If you are a New York Jets fan or happen to be lucky enough to know one personally, you must be familiar with the cycle of hope, frustration, and resignation that begins every offseason and culminates as the Jets underperform in the regular season.
Recently, a new regime has been ushered in, giving the Jets organization a new-car smell, or at the least, a used-car-that-looks-good-but-may-not-run-well one.
Owner Woody Johnson turned a new leaf by firing former Head Coach Rex Ryan and former General Manager John Idzik and replacing the duo with former Arizona Cardinals defensive coordinator Todd Bowles and former Houston Texans director of scouting Mike Maccagnan, respectively.
Coming off of a 4-12 season, Jets fans have every reason to be pessimistic about their team; however, Jet fans have historically been overly optimistic even after a bad season, something I can attest to.
The team has problems at the quarterback position, cornerback position, and almost every other position besides running back, defensive lineman, kicker, and punter.
Almost everyone underperformed last season, and through it all, the Jets somehow managed to accrue four wins, bad enough to place the team far out of playoff reach, but good enough to rob them of any clear chance of picking up a franchise quarterback in Marcus Mariota or Jameis Winston.
Put frankly, the 2014 Jets did almost nothing right, yet, amid the mediocrity, there were a couple of bright spots.
Geno Smith finished the season on a strong note (he was the only quarterback to record a perfect passer grating of 158.3 in the entire season), Chris Ivory was magnificent, the Jets actually beat the playoff-bound Steelers, and the defense did not play atrociously as the offense did (and that is saying something).
However, Rex Ryan had already worn out his welcome, and by mid-season, lost respect in the locker room. The team was fractious, not functioning as a unit.
Today, things cannot get any worse.
That is why I am advocating for cautious optimism. There should be no playoff expectations to worry about (a la last season) last season and no fear that the head coach will make a gaffe every time he opens his mouth (*cough Rex Ryan cough).
Bowles is a relatively soft spoken and down-to-Earth man, personality-wise everything that his predecessor was not. He will manage expectations for this team that needs an infusion of talent to compete for a Wild Card spot, much less the championship.
Fans should enjoy watching this team to observe the progress it will make towards the real goal—contention down the road. Jets fans, like their Knick fan brethren, may not enjoy the process of rebuilding, but it is necessary for the team to succeed later on.
If fans and the media set expectations low, then it will not take much for the team to exceed them. For once, fans can watch the team and enjoy the improvement of the product on the field, because, put frankly, there is no way a regression can occur.
Setting modest targets will lead to pleasant surprises instead of disappointments, but putting modest targets in place is something the New York media will not let happen. Teams always have to win and win now, and this relentless need for victory in the short term has doomed many a rebuilding plan.
However, in the 2013 season, the Jets overachieved and ended with a mediocre albeit pleasantly surprising record of 8-8. There is no reason the Jets cannot overachieve once again with Geno Smith (or Mariota or Winston) at the helm of the offense, and the infusion of fresh air into a sagging franchise that came in the form of Todd Bowles will lead to improvement.
If Bowles can temper expectations and make each small victory on an individual and team scale seem like an overachievement, then Jets fans will be in for a fun year.