Rex Ryan believes this will be his best New York Jets team.
It's going to need some dramatic improvement now that everything counts.
Surrounded by a whirlwind of tumult, the Jets will try to jump start their seemingly anemic offense against the Buffalo Bills and their re-tooled defense Sunday in the Meadowlands.
Ryan is known for his bombastic, confident comments and has made multiple Super Bowl championship predictions. New York reached the AFC Championship game each of his first two years before going 8-8 and failing to qualify for the playoffs last year.
In 2012, Ryan's confidence doesn't seem shaken.
"I truly feel that this will be the best team that I've had since I became head coach of the Jets," Ryan said.
Through preseason, the Jets looked more like his worst team, losing all four games and failing to reach the end zone until third-string quarterback Greg McElroy's 6-yard touchdown toss in last week's finale.
"All that work that you've done, all the work that the players have done, the lifting and all the meetings and things, it's for this," Ryan said. "It's not to win a preseason game. It's to be at your very best when the regular season starts."
The offense certainly wasn't to end last season, as New York lost three in a row while Mark Sanchez threw seven of his 18 interceptions and only five touchdowns while compiling a 60.3 passer rating. That took much of the luster away from Sanchez's best statistical season in the NFL.
Now, he has Tim Tebow looking over his shoulder.
In an effort to enhance the wildcat option in new offensive coordinator's Tony Sparano's playbook, the Jets acquired the wildly popular backup quarterback with an almost cult-like following from Denver for a pair of later-round draft picks.
"As much as people are trying to make it a quarterback controversy, it's not," Ryan said. "Mark is our starting quarterback, and Tim is an excellent football player."
Tebow, though, is coming off his first season where he was used mostly as a starter, leading the Broncos to the playoffs, beating Pittsburgh on an 80-yard touchdown pass to start overtime before falling to New England in the divisional round. Tebow completed only 46.5 percent of his passes, but he was a major threat on the ground with six touchdowns to go with his 12 scoring passes.
His 660 rushing yards trailed only Carolina's Cam Newton (706) for the most by a quarterback, and he had 63 and a TD in the playoffs.
That versatility is why the Jets will use him in the wildcat, which wasn't run at all during preseason.
"I guess we never appeased whoever by not putting (Tebow) out there," Ryan said. "If that added to it, that wasn't our intent. Our intent was there's no sense showing it right now in the preseason, just like I'm sure a lot of teams are saving specific things for their openers. We're not different than a lot of teams doing that."
Injuries limited receiver Santonio Holmes to one catch in preseason, and he's looking for redemption after a rift with Sanchez led to the wideout's benching in last season's finale at Miami.
"We'll find out Sunday," Holmes said of his chemistry with Sanchez. "We'll find out just how much we've been putting together throughout the offseason. I think it's going to be pretty exciting for us."
While the offense is looking to answer a number of questions, the defense - ranked fourth last year - is expected to continue being among the best and again anchored by cornerback Darrelle Revis.
"We plan to be the best," defensive end Mike DeVito said. "It doesn't matter what anybody else is doing. We plan to be the best defense. We plan to not let up scores and we plan to go out there and shut down offenses. That's our deal, so nothing else matters. Not what anyone says or does. It's all about what we're doing."
Just like New York, the Bills are hoping their defense can be the catalyst to success as they try to end a 12-year playoff drought.
They seemed to have a chance last year, but wasted a 5-2 start to finish 6-10 for a seventh straight losing season.
Improved defensive play will be key after allowing a franchise-worst 5,938 yards while getting only 29 sacks in 2011. That prompted coach Chan Gailey to switch to a 4-3 scheme that emphasizes rushing the passer.
Buffalo further committed to that plan by signing defensive end Mario Williams to a six-year, $100 million contract - the richest awarded to a defensive player. Williams had 53 sacks in six years with Houston, but missed the final 11 games last year with a torn pectoral muscle.
He'll be joined on the line by Mark Anderson, who had 10 sacks with the Patriots last year, while Marcell Dareus looks to build on his solid rookie season, during which he had 5.5 sacks.
"This is where we make the money," Dareus said. "This is what they pay us the big bucks for. They made a great investment on the front four, and I'm pretty sure we won't disappoint them."
Offensively, the Bills are again relying on Ryan Fitzpatrick under center. He had career highs of 3,832 passing yards, 24 touchdowns and a 62.0 percent completion percentage, but his 23 picks were a personal-worst.
Fitzpatrick tossed 16 of those INTs over the final nine games, while compiling a 66.5 passer rating compared to 97.8 over the first seven contests.
Stevie Johnson is again Fitzpatrick's primary target after topping 1,000 receiving yards in each of the last two years while totaling 17 TDs. He had 11 receptions for 159 yards and one touchdown in the two losses to the Jets in 2011, and will likely be matched up against Revis.
New York has won five in a row against Buffalo, including a four-touchdown performance from Sanchez in a 28-24 victory at MetLife Stadium in Week 12 last season.
- New York Jets
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- Ryan Fitzpatrick
- Rex Ryan