Barring a miraculous turn of events, the New York Jets will not be playing postseason football this year. At 3-6 following Sunday's loss to the Seattle Seahawks, Gang Green can afford to lose at most one more game and still contend for a playoff berth.
Given the Jets' recent play and their inconsistency throughout the 2012 season, there is little reason to believe Rex Ryan's club will mount much of a charge even given their soft remaining schedule. While the Jets may improve upon their record in the season's second half, 8-8 would be a good year at this point.
Jet fans still have plenty to pay attention to in the season's remaining seven games, however. New York is a team in transition, and there are several areas the team must focus on as it prepares for 2013 and beyond.
Evaluate the Young Talent
The Jets have many talented, young players who have yet to fulfill their potential. Many of those players were recent early-round draft picks, and it is time for the Jets to determine who is a part of their future (and who is not).
On offense, much of the Jets' young talent is concentrated at the wide receiver position. Jeremy Kerley and Stephen Hill have both displayed their abilities and their warts, though Kerley has been the more reliable receiver of the two. It is too early to give up on either player, but the performance of these two pass-catchers will help the Jets decide if they need to add help at the position over the summer.
On the defensive side, linemen Muhammad Wilkerson and Quinton Coples have improved over the course of the season, but it remains to be seen whether they will develop into Pro Bowlers. Demario Davis and Kyle Wilson are players who the Jets would like to see step up and earn starting roles.
Other players who will be under the spotlight down the stretch include Vladimir Ducasse and Bilal Powell. The Jets will have many needs this offseason, and it is important to determine which can be filled internally through their collection of young talent.
Fix a Former Strength
When the Jets were successful during the first two years of Rex Ryan's tenure, they benefited from some of the best line play in all of football.
This strength has deteriorated over the past year, and given the importance of controlling the line of scrimmage in the NFL, it is absolutely crucial that the Jets regain their prior success in this area. Without elite quarterback play, strong play from both lines is a necessary component of a winning football team.
Nick Mangold and D'Brickashaw Ferguson are still playing at a high level, but Brandon Moore is no longer a stud, and both Austin Howard and Matt Slauson can certainly be improved upon.
What was once the league's best offensive line is now merely average, and if the Jets do not think Ducasse or Jason Smith are much help, it wouldn't be a surprise to see them look to upgrade right tackle or left guard during the offseason.
The defensive line has benefited from the improved play of Wilkerson and Coples, two of the brighter spots in Jets green this year. But the Jets' collection of solid defensive tackles continues to age, and Gang Green has to be worried that Sione Pouha will never fully recover from his recent rash of injuries. It would be helpful for the Jets to be able to evaluate a healthy Kenrick Ellis at some point this season.
The Jets are not that far off from having elite offensive and defensive lines once again, but they need to proactively identify their weak points over the next two months so they can correct them in free agency and the draft.
Make a Final Decision at Quarterback
As most on this site know, I have supported giving Mark Sanchez multiple chances to keep his starting job, and I still believe that he is the best quarterback on the Jets roster.
But Sanchez is nearing the end of the fourth season, and while he is a marginally better quarterback than he was as a rookie, he is virtually indistinguishable from the player he was in his second year. It's time to make a decision regarding Sanchez.
There is no reason to start Tim Tebow, who is not the answer going forward in New York. Sanchez likely isn't either, but at least he could be. Let these last seven games be his last chance to turn things around; playing without much of a running game against a mediocre schedule should give him a chance to air it out in a few games.
If Sanchez succeeds, he likely buys himself another year. But if he continues to fail, the Jets should pursue alternatives outside the organization ahead of the 2013 season.
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