New York Jets schedule analysis

Breakdown: The mercurial New York Jets will kick off their 2012 schedule with a home game against the upstart Buffalo Bills. New York's schedule is ranked 20th in the NFL, based on strength of schedule.

This is a big year for Jets head coach Rex Ryan and general manager Mike Tannenbaum. New York reached the AFC title game in back-to-back seasons in 2009 and 2010, but suffered a meltdown and missed the playoffs entirely last year. Is this veteran team still a contender, or is this the beginning of a downward spiral?

New York was just 8-8 last year but has four prime-time games. You can give some credit to popular quarterback Tim Tebow, who was acquired in a high-profile trade this offseason. The Jets will host the Houston Texans in Week 5 and travel to play the Tennessee Titans in Week 15 on "Monday Night Football." The Jets also host the New England Patriots (Week 12) in a Thursday night game and host the San Diego Chargers on Sunday night (Week 16).

Complaint department: We are going to find out how good the Jets are early. They should be very leery of their first five games. It includes three good playoff teams from a year ago (Pittsburgh, San Francisco, Houston) and two division rivals (Buffalo, Miami). None of those first five games will be easy. If the Jets get off to a slow start and are 1-4 or 2-3, tensions will rise quickly in that locker room.

Sanchez needs fast start: Perhaps no player in the Jets locker room needs a faster start than quarterback Mark Sanchez. With Tebow breathing down his neck, Sanchez needs to quiet the doubters early. That makes New York's season opener against Buffalo at home huge for Sanchez. The good news is the Jets have pummeled Buffalo in recent years, including last year's sweep. Sanchez will have a ton of pressure on him in that Week 1 matchup against Buffalo's new-look defense and defensive line.

Jets Regular-Season Schedule (All times Eastern)

Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 9, Buffalo, 1:00 PM

Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 16, at Pittsburgh, 4:15 PM

Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 23, at Miami, 1:00 PM

Week 4: Sunday, Sept. 30, San Francisco, 1:00 PM

Week 5: Monday, Oct. 8, Houston, 8:30 PM

Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 14, Indianapolis, 1:00 PM

Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 21, at New England, 4:15 PM

Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 28, Miami, 1:00 PM

Week 9: BYE

Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 11, at Seattle, 4:05 PM

Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 18, at St. Louis, 1:00 PM

Week 12: Thursday, Nov. 22, New England, 8:20 PM

Week 13: Sunday, Dec. 2, Arizona, 1:00 PM

Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 9, at Jacksonville, 1:00 PM

Week 15: Monday, Dec. 17, at Tennessee, 8:30 PM

Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 23, San Diego, 8:20 PM

Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 30, at Buffalo, 1:00 PM