The New York Jets 2013 season opener is less than one week away. Expectations for Gang Green are as low as they've been in years, and the team still doesn't know who will be its starting quarterback come Sunday.
New York will kick off its season at home against the much-improved Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Bucs boast excellent talent on both sides of the ball.
Quarterback Josh Freeman may be inconsistent, but he has explosive weapons in Doug Martin, Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams at his disposal.
As for the defense, Tampa Bay is solid on the front seven and in the secondary. Gerald McCoy and Lavonte David lead an above-average run defense, while new additions Darrelle Revis and Dashon Goldson are expected to anchor the pass defense.
To beat the favored Bucs, the Jets will not only have to play mistake-free football, but also win a variety of crucial individual matchups.
Here are three one-on-one matchups to watch this Sunday at MetLife Stadium.
Antonio Cromartie vs. Vincent Jackson
With Revis now playing for the opposition, Antonio Cromartie is the unquestioned leader in New York's secondary. Cromartie is coming off a tremendous season, but he will draw an incredibly tough matchup to open the season in Pro Bowl wideout Vincent Jackson.
Jackson is among one of the most dangerous deep threats in the NFL. In his first season in Tampa Bay in 2012, Jackson put up the best season of his career. The 30-year-old formed a terrific rapport with Freeman and recorded 72 receptions, 1,384 yards and eight touchdowns. Jackson also led the league in yards per catch.
While Cromartie is one of the biggest cover corners in the NFL at 6'2", Jackson is an absolute behemoth at 6'5". Cromartie and Jackson possess extremely similar straight-line speeds, with Jackson boasting a 4.46 40-time and Cromartie a 4.47 40-time, respectively.
Jackson is the heart and soul of Tampa Bay's passing attack. If Cromartie can manage to contain the former second-round pick in single coverage, New York's defense can focus in on stopping Martin and the Bucs' rushing game.
Stephen Hill vs. Darrelle Revis
Speaking of Revis, he will also be involved in one of the most critical individual matchups of this Week 1 contest.
The Jets' top receiver, Santonio Holmes, is still a major question mark for the season opener. His absence likely means sophomore wideout Stephen Hill will have the formidable task of lining up across from Revis.
Revis, as all Jets fans know, is a year removed from tearing his ACL. Before the injury, the Pittsburgh product was undoubtedly the game's top cover corner. It will be interesting to see if Revis is still the same player he once was.
Hill, on the other hand, is trying to prove he isn't just a freak athlete. The 2012 second-round pick has a rare combination of elite size and top-notch speed, but he has struggled with drops and route-running throughout his young career.
The Georgia Tech product will assuredly have problems separating from Revis, but he does have a few advantages in terms of physical tools. Hill is five inches taller than the Bucs' top corner, and he also possesses better straight-line speed.
One big play from Hill could be the difference between a win and loss for the Jets, but just one big play is tough to come by against Revis.
Sheldon Richardson vs. Davin Joseph
It's an age-old saying that the game is won in the trenches. On Sunday, this saying could prove true. The Jets possess one of the most athletic defensive lines in football, while Tampa Bay boasts three Pro Bowlers on their offensive line.
The most important individual matchup up front will assuredly be between rookie defensive tackle/defensive end Sheldon Richardson and Pro Bowl guard Davin Joseph.
Richardson, the 13th overall pick in this offseason's draft, has been impressive throughout training camp and the preseason. From rushing the passer to stuffing the run, the Missouri product can seemingly do it all along the defensive line.
What individual matchup are you most looking forward to on Sunday?
However, Richardson will have a tough time making a substantial impact in his NFL debut, as he will likely be matched up against one of the league's top guards in Joseph.
Joseph missed the entire 2012 season with a torn patellar tendon in his left knee, but the two-time Pro Bowler is expected to be back playing at an elite level this upcoming season.
For the Jets to stop Pro Bowl running back Martin and create interior pressure on Freeman, they need Richardson to win the battle up front against Joseph.