FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Robert Saleh is still tempering his language.
Aaron Rodgers is not.
Do the New York Jets think they’re guaranteed, or even favorites, to win this year’s Super Bowl? They don’t.
Do they feel comfortable inviting conversation about those big expectations and aspirations? That’s where Saleh and Rodgers differ.
“We don’t openly talk about it,” Saleh said Thursday. “We get asked questions, and we answer them. But everybody wants to win a championship. The reason that I don’t care that our guys say something is because they always bring it back to the moment.
“If we were out there talking about what we want, without understanding what needs to happen, that is a completely different message.”
On that last part, coach and quarterback agree.
The Jets don’t expect a Super Bowl will just happen on the doorstep of a franchise that hasn’t even advanced to the playoffs the last 12 seasons. But Rodgers, who arrives in New York with four MVP awards and a Super Bowl title to his name, does believe in talking about it.
And while the Jets’ Monday Night Football opener against the Buffalo Bills will say more about how close the Jets are to jelling at a contender level than team dialogue will, Rodgers’ approach to the conversation is telling about the road they’ll travel as they aim to get there.
Pieces in place for Jets to make a run
Rodgers intentionally stirs public dialogue about Super Bowl goals. He has two main goals.
“A part of that is speaking things into existence, the idea of manifestation,” Rodgers said Thursday after practice. “The other part is a realistic look at the locker room, knowing that there’s anywhere from six to 12 teams every year that can probably do it.
“We’re one of those six to 12.”
Yahoo Sports NFL power ranker Frank Schwab agrees. The Jets slotted eighth in Yahoo Sports’ opening-week rankings, second in their division behind the Bills and fourth in the stacked AFC. If the season plays out as such, the Jets would earn the long-awaited postseason berth, even if the Bills’ division edge leaves the Jets with road playoff games.
The strongest case for the Jets’ success this year stems from examining their 2022 strengths and weaknesses alongside their 2023 offseason investments. Saleh oversaw a remarkable defensive turnaround, the Jets improving from dead last on defense in yardage and points allowed in 2021 to fourth in both categories in 2022. The Jets return key pieces of that game-wrecking group, including cornerback Sauce Gardner, the reigning defensive rookie of the year, and newly extended All-Pro defensive tackle Quinnen Williams.
On offense, the Jets accumulated skill, highlighted first by receiver Garrett Wilson, who took home offensive rookie of the year honors after his 1,103-yard, four-touchdown debut year. 2022 draft selection Breece Hall also flashed at running back before an ACL tear sidelined him. The Jets’ biggest issue was inadequate quarterback play, which tends to devastate any team, except possibly Kyle Shanahan’s San Francisco 49ers.
So the Jets made a splash in April and traded for Rodgers, who averaged a 103.6 passer rating across 18 years in Green Bay while advancing to five conference championships and a Super Bowl. They doubled down on balancing their offensive attack by signing four-time Pro Bowl running back Dalvin Cook, a year removed from producing 1,468 yards and 10 touchdowns from scrimmage.
It’s fair to question the Jets’ offensive line, and it seems likely that the early portion of the season will feature rocky protection. Rodgers’ production dipped last year as well, but his rejuvenated attitude may address that more directly than just via general positivity. After 18 years of using specific signals at the line of scrimmage, some of which no longer translate to young players in the league, Rodgers has shifted even his game-preparation approach to more deeply emphasize tactics that the entire group can reasonably identify and execute accordingly.
He said that requires he study more, but he thinks both he and the Jets will benefit.
“The most important thing is that I have to make sure we’re all on the same page,” Rodgers said. “I’m not going to put anything on their plate that we haven’t talked about or repped or worked on in a meeting, or worked on the practice field.
“We’ve made some good adjustments.”
High-stakes start to the season
The Rodgers-Jets honeymoon could end as soon as Monday night.
Rodgers has dazzled New York, infusing hope into long-suffering Jets fans, basking in the energy of the city and leaning into the glamorous portrayal NFL Films’ “Hard Knocks” crew gave him throughout the docuseries.
But BetMGM will remind the Jets that they’re 2.5-point underdogs at home against the Bills. Vegas values Buffalo’s proven talent more than the Jets’ collection of potential that has yet to demonstrate chemistry. Manifestation is a good start, but it’s not enough.
The Jets face three teams in their first four weeks whom Rodgers would likely consider in that group of six to 12 teams capable of winning the Super Bowl. Yahoo Sports’ power rankings slots the Bills, Dallas Cowboys (the Jets’ Week 2 opponent, whom, in fairness, have never beaten Rodgers) and Kansas City Chiefs (Week 4) above the Jets. Only the Patriots (Week 3) at 20th rank lower. And is it really a walk in the park facing a Bill Belichick-schemed defense?
To Rodgers, that’s all the more reason to talk about the Super Bowl.
The Jets need to believe and need to see themselves as a winning team in order to win. He and the former Packers teammates he brought with him have spread that message, and it has caught on. Even Garrett Wilson, who experienced individual success last year, said during training camp that he was willing to voice Super Bowl aspirations because receiver Allen Lazard did so first.
“You don’t make moves in the offseason like we did unless you’re trying to get there,” Wilson said. “I’m not going to beat around the bush, man: We want to win a Super Bowl.”
Rodgers was delighted to hear Wilson say so.
“That’s what you want,” the quarterback said. “It’s spectacular.”
Wins will be even more spectacular, and if the Jets can begin to string together success from foes like the Bills and Cowboys, the hype will really begin to reach unimaginable tenors. Saleh will keep emphasizing his players understand the need to attack the moment, allowing for the rest of the volume so long as the work gets done.
For now, the talk is here to stay.
“If you want to get that s***, get it,” Wilson said. “Talk about it. It’s cool.”