Very few people expected the Jets to be respectable last year. But there are high expectations this year after an 8-8 finish in 2013. There's legitimate playoff talk about this group, especially with some smart offseason moves and more young depth than at any point in the past six years.
But it may not be enough.
There are issues at cornerback with Antonio Cromartie gone, the troubled Dimitri Patterson waived and third-round pick Dexter McDougle out for the year. The Jets' pass defense will rest on their pass rush with the hope that they can get to the opposition quarterback before he can do damage.
Offensively, this should be a more balanced attack that can get the play-action going if the ground game produces as expected. It was a very good offseason for quarterback Geno Smith, who has taken steps forward in his ability to read defenses and go through his progressions. If he can be an average quarterback this year — meaning he has more touchdowns than interceptions — the Jets can be a playoff team.
Player who will surprise: He wasn't a big-name free agent signing and fans were disappointed to see Austin Howard go, but Breno Giacomini will be a very solid right tackle for the Jets. He's technically sound and he's a proven winner, having a Super Bowl ring from last year's Seahawks team.
Player who will disappoint: While Giacomini will provide good, solid play on the right side, it is clear left tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson's star is fading on the left side. He struggles against the speed rush and has become a revolving door whenever a defensive end gets a good step to the outside. It's time for the Jets to begin to consider drafting his replacement.
The Jets will make the playoffs if: Dee Milliner can start (and finish) at least 14 games this season and Darrin Walls can be solid on the opposite end. Milliner not only has to be a solid, lock-down corner but he has to stay healthy. Walls has talent but he's a bit stiff in coverage and while he has good length, he needs to use it better. This front-seven can be good but if the secondary isn't solid, it could be a rough season.
The Jets will miss the playoffs if: They get hit with the injury bug. The aforementioned Milliner suffered an ankle injury and wide receiver Eric Decker's quad injuries during training camp are troublesome. Last year, the Jets had the fewest games missed due to injury and while their depth has improved, it still can't sustain a rash of injuries.
What to watch for: It could be a good year for the Jets if the backfield is in the top three in the NFL, which likely means they will need to generate at least 2,300 rushing yards. Chris Johnson will likely get the majority of the carries, but by no means the bulk of them. Chris Ivory will be featured early and often to soften the opposing defense and expect a good sprinkling of Bilal Powell as well. If the Jets can do this, then defenses will have to stack the box, creating space for Eric Decker and Jeremy Kerley to stretch the defense.
Predicted Record: 8 -8
While they will have the same record as a season ago, the Jets will be a better team. They won't have as many dud games as last year and will be more consistent offensively. But the secondary needs some help and the schedule is tough with six playoff teams from a year ago. The Jets aren't an elite team at this point in their rebuilding process, but they are building in the right direction. Next year, this is a playoff team.
Follow Jets beat writer Kristian Dyer on Twitter @KristianRDyer.