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 years in 2009 and 2010 but suffered a meltdown and missed the playoffs entirely last year. Is this veteran team still a contender or beginning a downward spiral? We are about the find out.

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. The Jets 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 in the first five games, 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