With a little less than five weeks to go before the New York Jets preseason start date on August 14, 2021, football is almost upon us.
For Gang Green, August has a little more meaning than it usually does this year. 2021 marks the beginning of a new era for this franchise, and hopefully, one that sticks around for many seasons to come.
There’s still a ton for general manager Joe Douglas to decide with different strengths and weaknesses heading into training camp so at the risk of getting one step ahead of ourselves, why not look even further down the line while we wait?
The 2021 NFL regular season also signals the dawn of a new day, being that the owners and players agreed to an additional 17th game on the schedule.
With an odd number of matchups now facing each NFL franchise, half the league will be awarded one extra home game every season. The AFC teams, including the Jets, got the luck of the draw in year one of this new way of thinking.
That means the Green and White will still have eight road games on the slate in 2021, and I wanted to dive in a bit deeper on which look the most challenging and winnable on paper.
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8. Week 9 at Indianapolis Colts
The Colts smacked us around in Indy last season, so for those returning Jets, this is a bit of a revenge game. The quarterback will be different this time around with Carson Wentz taking over for Philip Rivers but this opposing defense is what I’d be more worried about.
Darius Leonard and this unit laid the beatdown on Sam Darnold and the Jets in Week 3, forcing three interceptions, two defensive touchdowns and a safety while limiting the NYJ passing game to 151 yards. This team should be just as fearsome in 2021, maybe better, making Week 9 Gang Green’s most challenging road matchup this season.
7. Week 3 at Denver Broncos
This is another team with a really scary defense in 2021. I feel like a lot of people may be sleeping on the Broncos because of their unknown quarterback situation, but in my eyes, they’re actually a signal-caller away from being a Super Bowl contender.
I understand quarterback Zach Wilson played in higher Utah altitudes than most rookies in college but this is still a difficult place to play for any QB, let alone a first-year one three games into his career. If pass-rushers Von Miller and Bradley Chubb can stay healthy in front of this stacked secondary, watch out for Denver in 2021.
6. Week 18 at Buffalo Bills
Having said that, this is still the best team on paper in the division and if it was not the final game of the season I would probably rank it seventh or eighth on this list. Josh Allen played at an MVP level in 2021 and this franchise is well-coached and disciplined with talent all over the roster.
5. Week 7 at New England Patriots
Jets fans definitely don’t fear the Pats as much as when Tom Brady was at the helm, but this is always still a tough game to win in Foxboro. The Jets fell to Cam Newton at Gillette Stadium last season, 28-14, and this defense should be as stout as ever under Bill Belichick.
New England added a plethora of free agents on the defensive side, including edge rusher Matt Judon, returning linebacker Kyle Van Noy and defensive tackle Davon Godchaux, not to mention offensive firepower like Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry. Even so, this Patriots team has more flaws than we’re used to, and who knows if rookie Mac Jones might be starting by Week 7. The Jets should also be refreshed since they’re coming off their Week 6 bye.
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4. Week 15 at Miami Dolphins
No NFL road games should be considered the weakest on the schedule but these four games are a bit weaker than the ones above. The Dolphins had a breakout season in 2020 but remember that they took advantage of a fourth-place schedule and won a lot of games against sub-par opponents.
They could be in for a typical NFL correction campaign facing a second-place schedule this time around. This is still a division game and Miami is clearly no pushover but Tua Tagovailoa will be the biggest question mark. Can he live up to the hype? He hasn’t so far in his young career.
3. Week 1 at Carolina Panthers
The highly anticipated Darnold-Wilson game. I actually find this matchup very winnable for the Jets. Both quarterbacks are learning an entirely new system and Sam faces just as much pressure as Zach going up against his old team.
In some ways, I even feel like Wilson has the advantage. He has a much better offensive line and both defenses are about equal with obvious areas of strength for each. If New York can keep things simple and dominate the trenches with the run game/defensive line, they might make Douglas look really smart on September 12.
2. Week 5 at London (Atlanta Falcons)
This is just as much of a road game for the Falcons as it is for the Jets, so both teams will be on an even playing field. Atlanta is also in a weird sort of transitionary period where they have regressed. No Julio Jones, Matt Ryan aging as his offensive line follows suit, plus a new head coach in Arthur Smith.
Gang Green has a clear defensive advantage as the Falcons finished fourth-worst in yards against last season and have not really improved at all since. They must minimize mistakes from the offense and capitalize on a few of these fortuitous factors to do so, but the Jets could steal a win in London if they play their cards right.
1. Week 12 at Houston Texans
As of now, I’m going to go ahead and assume that Deshaun Watson is not playing this season. His legal drama is nowhere near its conclusion and the quarterback was considering a holdout from the organization way before any of this came about. Even if the NFL allowed him to play until the conclusion of his trial, which isn’t a guarantee, I doubt Watson wants to risk his neck for a franchise that has done very little to back him.
So going off that assumption, the Texans very quickly turn into one of the bottom-feeders of the league. Their defense gave up the third-most yards last season and they finished 4-12 with Watson on the field. They also have a brand new head coach and a total overhaul of a roster that may take some time to gel, if it ever does. The Jets have to win this one.