Jets can contend for AFC East

Upgrade at QB, consistently strong defense can help Jets challenge Pats

Updated: April 4, 2014, 1:30 PM ET
By Chris Sprow | ESPN Insider

Rex RyanJeff Zelevansky/Getty ImagesEven when the Jets have dipped, Rex Ryan's defensive coaching acumen has stayed strong.

The NFL is middle school chemistry. You have variables and controls. The variables create different outcomes, while the control is that unchanging element, the thing you can point to and say, "Well, we know that didn't cause the fire." And in a league where constant turnover is law, few controls exist. Bill Belichick is a control. Peyton Manning is a control. The controls allows at least some level of certainty. It's something the New York Jets have lacked -- at least on the surface.

Consider the coach. Rex Ryan's persona seems to dovetail with the mixed outcomes -- near-Super Bowl seasons, the lows of last place -- and it's all tattooed across the back page. The overall mixed results, a 42-38 mark in New York, would imply Rex is a source of instability.

But when you dig deeper, you realize it's the opposite. Ryan is one of the NFL's true controls. What he does -- what he truly controls on a football field -- never really changes. Ryan controls defenses, and his defenses are routinely excellent. And this year, that could be enough for the Jets to legitimately challenge for the AFC East title.

Consider: