As we prepare for an unexpected playoff week — remember, just two weeks ago coach Rex Ryan (along with us and everyone else) assumed the Jets were out of this — we hark back to the beginning of the season, when the playoff prognosis was even darker. The goals for the Jets this season were to be as methodical and vanilla as possible, improve the defense, help Mark Sanchez improve, and not embarrass themselves. They've done a bit more than that.
You'd be hard-pressed to find anyone who picked the Jets to make the playoffs this season. (We're having trouble finding anybody.) After the Favre-Mangini disaster that was the final five weeks of 2008, the Jets have surpassed anything that could have been expected of them.
The better news is that no matter what happens Saturday, this could just be the beginning. Quoth SI.com's Andrew Perloff:
[The Jets] have the best defense in the NFL this year and Rex Ryan hasn't been able to truly recreate the unit he had in Baltimore. Wait until he gets his fast outside linebacker type (perhaps Adalius Thomas?) and starts to rush the passer more effectively. With cornerback Darrelle Revis shutting down half the field, they should have one of the better defenses in recent memory next year.
And Sanchez should be better next year, as well. Let's think of this playoff game as a gift from the football deities, a freebie to give everyone a little more experience. It's all house money at this point. Even if the Jets lose, really, they can't lose.
(Worth noting: The Bengals, a team nobody liked before this season, either, probably feel the same way.)