Looking Ahead to the Biggest Matchups on New York Jets Schedule

John Shea@real_johnsheaContributor IIIMay 29, 2014

Looking Ahead to the Biggest Matchups on New York Jets Schedule

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    The up-and-coming New York Jets will most likely be dubbed preseason pretenders by most football pundits, who refuse to think that Gang Green's revamped roster is talented enough to claim a playoff spot in the 2014 season. Although the Jets are nowhere close to contending for a Super Bowl title, they're certainly capable of earning a wild-card berth.

    The Jets offense should be tolerable in the upcoming season, considering key offseason acquisitions, namely Chris Johnson and Eric Decker.

    The indigestible version of the Green and White was vanquished when general manager John Idzik opted to release disgruntled wide receiver Santonio Holmes, unofficially commencing a new beginning on the offensive side of the football.

    New York finished the 2013 campaign with a mostly satisfying 8-8 record, considering the severe lack of talent the team possessed on offense. The Jets owned one of the worst offenses in the NFL, scoring an inexcusably inefficient 18.1 points per game—29th in the league. That figures to change in 2014.

    For the Jets to be successful in the upcoming season, they need considerable contributions from their name-brand players. They also need certain rookies, like Calvin Pryor and Jace Amaro, to perform at a high level at their respective positions.

    Most importantly, they need greater efficiency from the quarterback position, which is expected to be an "open competition" in camp, according to Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.

    The following slideshow looks ahead to the six most intriguing matchups on the Jets' schedule, which could impact their chances of earning a playoff spot.

Week 2: at Green Bay Packers

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    Week 2: September 14, 2014 at Green Bay Packers

    The Jets' first true test of the 2014 NFL season will happen in Week 2, when the Green and White fly into Lambeau Field for a showdown against the Packers. Even though this particular contest is an out-of-conference game, the Jets will have a chance to prove themselves worthy of respect by registering a win against a high-caliber opponent.

    New York was pitiful on the road in 2013, registering two wins away from MetLife Stadium. That must change if the Jets are going to legitimately contend for a playoff spot. In fact, the Jets haven't won a road game against a team with a winning record over a full season since defeating the Pittsburgh Steelers 22-17 in December of 2010.

    Green Bay finished the 2013 campaign with a 8-7-1 mark, falling short against the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Wild Card playoffs after the return of Pro Bowl quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

    The Jets will be heavy underdogs in this game, a seemingly comfortable status for head coach Rex Ryan and Co. An upset could set the tone for a successful season.

Week 6: vs. Denver Broncos

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    Week 6: October 12, 2014 vs. Denver Broncos

    The Jets will welcome the high-octane Broncos into MetLife Stadium in a vital conference showdown in Week 6. This game will mark the first time Denver returns to New York since getting obliterated in Super Bowl XVIII. The Jets aren't exactly the brand of opponent the Seattle Seahawks currently are, but they flaunt a defense that could potentially give future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning fits.

    New York's pass defense was mediocre at best in 2013, allowing 247.0 passing yards per game. On paper, the Jets secondary appears more capable of preventing big plays, which will be needed when trying to slow down the Broncos' lethal air attack. As a unit, the Jets defense recorded 41.0 sacks to rank 13th in the league.

    This game represents the first time offseason acquisition Eric Decker will have to play against his former team. Decker was outstanding for the Broncos in 2013, registering 87 catches for 1,288 yards and 11 touchdowns.

    While it will be difficult for Decker to duplicate those numbers in a Jets uniform, he'll certainly be motivated to flaunt his skill set against his former team in what could be a statement game for the Jets.

Week 7: at New England Patriots

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    Week 7: October 16, 2014 at New England Patriots

    If the Jets are going to earn a playoff spot in 2014, they need to at least split their season series with the Patriots. New York earned a controversial home win over its archrival in 2013 but hasn't won a regular-season game in Foxborough since a dramatic 34-31 overtime win in 2008.

    Jets fans will never forget their triumph in the 2010 AFC divisional playoffs, but winning in New England during the regular season remains elusive.

