Raising the Lombardi Trophy high in February 2017. Seems like an impossible dream for the 2016 Jets. Maybe it is. OK, OK, probably it is. But what if....
Rewind to the 2015 preseason. If I had made a prediction a year ago that the 2015 Super Bowl champion would be led by the worst starting quarterback in the NFL, and further that that worst starting quarterback would be ... gulp ... Peyton Manning, how many would have agreed, yeah, that sounds likely? How about if I had predicted that the other Super Bowl team would be the Panthers, AFTER they lost their only legitimate receiving threat for the year. The Panthers, a team that finished below .500 the prior year, would win 15 games, led in part by the best cornerback in the NFL, a 28 year old scrub who somehow transformed in one season from being borderline average to being arguably the world's greatest cornerback. That sound likely to you? What would have been the odds I could have gotten on that bet at this time last year?
So indulge me in the unlikely. How can the Jets win a Super Bowl?
Well, it starts with the quarterback. It always starts with the quarterback. As Denver showed last year and a few other teams have shown over the years, you can win the big one without a great quarterback, but it sure isn't easy. For the Jets to have a realistic chance to win the Super Bowl, either Ryan Fitzpatrick has to come back and suffer no regression, or Geno Smith has to somehow match that level of production. If Fitz returns, this isn't outlandish. If not, well....
Next up: the offensive line. Ryan Clady needs to stay healthy and return to being something close to what he was before the injuries. The rest of the line also has to stay healthy, as the Jets have little in the way of credible backups. Again, not outlandish.
Now the passing weapons. Marshall and Decker just need to stay healthy. In addition, the Jets need a credible third receiver to emerge from stone hands Quincy Enunwa, doghouse Jace Amaro, injured and overmatched Devin Smith or 7th round special Charone Peake. The Jets don't need to hit on all of these, but they do probably need at least one to take a major step up in production. This would put the Jets passing weapons in the elite bracket. Not outlandish.
Next up: the running backs. The Jets need Matt Forte to stave off Father Time one more year and give the team an elite pass catching back. It would also help if the Jets got something like Ivory-lite out of Khiry Robinson in a limited role. Could happen.
Now the defense. The line just needs to stay healthy and not suffer regression. It would help a lot if Williams makes the expected improvement in his second year. Richardson needs to avoid a lengthy suspension. Wilkerson needs to show up, in shape and ready to go.
Linebackers: this is the real wild card. In order for the Jets to have a realistic chance at a title, the defense probably has to dominate, not just be very good. The chances of this happening depend largely on the development and play of several young linebackers. Trevor Reilly is unlikely to ever provide anything better than minimally competent play, so 3rd round draft pick Jordan Jenkins will need to be a quick learner. He looks like he may have what it takes to set the edge and provide some pass rush on tape, but converting that into instant NFL production is difficult. One can have the requisite talent and still take a year or two to adjust to the speed of the game and the mental aspects of the position. If Jenkins can hit the ground running this greatly increases the Jets chances of major success. If on the other hand he is often caught unsure and out of position, the Jets chances of a dominant defense may disappear with Jenkins. In addition to Jenkins, Lorenzo Mauldin needs to continue his upward trajectory and become an above average three down linebacker with plus pass rushing ability. And Darron Lee needs to utilize his speed to make some plays and blow up some drives. That's a whole lot to ask of the Jets' young linebackers, but it will probably take all that to get this defense all the way to dominant.
Defensive Backfield: All that has to happen here is for Darrelle Revis to not fall off a cliff and for Marcus Williams or somebody else to prove to be a pretty good third cornerback. The safeties just need to stay healthy and pick up where they left off a year ago.
Special Teams: Coverage has to get much better, as does the punting. Shouldn't be too difficult to see improvement from last year's abysmal levels.
Win the division: The Jets need to find a way to win the division and get a home game or two. Tommy Brady's wrestling with and beginning to lose to Father Time would certainly help in this endeavor.
That's a lot of moving parts. A bunch of things need to go right. Good health is paramount. Although the individual components are mostly not outlandish, having them all go right in the same year is very likely too much to ask. Extremely improbable. But not impossible. Here's to improbabilities.