PHOENIX - Christopher Johnson refuses to deliver a playoff mandate to his Jets. Mike Maccagnan will only concede his team looks better "on paper." And now Adam Gase has joined the muffled chorus by saying only that his team "should be in the conversation in December."
For a franchise that gave the world Joe Namath and Rex Ryan, they sure seem to have forgotten that fortune favors the bold.
So it's time for the Jets to remove their muzzles, and say what their fans are probably afraid to even think out loud. Their rebuilding project is nearing completion. They have their franchise quarterback, a new offensive star, and a bright, young coach with some much-needed energy. So it's OK to have high expectations.
There is no reason at all why the Jets shouldn't be - won't be - a playoff team this year.
"I'm looking at it as if we stay healthy, we should be in the conversation in December," Gase said during the NFL coaches breakfast at the owners meetings on Tuesday morning. "That's realistic. We have a good quarterback. We have a lot of good pieces around him. We feel like we've added a lot of pieces on defense.
"It's all going to be about how we play in that late November-December area. You're talking about a six-week span where every team in this league, it's all going to be decided in those weeks. There's going to be three or four teams that are going to be eliminated already, and everybody else is going to have a shot. It's just going to be about who takes advantage of it."
OK, look, nobody was expecting Gase to offer a Namath-like guarantee, or do a Ryan-like refusal to kiss Bill Belichick's rings. Guarantees are pointless, and too often haunt the guarantor in the end. And everyone still remembers how quickly Ryan went from being a bolt of energy in the organization to looking like a clown.
But the p-word isn't something that should be kept behind locker room doors. Goals are good. And when it comes to the playoffs, it's OK for the Jets to insert themselves into that conversation now. They have spent two years spending wildly in free agency. They've benefited from even more years of picking high in the draft. They have rebuilt their offensive line and secondary. In Le'Veon Bell, they have one of the best running backs in the league, and with the addition of Jamison Crowder, they are convinced they have a dangerous receiving corps.
And from what everyone saw from Sam Darnold down the stretch of last season, it's clear they have a quarterback who should be much better in his second year.
Are they going to the Super Bowl? Probably not this season. Nor are they likely to dethrone the Patriots in the NFC East. But the bar for the playoffs is lower. A 10-6 record was enough to get in last season. Very so often all a team needs is to be 9-7. The Jets were 5-11 last season, but six of their losses were by eight points or fewer.
It's not that hard to find four games at least that they easily could have won.
Now, they are better. They are. It's just a fact. Darnold was a rookie throwing to special teamers and practice squad players at the end of last year, and it still took 442 yards by Aaron Rodgers and an overtime for the Packers to beat the Jets, 44-38, in Week 16. Now Darnold has Bell and Crowder and better protection, plus better coaching and a defense that is stocked with more players.
The Jets are playoff-caliber. They should be a playoff team.
Why is that so hard to say?
"I sure as hell hope we're a playoff team," Johnson said on Sunday. "Look, I want to win every game. We can't get their fast enough. I've said it before, I'm an impatient man. I want this team to win. And I think that we have a really good chance to be a quite good team this year."
"If we stay healthy, I think we'll be in the right spot at the end of the year," Gase said. "If we lost a bunch of really good players, our probability goes down."
Sigh. So much for throwing caution to the wind. So much for firing up a downtrodden fan base that hasn't watched the Jets in the playoffs in any of the last eight seasons, and incredibly hasn't seen a home playoff game since 2003.
About the closest anyone came this week to even mild bravado was when Johnson said "Look, if we win a Lombardi trophy, I'll wear it around like a crown until people are sick of me."
That strange image is closer to becoming reality than any of the Jets are willing to admit publicly. These Jets are ready. The pieces are in place. They absolutely should be considered a playoff contender.
There's no reason to hide from that. They should embrace it.