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Rex and the Jets Set to Race to the Combine


It's the calm before the Combine storm, and we took the long weekend to gear up for the semi-new Jets regime (old hat for Mike Tannenbaum, a new fedora for rookie HC Rex Ryan) to assume their positions at the new Lucas Oil Stadium podium in Indianapolis at this year's NFL Combine workouts.

Ryan, who made quite the splash at Sunday's Daytona 500 - he told The New York Times he's a huge auto racing fan from his days as the University of Cincinnati D-coordinator in 1996-97 - will move from the stands to the front line in Indy. He'll be holding his first national news conference since his introductory press fling after accepting the Jets' head coaching job Jan. 21.

This 15-minute "newser" is scheduled for Friday at 11 a.m. I don't expect it to be carried live but will bring you word on Rex's chat as soon as we get it. We'll also provide info on Tannenbaum's availability - he usually makes a stop at the Sirius NFL Radio table among other media outlets this time of year. Also on hand will be the Jets' scouting department, conducting interviews, studying the workouts and poring over the results as always.

And you can check us constantly for fresh audio and video from updating the Jets and the rest of the league throughout the day and week, from Thursday through Wednesday, Feb. 25.

That's how a lot of us first realized what a hot prospect TE Dustin Keller was, via video on of Keller's blistering 40s and fine work in the receiving drills at the combine.

Pressure Gauge

Ryan gave the Times an interesting quote about his favorite drivers at Daytona. He said he has a special affinity for Tony Stewart.

"He's just aggressive," the Jets boss said. "He doesn't mind blitzing. I really like the way he drives."

SOS? Not so Fast

This is the time of year when football fans turn to any number of sidebars to take their minds off of what was and try to find some reliable omens about what will be.

One of those traditional omens is the almighty, all-knowing strength of schedule. Jets fans are somewhat nervous, I detect, over a 2009 slate of opponents whose combined winning percentage is a healthy .568, seventh-toughest in the NFL for the coming season.

But woe is not us. SOS is actually an inconsistent indicator of how a team will fare in its next season. Free agency, the draft, coaching changes, injuries change every opponent's dynamic between the final second of last regular season and the opening kickoff of the season opener ahead.

In fact, putting any stock in a team's schedule strength is like running one's life by horoscope. Want proof? Exhibit A was ... the 2008 season.

Consider that:

*  Pittsburgh's 2007 strength of schedule was .598, the toughest '08 sked in the NFL. All the Steelers did with that slate was win Super Bowl XLIII.

*  New England's schedule, on the other hand, was the league's softest at .387. The Patriots didn't make the playoffs. Yes, they went 11-5 and didn't have Tom Brady all year, but that's part of the drawback of prediction by index - there are no variables for catastrophic player loss.

*  Teams with five of the six "toughest" schedules made the postseason: Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, Tennessee, Minnesota and Baltimore.

*  Teams with seven of the eight "easiest" schedules did not make the postseason: New England, Oakland, Denver, Buffalo, New Orleans, Kansas City and the Jets.

*  The 16 teams with "easy" schedule strengths under .500 finished a combined 123-133, a .475 winning percentage.

*  The 16 teams with "hard" schedule strengths over .500 (including 0-16 Detroit) wound up 133-123, a .525 rate.

No doubt schedule strength has been a better predictor in seasons past. But the Jets shouldn't be worried about their "tough" schedule and I don't think they are. In the Rex Reign, I suspect the mantra at this time of year will be "The tougher the better. Bring 'em on."

Here are the seven most difficult 2009 schedules, based on their opponents' combined 2008 regular-season winning percentages. Note that all four AFC East teams are in the top seven:

 Teams Opponents' 2008 W-L-T Pct.
 1. Miami 152-104-0 .594
 2. Carolina 151-104-1 .592
 3. New England 151-105-0 .590
 4. Atlanta 150-105-1 .588
 5. Tampa Bay 148-107-1 .580
 6. Buffalo 146-110-0 .570
 7. JETS 145-110-1 .568

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