With kickoff only 34 days away, Joe Malfa takes a look at the New York Jets schedule with a breakdown of games five through eight.
*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. Getting to know the opponents will be the focus of these previews.*
Week 5 — vs. Denver Broncos (10/7; 1:00 p.m.)
The schedule makers did the Jets a favor by giving them a three-game home stand, but two of those three opponents boast two of the best defenses in the league. No easy task, especially coming on the heels of facing the Jaguars’ defense in Week 4.
Denver’s defense is not quite what it was when it carried Brock Osweiler and noodle-armed Peyton Manning to the Super Bowl, but it is still a force to be reckoned with. Points will not be easy to come by for the Jets. Kelvin Beachum and Brandon Shell will have their hands full with Von Miller, Shane Ray, and Bradley Chubb around the edges. Brandon Marshall does a great job quarterbacking the defense, and Chris Harris Jr. should shut down Robby Anderson. The Jets must play smart football, avoid turnovers, and really try to get the running backs going. I’m looking forward to seeing how Darnold handles this defense the week after dealing with the Jaguars.
If Case Keenum is what he was last year the Broncos will have a very productive offense, but I’m not sold on the idea that they’ll score “at least 30” points per game as Harris Jr. suggested. Demaryius Thomas has seen his play decline, though that may be a result of a poor quarterback situation. Emmanuel Sanders is on the down slope of his career and is coming off an ankle injury that cost him four games (and nagged him for many more) last season. Second-round pick Courtland Sutton could be a steal, but he screams “boom or bust” so I’m not willing to anoint him as a threat just yet. I am high on Royce Freeman in the backfield and believe he will overtake Devontae Booker as the team’s top running back. The pieces are there for this offense, but there are a lot of “ifs.”
The Jets defense has a few “ifs” as well, which makes this a rather even game on paper. You could argue that the Broncos have a bit of an edge just because of the pass rush, but these are two teams that will end up in the six to eight win range — this game could go either way.
Week 6 — vs. Indianapolis Colts (10/14; 1:00 p.m.)
Finally — a bad defense for Darnold and company to pick apart. Malik Hooker will be back for the Colts after a torn ACL cut his rookie season short, but that’s about it. Indianapolis simply has no talent on this side of the ball. They did what they had to do to rebuild Andrew Luck’s offensive line, but the defense is still in shambles. This game may prove to be the Jets’ best offensive performance of the season.
The return of Luck means this Colts offense will find its way back into the top half of the league’s offenses. How high it climbs depends on Luck’s level of rust and whether or not the new-look offensive line is able to protect him. The Jets have a better defense than people realize, and I don’t think they will have that much trouble against the Colts. It’s a good matchup all the way around for Gang Green.
Week 7 — vs. Minnesota Vikings (10/21; 1:00 p.m.)
The brief respite is over — back to facing another top defense. Xavier Rhodes is among the best cornerbacks in the league while Harrison Smith was the top safety in the league according to Pro Football Focus. Andrew Sendejo was PFF’s 12th rated safety, giving the Vikings the league’s top safety combo. The front seven is loaded as well with Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks leading the way. Linval Joseph is one of the top run stuffers in the league, and he is now joined by Sheldon Richardson. If that wasn’t enough, the Jets will have to deal with Everson Griffen and Danielle Hunter — who combined for 20 sacks last season — coming around the edges.
The Vikings will also boast one of the league’s most prolific offenses this season. Dalvin Cook was injured early in the season, but he flashed some outstanding potential. If he shows no signs of rust, he has what it takes to rush for north of 1,200 yards. Kirk Cousins has cemented his status among the top 10 quarterbacks in the league, and he has plenty of weapons to utilize. Stefon Diggs has blossomed into a true WR1 who can take the top off a defense. Adam Thielen has come out of nowhere to be one of the best possession receivers in the league. Both Diggs and Thielen could top 1,100 yards this season. Cousins also loves his tight ends, and Kyle Rudolph is among the most underrated in the league at that position. Things may not go so well for the Jets this week.
Side note: I am curious to see what the fan response will be to Richardson and Cousins.
Week 8 — @ Chicago Bears (10/28; 1:00 p.m.)
Like the matchup with the Browns in week three, this is a tough one to read. The Bears’ offense should be a lot better. Mitchell Trubisky is entering his second season and having Matt Nagy at the helm could allow him to grow in the same way Jarred Goff did when Sean McVay was hired by the Rams. The additions of Allen Robinson and Trey Burton are sure to help as well.
The defense remains a bit of a question. Danny Trevathan (PFF’s 11th rated linebacker in 2017) leads the way at inside linebacker. The addition of Roquan Smith could make for a dynamic duo in the middle of the defense. Neither Kyle Fuller nor Prince Amukamara are true shutdown corners, but they are both in that next tier of CBs. The defensive line could be an issue — not much talent or consistency in that area.
On paper, this is a good matchup for the Jets. The difficulty here lies in the fact that it will be their first time on the road since September 30th.
As was the case with the first quarter of the schedule, I am confident in picking two of these games. The Jets will beat the Colts comfortably and lose to the Vikings miserably. The matchups against the Broncos and Bears are too close to call. They match up well against the Bears, but it will be their first road trip in a month. The Broncos may have a slight edge in terms of the matchup on paper, but the Jets will be coming home looking to rebound from a likely loss against the Jaguars. The optimist in me wanted to pencil the Jets in for a 6-2 first half of the season (3-1 in each quarter), but the realist in me has them at 4-4 (2-2 in each quarter).
Final Prediction: 2-2 in the quarter; 4-4 overall
Photo Credit: NewYorkJets.com