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NFL - US Sports: Will the Jets end their play-off drought?

The New York Jets currently own the NFL's longest active run without featuring in the play-offs and they are desperate to end an 11-year post-season drought.

Things are finally beginning to take shape at Florham Park after the Jets, 25/4 to make the play-offs, added some much-needed offensive weapons and a couple of rookies with the potential to become future playmakers in the draft.

Robert Saleh, 28/1 to be Coach of the Year, still presides over an inexperienced roster featuring a starting quarterback in Zach Wilson with much still to prove - so can the Jets realistically challenge for a play-off berth from what appears to be one of the strongest American Football Conference fields in years?

Grounded Jets

The Jets' last play-off appearance was an AFC Championship loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2011 and the story of the game illustrates how cursed fans of the team feel they have been down the years.

The Jets offense got nothing going early on and fell 17-0 behind before quarterback Mark Sanchez was sacked on a defensive back blitz and fumbled, which Steelers cornerback William Gay returned 19 yards for another touchdown. A second-half rally came too late to save them and their season was over.

Sanchez drew criticism for his passing inefficiency as the Jets moved away from their run-oriented offense the next year while it was reported that team-mates were unimpressed with his work ethic.

Gang Green's dressing room appeared to be fractured on the issue and matters weren't helped when the Jets brought in ex-Denver Broncos QB Tim Tebow.

Sanchez got worse and was eventually traded, while the team never found another quarterback capable of engineering play-off runs, let alone victories, in a league where throwing the ball has never been more integral to success.

All-in on Wilson

The Jets went all-in on their latest franchise QB when they used the No.2 overall pick on BYU's Zach Wilson in April 2021.

In a talent-laden draft for passers, New York preferred to gamble on Wilson's wild upside rather than go with the more moulded Mac Jones, or athletically-gifted Justin Fields.

Wilson struggled as a rookie, but so did many of his peers who were also thrust into difficult situations. However, there were signs of progress when he returned from injury in the final third of the season and hopes remain high that, in year two, further improvement will come.

The Jets astutely targeted offensive talent in the draft to assemble what should be a good enough group to aid Wilson's growth.

They also took some big swings in free agency - putting together a more valuable package than the Miami Dolphins for Tyreek Hill, who eventually chose South Beach over the Big Apple.

Saleh ensured that the front office didn't neglect the defense either as a stronger unit on that side of the ball can also alleviate pressure on the QB to constantly come up with something special.

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Coaches face trial by fire

The Jets always knew there would be some growing pains, not just with Wilson, but in all areas of the rebuild.

Injuries bit them hard in 2021, during which they finished bottom of the AFC East for the sixth time in the last eight seasons, but that also afforded opportunities for the coaching staff to see what they had in reserve.

The answer, barring one or two surprises, was very little and led to a huge drive to recruit more depth in key positions such as the offensive and defensive lines ahead of 2022.

Saleh's reputation as a defensive guru took a hit as the team finished dead last in defensive yards allowed and points allowed.

But offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur flourished as an innovative play-caller once he switched from the sideline to the booth, offering hope that the staff can achieve much more with better players on board.

Nine wins for the play-offs?

As the Jets were strengthening, almost the entire AFC were too.

The Buffalo Bills, 1/2 to win the AFC East, added serial Super Bowl-winner Von Miller to their stacked roster and should walk the division again, with 4/1 Miami also moving in the right direction following behind.

Beating the New England Patriots at least once would be a step forwards for the Jets and that looks likelier than in past years, but they will have to split the series with the Dolphins too if they are to challenge for a wild card berth.

Saleh's men can't ease themselves into the campaign either with four straight games against Smashmouth AFC North opponents right off the bat. The schedule gets easier in the second half, but what sort of shape will they be in by then?

A realistic win-total goal for the Jets is around nine games, which was good enough for both the Steelers and Philadelphia Eagles to make post-season appearances last season.

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