With an 8-8 record comes a healthy share of both good and bad. In focusing on the former, here are three reasons the New York Jets faithful should be hopeful for 2014:
THE DEFENSIVE FRONT
The Jets’ defensive line is arguably the best in the NFL, and it can only get better. Sheldon Richardson burst on the scene as a run-stopping, momentum-shifting cog in the middle, while the well-rounded Muhammad Wilkerson continues to ascend as one of the league’s elite 3-4 defensive ends. Damon Harrison has come into his own as an anchor, and Quinton Coples has shown improvement on the edge, both in sniffing out the run and getting after the quarterback.
Once Gang Green adds an attention-drawing outside linebacker (regardless of whether Calvin Pace stays), the defensive front will flourish. That should happen in 2014.
New York’s rookies collectively saw more snaps in 2013 than any other freshman group in the league. Richardson was the star, but the Jets can also look back and be happy to have gotten quarterback Geno Smith’s crash course out of the way as soon as possible. Smith has an entire season to learn from and build upon, and that experience can’t be overstated. The same goes for cornerback Dee Milliner, who had a very large sample size of work and film to exploit moving forward. Both Smith and Milliner finished the season strong, which is encouraging.
And going a little deeper, safety Antonio Allen and linebacker Demario Davis jumped into primary roles in their second year and were, on the whole, pretty good. The Jets will go into 2014 with a young group that has been there and done that.
The Jets return nearly their entire coaching staff this offseason, which is a very positive thing. If there’s one thing we can take away from last season, it’s that players absolutely buy into the Jets’ system. The staff took a mostly underwhelming group of personnel that was picked by many pundits to be one of, if not the worst teams in the NFL and led them to a respectable 8-8 season. With the same leadership and presumed upgrades at a few positions, there’s no reason to think the Jets won’t be better in 2014.
Nick St. Denis is the publisher of AFCEastDaily.com. The SUNY Plattsburgh journalism grad spent four years covering the Jets for Scout.com and five years covering preps and collegiate sports for newspapers in New York and Virginia. Follow him on Twitter at @NickStDenis.