    A win on the road against the Patriots would be monstrous for the Jets' confidence. At this juncture of the season, the Jets will have already played five consecutive games against playoff contenders. The Patriots would mark the sixth straight. New York's brutal early-season schedule, which features four home games, is crucial to its potential success.

    If the Jets can escape the first seven games of the regular season with a 4-3 record, they would be in prime position to contend for a wild-card berth. The second half of their schedule features playoff-caliber opponents like the Kansas City Chiefs, although it's less treacherous overall.

    Earning a division win against the Super Bowl-hopeful Patriots would solidify the Jets' perennial status as a team on the rise.

Week 10: vs. Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Week 10: November 9, 2014 vs. Pittsburgh Steelers

    As the playoff picture begins to take form in Week 10, the Jets will have another chance to further enhance their chances of earning a playoff spot by beating a team that figures to be in the mix for a wild-card berth if they are unable to claim a stranglehold on their division. After a disappointing 2013 season where they missed the playoffs by just one game, the Steelers are expected to contend in 2014.

    The Jets have played Pittsburgh in three of the previous four regular seasons, dropping two straight games dating back to 2012.

    The Steelers pinned down their first win of the 2013 campaign at MetLife Stadium last season, taking full advantage of a pitiful performance by rookie quarterback Geno Smith, who completed 19 of 34 passes for 201 yards with two interceptions.

    Aside from Smith, the biggest reason why the Jets lost that game was because of inadequate downfield coverage. Speedy wideout Emmanuel Sanders recorded the only touchdown of that game, a 55-yard reception on broken coverage from none other than former starting cornerback Antonio Cromartie.

    The Jets drafted safety Calvin Pryor in part to avoid game-altering plays like the one that essentially beat them in Week 6 of 2013. They'll have a chance to avenge that loss and ideally improve their playoff chances before their bye week in 2014.

Week 15: at Tennessee Titans

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    Week 15: December 14, 2014 at Tennessee Titans

    After releasing Chris Johnson over the offseason, enabling the Jets to make a splash in free agency, it's apparent that Tennessee is in full-blown rebuilding mode. The Titans are not expected to be a highly competitive team in 2014, but this particular Week 15 matchup could be pivotal for the Jets, who could realistically be on the cusp of their eighth win of the season at this point.

    New York needs to win at least nine games to have a chance at earning a wild-card berth, which means it needs to win games against inferior opponents.

    The Titans shredded the Jets 38-13 in Week 4 of the 2013 season, in part because of outstanding play from cornerback Alterraun Verner, who signed a deal with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in free agency. Verner recorded two interceptions in that game for Tennessee.

    This game will mark Johnson's first chance to prove to the Titans front office that it made a crucial mistake in allowing him to walk earlier this offseason.

    Johnson is the only active NFL running back who has reached the 1,000-yard plateau in rushing in six straight seasons. He recorded 1,422 yards from scrimmage and 10 total touchdowns in his final season in a Titans uniform.

Week 17: at Miami Dolphins

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    Week 17: December 28, 2014 at Miami Dolphins

    Rivalry games are always chalked as big-time matchups, but the Jets' season could potentially ride on this particular contest. The same could be said for Miami, which has its own hopes of claiming a playoff spot in the upcoming season. The Jets eliminated the Dolphins from playoff contention on the road in Week 17 of the 2013 campaign, adding fuel to the fire.

    For the second consecutive year, the Jets will end their regular season against a bitter opponent in Miami. These two teams will play twice in the season's final five weeks, raising the intensity level. The Jets defense was tremendous in defeating the Dolphins to salvage their season in 2013, intercepting quarterback Ryan Tannehill three times. As a team, the Jets held Miami under 300 total yards and held it scoreless in three quarters.

    The Jets' Week 17 win in 2013 was a coming out party for lead cornerback Dee Milliner, who recorded five passes defensed, four solo tackles and two interceptions to help propel his team to a win. That performance was what Jets coaches believed he was capable of doing on a week-to-week basis when they used the ninth overall selection in the 2013 NFL draft to acquire him.

    Milliner, now a staple in the Jets secondary, will have a chance to aid his team in making a playoff push. Another late-season win against the Dolphins might be necessary in order to accomplish that goal.