess is he's probably the biggest voice for Rex Ryan on the field.
AFC North impact scale (1-10): 8
Acquisition: Braylon Edwards, receiver
Former team: Browns
How the Jets got him: Cleveland traded Edwards to New York in October for receiver Chansi Stuckey, linebacker Jason Trusnik, and third- and fifth-round picks in the 2010 NFL draft. Edwards was underachieving and in a contract year with the Browns, and it was pretty clear he needed a change of scenery.
Williamson's analysis: He has more value than his stats would imply. Because with New York's style of offense, you have to have some big-play options that people will honor. You have to be able to take a shot downfield off play-action. Edwards is obviously extremely inconsistent, but he will kill you if you take him lightly, too. You still have to account for him. Going forward, is he a true No. 1 receiver? No, because he's too inconsistent. But because of the style of offense the Jets run, Edwards really is a good fit.
AFC North impact scale (1-10): 6
Acquisition: Alan Faneca, offensive guard
Former team: Steelers
How the Jets got him: In March of 2008, the Jets made a big splash in free agency by signing Faneca to anchor their offensive line. Faneca had been a leader for the Steelers for 10 seasons, which included one Super Bowl following the 2005 season. He is now part of one of the NFL's top offensive lines in New York.
Williamson's analysis: When he was leaving Pittsburgh, I thought his play was declining. Even in that first year with the Jets, I thought maybe they overspent on the guy. But that's not true. I think Faneca deserves that Pro Bowl bid this year. He still moves well and is very experienced. If you look at the two players on either side of him, tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson and center Nick Mangold, both of those guys have really elevated their play of late. I think Faneca helps show them how to be a winner in this league both on the field and in the meeting room.
AFC North impact scale (1-10): 7
Acquisition: Mark Sanchez, quarterback
Former team: USC (NFL draft)
How the Jets got him: This was the first of two important trades the Jets made with the Browns. Cleveland traded its fifth overall pick to New York for the Jets' first-round pick, a second-round pick and three players. Sanchez won the starting job out of training camp. Despite his ups and downs, he became the second rookie quarterback in NFL history to win two road playoff games, joining Baltimore's Joe Flacco.
Williamson's analysis: I still think the Jets are winning despite their quarterback. I thought Sanchez played really well in their first playoff win, but so little was asked of him. He excelled on third downs last week against the San Diego Chargers, but I don't think he played a very good game. But what they have in Sanchez is hope for the future. A lot of teams just don't have anything at quarterback. You look at the Buffalo Bills, Carolina Panthers, Oakland Raiders, the Browns. I can name teams that you look at their quarterback situation, and they don't have anyone to build around. At least the Jets have somebody.
AFC North impact scale (1-10): 6
Acquisition: Jim Leonhard, safety
Former team: Ravens
How the Jets got him: Leonhard had a career year for the Ravens in 2008. Ryan, who coached Leonhard as defensive coordinator in Baltimore, was more than happy to pick up the safety in free agency. Leonhard has been steady in the secondary, recording 76 tackles and an interception in the regular season.
Williamson's analysis: When Ryan left the Ravens, he sort of lucked out. The Ravens had a lot of free agents that year. Jason Brown left, Ray Lewis' contract was up, Bart Scott was up, Jim Leonhard was up. We knew they weren't going to be able to sign them all. So Ryan got someone from his old club at each level. He gots defensive end Marques Douglas, he got Scott and he got Leonhard. That goes a long way in each of those meeting rooms. If you're a player, sometimes it's easier to talk to another player. Another thing about Leonhard is he's really cerebral, intelligent, a good special-teamer and playmaker.
AFC North impact scale (1-10): 5
Acquisition: Playoff berth
Team involved: Bengals
How the Jets got in: With a division title and home playoff game wrapped up, the Bengals had a half-hearted effort and pulled their starters in the second half of New York's 37-0 victory in Week 17. It's highly debatable whether the Bengals had a chance to beat New York on that day even with their starters. But the easy win qualified the Jets for the playoffs, and they beat Cincinnati a week later to prove it wasn't a fluke.
Williamson's analysis: I think it added to the Jets' confidence that they were going to play the Bengals again. This goes back to Rex Ryan, too -- that the team is fearless. I don't think they will be intimidated by the Indianapolis Colts this upcoming week. They weren't intimidated at all last week going into San Diego, and they certainly weren't intimidated going into Cincinnati after beating the Bengals the week before. But we also have the gift of hindsight and can look at it and say the Jets are better than the Bengals. Even if the Bengals hadn't laid down in Week 17, I still think Jets beat them 7 out of 10 times.
AFC North impact scale (1-10): 4
Although these additions and circumstance all have varying degrees of impact, there is no chance the Jets would be Super Bowl contenders this season without help from the AFC North.
There are no AFC North teams remaining in the playoffs.But in many ways, the New York Jets are the next best thing.The Baltimore Ravens, Cleveland Browns, Pittsburgh Steelers and even the Cincinnati Bengals all had their hands in getting the Jets within one game of the Super Bowl.