Robert Saleh on capturing AFC East title: ‘The division is always a big deal’

When Robert Saleh became the Jets coach in 2021, he talked a lot about the team needing to close the gap within the AFC East.

Despite the offseason Gang Green has had, there’s still work to be done in that regard.

Saleh and the Jets ended their 12-game losing stream to AFC East opponents last season. However, during his time as coach of the Jets, Saleh has a record of 2-10 within the division.

With all the roster changes, many pundits expect the Jets to contend with the Bills and Dolphins for the AFC East crown this season.

“We talk about owning the east and you gotta win your division games and the easiest path to the playoffs is to win your division,” Saleh said. “But it’s one game at a time. Obviously, the division games, you want to perform well in the division.

“Last year, we wanted to show we can win a game. I think we were in a 300-game losing streak or whatever it was in the division. Last year, we one a couple and this year, we want to win a couple more.

“Just continue to build on the momentum we gained. The division is always a big deal. It seems like those games are always tight, but it’s the easiest path to the playoffs.”

This year, the Jets will attempt to win the AFC East for the first time since AOL was the most popular website in America.

Gang Green hasn’t claimed a division title since 2002. That was also the last year the Jets hosted a playoff game as they rolled the Colts 41-0 in the AFC Wild-Card Round.

Their streak of not winning a division title also includes the 2009 and 2010 seasons, in which the Jets went to the AFC Championship before losing to both the Colts and Steelers.

During the past seven years alone, the Jets have finished in last place six times. Gang Green began the 2022 season 7-4 before losing six consecutive games to end the year at 7-10 as they again finished in the AFC East basement.

In a critical year, the Jets traded for four-time NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers during the offseason. They also brought in former Broncos coach and Green Bay offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett in to help jump-start an offense that finished 25th in the league.

Expectations are through the roof with the addition of Rodgers, as the Jets have +270 odds to win the AFC East, according to BetMGM. They only trail the Bills at +130, as they’ve won the division three years in a row.

“I know there’s been so much talk about Super Bowls and divisions outside the building, there’s even been talk in the building embracing those possibilities, but it’s not something that’s talked about,” Saleh said. “Everyone knows what the goal is, everyone knows what we’re trying to accomplish.

“What’s talked about in this building is, are you doing everything you can to get better, are you doing everything you can to go to bed better than when you woke up. That’s it, the results will take care of themselves. As far as carrots are concerned, it is not necessarily a carrot that’s dangled.

“These guys don’t care about what happened 20 years ago, they’re focused on the moment. It’s not their story, their story is about what’s about to be written and that’s where the focus is about maintaining the idea that we are going to dominate the moment. If you do that, you give yourself a chance.”

If the Jets are going to win the AFC East, they’re certainly going to have to earn it. Four of the Jets’ first six games of the season are against teams that made the playoffs last season. One of those teams who didn’t crash the postseason party, the Patriots, has defeated the Jets 14 consecutive times.

Not only do the Jets have the Bills and the Patriots to worry about, but the Dolphins are also possible Super Bowl contenders. Miami is coming off a 9-8 year as it pushed Buffalo to the limit before losing 34-31 in the wild-card game. The Dolphins have one of the best rosters in the league, with quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and receivers Jaylen Waddle and Tyreek Hill.

Once upon a time, the AFC East was considered a joke when the Patriots won 11 straight divisional titles. Now, the division is arguably the best in football, at least on paper.

“The mindset is always about us, it’s about what we can bring and it’s about whether they can stack up with us,” Saleh said. “Sounds cocky, I get it, but you can’t think of it any other way. It’s not about the opponent, it’s about what you do every day to be the best version of yourself.

“There’s a lot of great teams in this league, but when you got six games — two against New England, who’s going to be sound and perfect in what they do. Then you got Miami, who is so dynamic with playmakers all over the field on offense, defense and special teams.

“Then you got Buffalo, who’s got all the experience with an unbelievable quarterback. You’re going to get tested week in and week out in our division. So it does prepare you for everything that the league has to throw at you.