It's been a long road, but the NFL season is finally back underway. After the Jets' heartbreaking loss to the Bills last season, it's been hard to feel good about football again during the offseason. Now that meaningful NFL games are finally back, it's pretty easy. The Jets have a clean slate and are returning the majority of their 10-win roster from last season. The schedule may look significantly harder, but the Colts and Eagles looked like contenders last offseason as well. If the Jets even manage to remain at .500 through the first half of the season, I think they will have a pretty good shot at the playoffs. I don't know about you, but I can't wait to see how this season unfolds.
I have to admit, I'm excited that the Jets get to kick off the season against the Bengals. I've always liked (pitied) the Bengals and a dear friend of mine is a die-hard Bengals fan, so I've always kept a close eye on the team. It's one of the few rivalries in which the Jets have held the winning edge, with a nearly 2 to 1 record in history, not to mention winning 3 of the last 4 and holding a 2-0 record against the Bengals in the playoffs (including a back to back drumming in 2009 after a regular season blowout.) The Jets always come to play against the Bengals (okay, maybe not in their last matchup) and this is a game between two 10+ win teams last year with real playoff implications. Let's get into it.
Where We Are
There's not much to say that hasn't already been said. The Jets suffered a brutal defeat against Buffalo in week 17 last season, effectively ending their playoff chances and reminding us all why Ryan Fitzpatrick has bounced around the league. The fact that it came against Rex Ryan and a middling division rival just drove the nail in deeper. Despite a rough end to the season, Jets fans have a lot to be excited about this year. The main concerns in the offseason (contracts for Wilkeron and Fitzpatrick) were successfully addressed and the additions and subtractions in free agency were mostly negligible in my mind. If Revis returns healthy and Fitzpatrick continues to grow his rapport with Marshall and Decker, both sides of the ball could be improved. The Jets remain healthy on both sides of the ball and the only major player missing this week should be Sheldon Richardson, who was fortunate enough to end up with a single game suspension in connection his tumultuous 2015 offseason.
Where They Are
The Bengals have essentially been in the same place for the last half decade. After a solid regular season run, they managed to shoot themselves in the foot in the playoffs. With a shotgun. Full of grenades. After their first playoff win in 25 years seemed within reach, stupid mistakes allowed them to fall to arguably their most hated division rivals. In the offseason, the Bengals saw their #2 and #3 receivers bolt for lucrative contracts. Half of the secondary left in free agency and had to be replaced. Defensive tone-setter Vontaze Burfict is suspended for the game and rising star Tyler Eifert will miss the game due to injury. The Bengals are particularly weak at the moment and the Jets are at nearly full strength, making this the ideal time for the matchup.
Injuries (game status not yet listed)
|McLendon, Steve||DT||Hand / Toe||FP||FP|
|Petty, Bryce||QB||Rt. Shoulder||DNP||DNP|
Picking X-Factors each week can be challenging if you don't want to choose the QB every time. This week is an easy pick. I want to see if a healthy Darrelle Revis can shut down A.J. Green. Revis was excellent last season, but he wasn't quite up to his normal ridiculous standards. Green has consistently been one of the best receivers in the NFL and rarely gets the attention he deserves. Without Eifert, Jones, or Sanu to target, Dalton will need Green to pick up the slack. While Bengals fans may be happy with LaFell and Boyd as options, Jets fans can attest to the unreliability of LaFell's hands. Boyd is a rookie playing in his first NFL game. The passing game is going to be reliant on Green and Green's production is going to be reliant on Revis' coverage. Will the Bengals aerial attack get off Revis Island? I can't wait to find out.
It would be easy to pick one of the most polarizing QBs in Andy Dalton. He's not the player I'm concerned with in this game, however. He's a solid player in his prime now, he's going to be great. The Jets' biggest weakness on defense in recent years has been attempting to cover tight ends and running backs in the passing game. The Bengals happen to have an extremely dangerous dual threat running back in Giovani Bernard. In his 3 NFL seasons, he's averaged 4+ yards per carry each season as a runner while accumulating 148 receptions for 1335 yards as a receiver. He's only lost 1 fumble in his NFL career against 17 total touchdowns. While Hill was massively over-hyped coming into last season, Bernard has been consistently excellent as a dual threat option. Without reliable #2/#3 receivers or Tyler Eifert, the Bengals will probably have to rely heavily on the run game and receiving backs. If Revis does manage to shut down Green, the game will likely rest heavily on Bernard's shoulders. Can the Jets cover him on passing routes? Can the Jets stuff the run despite the loss of Damon Harrison in the offseason? It's time to find out.
Keys To Victory
Offense: The Bengals defense is extremely strong in the front 7, especially on the defensive line, with Geno Atkins being the crux. I'm not impressed by the secondary, however, and I think Marshall and Decker can have a field day if the offensive line can hold up.
Defense: The Bengals have suffered from an embarrassment of riches on offense in recent years, but that won't be evident with all the losses for this game. Nevertheless, I think the Jets run defense should be able to smother Hill and Bernard and force Dalton to air the ball out. If Green is contained, that means that the Jets only have to worry about LaFell, Boyd, and Kroft. I'm not worried.
The Bottom Line
I'm excited for football that matters again, that's the bottom line. I wish it were easier to prognosticate in week 1, but teams don't really start to show their true colors until weeks 4 or 5. The Jets won a pretty convincing game in week 1 of 2014 and finished the first half of the season 1-7. I really don't know which team has the edge in this game. You could argue that this game will be a nailbiter or a complete blowout and I wouldn't really be able to completely disagree. Both teams have playoff-caliber rosters with tricky paths to the playoffs. If both teams were completely healthy, I'd probably give the edge to the Bengals in a neutral setting. As it stands, I'm going to pick the Jets at home. While teams may not reveal themselves until a quarter of the way into the season, this is a particularly big game. With the brutal early season schedules that these teams face, the momentum from a week 1 win against a strong team would be a huge boon.