The Jets-Patriots rivalry has been one of the fiercest in the NFL ever since Bill Parcells spurned Patriots owner Robert Kraft and joined the Jets. But when Bill Bellichick returned the favor by bailing on the Jets to coach New England, the course of the rivalry changed forever.
Or, perhaps more accurately, the rivalry changed when Mo Lewis knocked out Drew Bledsoe in a fateful 2001 game that altered the course of history in the AFC East. Tom Brady took over, and three Super Bowls and seven division titles later, Brady made the Patriots not just the class of the AFC East but of the entire NFL.
And as the Patriots went through one of the best decades in NFL history, the Jets have wallowed in their shadows. Sure, there were a couple of playoff seasons under Herman Edwards and Eric Mangini, but the Jets were never a legitimate Super Bowl contender.
After making their first AFC Championship appearance since the Parcells era, Rex Ryan has Jets fans as giddy as they were before 1999. The Jets seem to be a team on the rise, the team of the future, while New England seems to be getting older and declining.
The biggest reason for this has been the difference in the two teams' draft philosophies recently.
Bellichick is a true Parcells disciple when it comes to drafting. Trade down, accumulate picks, and bring in depth and competition. It worked when Tom Brady was an elite quarterback, and the Patriots deserve a ton of credit for their performance in the last decade. Even though they may have cheated a little bit...
But if you look at New England's recent drafts, it explains a lot about their recent decline: they haven't been adding young impact players. It's too early to tell about last year's draft, but even though Julian Edelman was very productive for a 7th round pick, nobody else stood out.
The 2008 draft brought Jerrod Mayo, but nobody else has made any impact. The 2007 draft is similar, as Brandon Merriweather worked out in round one, but the rest of the draft were swings and misses. 2006 was another one-and-done, except the one was a kicker, Stephen Gostkowski in round 4.
People have criticized the Jets' draft methods, but in the timeframe the Patriots' best additions appear to be Edelman, Mayo, Merriweather, and Gostkowski, the Jets have added D'Brickashaw Ferguson, Nick Mangold, Leon Washington, Darrelle Revis, David Harris, Dustin Keller, Shonn Greene, and Mark Sanchez. While part of that has to do with the Jets typically picking higher, the Jets have simply improved their team by leaps and bounds on draft day.
Now, the Patriots did trade for Randy Moss and Wes Welker in 2007 for draft picks. That coincided with the Patriots' last Super Bowl appearance. This year, the Jets traded for Santonio Holmes and Antonio Cromartie in the draft to try to put them over the top.
It also goes to show the difference between the philosophies of each team, especially now. Between 2006 and 2009, the Patriots drafted 39 players to the Jets' 23. Mike Tannenbaum believes in quality over quantity, and it's worked out very well, as he's traded up to get Sanchez, Greene, Keller, Revis, and Harris in just the past three years alone.
Whether that new talent finally translates into the Jets' first division title since 2002 will be determined in the fall. On paper, Gang Green looks every bit as good as New England. But Tom Brady is still 12-3 against the Jets, and as much as everyone talks about how good the Jets could be this year, they still have to prove it on the field.