The NFL season officially got underway last night and week one of the regular season continues Sunday when the New York Jets host the Cincinnati Bengals. These two teams know each other quite well and the Jets lead the all-time series 17-8. Both teams will meet for the first time since 2013 when the Bengals picked up a 49-9 home victory. Cincinnati hasn't won in New York since the Jets played at Shea Stadium in 1981.
The Bengals are coming off a crushing AFC Wild Card postseason defeat while the Jets finished last season 10-6 falling just short of a playoff berth. You can expect this to be a compelling matchup of two AFC contenders. The Jets have improved its record by six wins last season and look to do the same this year starting on Sunday. Here's what you should watch for during the game:
WHEN: Sunday, September 11, 2016 1 p.m. EST
WHERE: MetLife Stadium East Rutherford, N.J.
KEYS TO THE GAME:
Keep Fitz Clean-
In order for Ryan Fitzpatrick to make use of the elite weapons at his disposal, Brandon Marshall, Eric Decker, Quincy Enunwa, he needs time. The offensive tackle position will be key in protecting Fitz against a Bengals defense that had the 10th most sacks in the league last year. Four-time Pro Bowler Ryan Clady will hold down the left side while the right side is still a mystery. Brent Qvale and Ben Ijalana have battled for the right tackle spot all preseason and head coach Todd Bowles hasn't revealed who will start Sunday. Both players could split reps or rotate every series, but Bowles doesn't want to tip his hand.
The Bengals will use its base 4-3 defense to get after Fitzpatrick all afternoon. Defensive end Carlos Dunlap led the team in sacks last year with 13.5, followed by defensive tackle Geno Atkins who had a bounce back season posting 11.0 sacks. Defensive tackle Domata Peko had a career high 5.0 sacks last season but his niche is being a run stopper. Defensive end Michael Johnson is no slouch either. He is in his eighth year and forced three fumbles last season. If the Bengals pressure Fitz early he could have an off day so I expect offensive coordinator Chan Gailey to mix up the play calling and keep the Cincinnati pass rush at bay.
Last season, the Jets were the best defensive red zone team in the league statistically. They also ranked third in offensive touchdown efficiency (66.0). On the other hand the Bengals were also a top five red zone team on offense and defense. SOMETHING'S GOT TO GIVE! The Jets will need all the points it can get against a stingy Bengals defense. If they can't score by getting it to Marshall or Decker on the outside, they will need help from the run game to punch it in. Running back Matt Forte is the new acquisition with high expectations coming into the season. Without a viable option at the tight end position, I expect the Jets to rely heavily on Forte and Bilal Powell in the red zone. The Bengals will be without its starting tight end Tyler Eifert who is battling an ankle injury. Eifert is a big target who has a size advantage over most linebackers. This will be a blow to the offense.
Points will be at a premium, so whichever team takes advantage of red zone opportunities will have a huge edge.
Limit A.J. Green-
Do I really need to expound on this? Unless A.J. Green misses the team flight he will be a force to be reckoned with. The last thing the Jets want is for Green to have 10 or more catches and go over 100 yards. Darrelle Revis is still a top cornerback in this league but as defensive coordinator Kacy Rodgers put it yesterday, you need "11 sets of eyes" on Green the entire game. On top of good secondary communication, the Jets will need help from the pass rush to limit Green. With Sheldon Richardson out with one game suspension, I expect Steve McLendon fill in adequately. Leonard Williams had an outstanding preseason and Muhammad Wilkerson will definitely be ready to show out for the home crowd. If Andy Dalton is comfortable in the pocket he will be looking for Green on almost every play. Bowles may throw some exotic blitzes at Dalton to disrupt his rhythm.
This could very well be the deciding factor of the game due to how well both teams play defense. Rookie punter Lachlan Edwards had an excellent preseason and showed that he could create good field position for the defense with his strong leg. Rookie Jalin Marshall will handle the return duties for Gang Green, and I expect him to be amped to play in his first NFL game that counts. One thing we know about explosive returners is that at times they have the propensity to do too much. Jalin does have the ability to break a long return, but he should focus on catching it cleanly and gaining positive yards instead of looking for the home-run play. Field position is everything and a big play on special teams could decide the game.
X-FACTOR- Marcus Williams
If Revis contains Green, Dalton will look for other weapons on the outside. Brandon LaFell and rookie Tyler Boyd would be the next options. Williams got thrown at a lot last season, but he responded with a career high six interceptions. I expect a lot of passes to be thrown in his direction, but he will relish the challenge. Don't expect Williams to back down.
PREDICTION: Jets 17-13
The Jets have the home-field advantage and that usually bodes well for the defense and special teams. They know how important it is to start the season with a win and will rise to the occasion. The Jets will cause havoc on defense and create a few turnovers in the process. Jets take care of business in a defensive struggle.
Marcus Reynolds is a staff writer for Jetsinsider.com/NYJScout.com. He can be reached on Twitter (@Marcus_JRNL), or via email (firstname.lastname@example.org).