With kickoff only 48 days away, Joe Malfa takes a look at the New York Jets schedule with a breakdown of their first four games.
*DISCLAIMER: I will be writing these previews under the assumption that Sam Darnold is the starting quarterback. In addition, with all of our coverage here at TOJ, you know the Jets inside and out. With that being said, the focus in these previews will be placed on getting to know the opponents.*
Week 1 — @ Detroit Lions (9/10; 7:10 p.m.; Monday Night Football)
The NFL schedule makers opting to kick off the Monday Night Football season with a non-conference matchup between two non-contenders was a bit of a head scratcher. Maybe they were banking on a rookie quarterback making his debut for the Jets, but it’s still a lackluster matchup. ESPN has been criticized in recent years for some underwhelming MNF matchups, and they won’t be starting 2018 on the right foot (rant over).
The Lions pose an interesting, measuring-stick type of matchup for the Jets right out of the gates. They are perennially a team that hovers around .500 and sits on the cusp of making the playoffs. It will be interesting to see how a young Jets team handles a team of the Lions’ caliber on the road to kick off the season.
Matthew Stafford is, in my opinion, the most underrated QB in the league. When he was putting up crazy numbers in the days of Calvin Johnson, all the credit went to Megatron. When Stafford managed to improve his numbers after Johnson’s early retirement, no one batted an eye. He has three solid targets who will give the Jets’ new and improved secondary an early test — Golden Tate, Marvin Jones, and Kenny Golladay. The Lions also possess one of the most diverse, intriguing backfields in the league. The quartet of Ameer Abdullah, Theo Riddick, LeGarrette Blount, and Kerryon Johnson should take some of the load off Stafford and the passing game.
Ziggy Ansah and Darius Slay are two stars on a defense that is wildly inconsistent. They held four opponents to 11 points or fewer last season, but they also allowed 30 points or more in four games. Detroit ranked 27th in the league in 2017 in yards allowed per game — only the Patriots, Giants, Buccaneers, and Colts were worse. This could be a nice matchup for Darnold to ease into the flow of the NFL game.
Week 2 — vs. Miami Dolphins (9/16; 1:00 p.m.)
Do not let the fluke playoff appearance from two years ago fool you — this Dolphins team is trending downward and will likely wind up in the cellar of the AFC East this season.
You could do worse than a receiving corps lead by Kenny Stills, DeVante Parker, and Danny Amendola, but pair that group with Ryan Tannehill and a shoddy offensive line and you have yourself a recipe for mediocrity. The ageless wonder Frank Gore will be the early down back with Kenyan Drake getting a lot of touches in the run game as well. The Dolphins finished 25th in total offense last season, and I would not be surprised to see them finish closer to the bottom this season.
Things don’t look much better for the Dolphins defensively. Minkah Fitzpatrick is an exciting addition on the back end, but no improvements were made to the front seven. Cameron Wake has posted double-digit sacks in back-to-back seasons, but can he keep it up now at 36 without Ndamukong Suh to draw double teams? Kiko Alonso is the anchor in the middle of the defense, but he can only do so much. Raekwon McMillan needs to step up in what is his de facto rookie season since a knee injury last training camp cost him all of last season.
If the Jets manage to leave Detroit with a win, they could be looking at a 2-0 start.
Week 3 — @ Cleveland Browns (9/20; 8:00 p.m.; Thursday Night Football)
The league schedule this matchup in prime time hoping for a quarterback showdown of the draft’s first pick against the draft’s third pick. I don’t think they’ll get it.
The Browns should — and I believe will — go with Tyrod Taylor through at least the week 8 bye. Taylor was able to have success with the weak receiving corps of the Bills. He is going to have a field day with his new targets. Josh Gordon was en route to becoming one of the top receivers in the game before his drug-related issues cost him nearly three seasons of his career, and he showed flashes last season of regaining that form. Jarvis Landry is the perfect complement for Taylor. Beyond those top two targets, David Njoku, Corey Coleman, and Antonio Callaway round out the receiving corps. The Browns also revamped the backfield, signing Carlos Hyde and drafting Nick Chubb to go with Duke Johnson.
Cleveland’s front seven is quietly dominant with Myles Garrett, Emmanuel Ogbah, Joe Schobert, and Christian Kirksey leading the way. It was the secondary that was a problem for the Browns in 2017, but they addressed that issue by signing E.J. Gaines and drafting Denzel Ward fourth overall to man the outside cornerback spots. This allows them to move Damarious Randall to safety alongside last year’s first round pick Jabrill Peppers.
Watch out for the Browns this season. This trip to Cleveland will not be the cakewalk it has been in the past.
Week 4 — @ Jacksonville Jaguars (9/30; 1:00 p.m.)
There is no worse possible matchup for the Jets than the Jaguars. Yes, the Jets somehow managed to beat them at home last season, but it was a bit of a fluke.
The Jaguars won’t have much success through the air after losing both Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns in free agency. Blake Bortles has his own issues to begin with and the receiving corps he has been given is quite uninspiring. Marqise Lee, Donte Moncrief, and second-round pick DJ Chark will be leading the way. Expect Leonard Fournette, Leonard Fournette, and more Leonard Fournette every game.
Defensively, the Jaguars may actually improve upon last year’s dominance. The young stars — Jalen Ramsey, Myles Jack, and Yannick Ngakoue — will only get better. They added defensive tackle Taven Bryan in the first round and safety Ronnie Harrison in the third. Calais Campbell will continue to be a menace and Marcell Dareus will have a full camp to mesh with teammates. All of that and I didn’t even mention A.J. Bouye, Telvin Smith, Malik Jackson, or Dante Fowler Jr.
This team will not go 16-0 as Jackson predicted, but they very well may win the AFC.
I am confident the Jets will beat the Dolphins and lose to the Jaguars, but the other two are tossups. They match up well against the Lions but poorly against the Browns, though the Lions are better than the Browns. I want to get excited about the Jets with the young talent leading the way, but I also want to stay grounded. The first four games will tell us a lot about how the rest of the season will go. Gang Green will come out of the first quarter of the season at .500 with wins over the Browns and Dolphins and losses against the Lions and Jaguars.
Final Prediction: 2-2
Photo Credit: NewYorkJets.com