Finally the football season is upon us. Not the training camp/preseason football, where at first you're just excited to have some type of football back in your life, but the real football. The football where games count in the standings, and while of course we'll always have silly distraction stories grabbing headlines, you'll find them much easier to ignore when we can focus on what is actually happening on the field.
Will the Jets be a playoff team? Will they be lucky to win two games? You've heard takes on all ends of the spectrum by now but starting Sunday that all fades to the black as the quality of the football played on the field will become the dominate story.
The Jets have dramatically improved this roster from what it was last year. On paper they have one of the best defenses, receiving cores, running back rotations and a solid offensive line. All that's missing is a dependable quarterback. For right now the Jets have to hope Ryan Fitzpatrick can be that dependable quarterback. For all the drama and intrigue that surrounds the Jets a first week matchup against the Browns feels like someone in the NFL scheduling department decided to do a little trolling to start the season as the Browns are no strangers to drama themselves and they are a team that is built in a similar fashion as the Jets.
WHEN: Sunday September 13, 2015 1pm EST. (TV-CBS, Radio-ESPN)
WHERE: MetLife Stadium East Rutherford, NJ
OUT - Geno Smith (jaw)
PROBABLE - Stephen Bowen (knee), James Carpenter (back), Willie Colon (knee), Antonio Cromartie (hip), Erin Henderson (knee), Ben Ijalana (knee), Chris Ivory (knee), Jaiquawn Jarrett (shoulder), Jeremy Kerley (concussion), Lorenzo Mauldin (knee), Devin Smith (ribs), Leonard Williams (calf)
OUT - Robert Turbin (ankle)
KEYS TO THE GAME:
Best rushing attack - Whichever team has the most success running the ball will more than likely win the game. The Jets have a fantasic duo of receivers, in Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker, but how much Fitzpatrick will be able to utilize them to the best of their abilities remains to be seen. The Browns also have a journeyman quarterback starting for them, Josh McCown, but they do not have any real threats at receiver. Dwayne Bowe and Brian Hartline aren't going to scare any secondaries and especially not the Jets secondary. The Jets have a better chance of moving the ball through the air but both these teams are going to need to rely heavily on their rushing attack all season.
The Browns have an impressive offensive line, led by Alex Mack and Joe Thomas, and two extremely talented running backs in Isaiah Crowell and rookie Duke Johnson. The Browns should be able to run the ball effectively, even without a threat of a downfield passing game, all season but they are going to have their work cut out for them this week as the face off against a Jets defensive line that figures to be very stout against the run even without Sheldon Richardson.
The Jets don't have as complete of an offensive line as the Browns but they have receiving threats, that the Browns secondary will have to respect, that should soften up the run defense, three quality running backs that can all contribute in multiple ways and they don't have to worry about going up against a rush defense nearly as dominate as the Jets. All of this should give the Jets the edge in the running game and as long as they don't completely blow it with the next two keys to the game the Jets should be able to run to victory on Sunday.
Discipline - You probably thought, 'oh, he means penalties,' when you read discipline and you would be correct but it's about much more than just flags. Which team is more fundamentally sound? Who blows more assignments? Or fails to wrap up when making tackles? Which team has their players exactly where they are supposed to be the most? And of course which team can avoid ill-timed penalties that could extend their opponents drive or kill their own? Which team comes in the most prepared and shows the most discipline in avoiding mental mistakes?
Browns OL vs. Jets DL - These two units are among the best in the league and anytime you get to watch two dominate fronts face off you should pay close attention and savor every moment. It's strength against strength, you always hear about how 'football is a game won in the trenches' and this game figures to showcase that reality.
Joe Haden vs. Brandon Marshall and/or Eric Decker - I'd love to sneak in a mention of Darrelle Revis returning to MetLife Stadium dressed in Jets green and white again so, I'll just mention that there's not much to talk about considering the Browns don't have any elite receivers and instead I'll talk about Haden who is one of the best cornerbacks in the league not named Revis.
Will the Browns stick Haden on Marshall the entire game? Will he switch back-and-forth between Marshall and Decker. Will Haden get any safety help over the top? Whatever the Browns choose to do with him it'll be fun to watch now that the Jets have enough weapons to impact how opposing defenders utilize their best cornerback.
Quincy Enunwa and/or Chris Owusu - With Marshall, Decker and the Jets running backs figuring to receive most of the attention from the Browns defense can Enunwa or Owusu step up and make a couple of big plays to make a difference?
Chan Gailey will use Enunwa in the slot, where he can be a receiver when matched up in coverage against a linebacker or as a blocker when matched up against a cornerback, but he will also shuffle Enunwa around out of the backfield and try to sneak him on numerous safe, releases underneath. The plan will be to have the Browns front step up as the secondary retreats and have Enunwa slide into the open space underneath for easy yards.
With Owusu the Jets will try to stretch the field. You could certainly see some quick bubble screens to Owusu to try to take advantage of his speed but will Gailey feel comfortable letting Fitzpatrick take shots deep down the field. If Owusu manages to draw safety coverage on deep routes the ball doesn't even have to be thrown to him for him to have a positive impact on a play. A deep threat will give the running game and receivers more room to operate. If one or both of these players can step up and make a couple of big plays the Jets should get enough elsewhere to comfortably coast to victory.
PREDICTION: 23-13 Jets
I got the Jets winning this game fairly comfortably. I think Chris Ivory will have a big day running the ball effectively for over 100 yards and two touchdowns and Fitzpatrick will be able to do enough with his weapons to help tack on three Nick Folk field goals. The Jets defense should be able to frustrate and limit the Browns offense enough to ensure a victory.