Oakland Raiders vs. New York Jets: Jets' Week 1 Game Preview
After months of anticipation, the 2014 NFL season is finally upon us.
The New York Jets, coming off a 2-2 preseason, enter the regular season hoping to qualify for the postseason for the first time in four years.
The team upgraded several positional units this offseason, specifically on the offensive side of the ball, with the aim to make a playoff run.
However, there are still some serious question marks on the roster, such as the secondary and receiving corps.
We'll finally get to see how good this team really is on Sunday, when the Jets host the rebuilding Oakland Raiders. The Raiders haven't made the playoffs in more than a decade, but they brought in several proven veterans and drafted quarterback Derek Carr this offseason in hopes of ending the franchise's futility.
How important is Week 1? Since playoffs expanded in '90, 54 percent of teams that started 1-0 reached the postseason; just 25 percent that began 0-1 made it, per Rich Cimini of ESPN New York.
This season could be career-defining for both head coach Rex Ryan and quarterback Geno Smith. If Smith can develop into the franchise quarterback he is capable of becoming, the team's upside is limitless. However, another subpar year could lead New York to give up on him as the starting signal-caller as well as Ryan as the leader.
Gang Green needs to start the year off on the right foot with a victory.
Click through to see a full preview and analysis, as well as a final score prediction, for Sunday's contest at MetLife Stadium.
Jets' Preseason Recap
The Jets had an up-and-down preseason, winning their first two games and dropping the final pair.
However, the score results in meaningless exhibition games don't matter as much as the players' performances in them.
Geno Smith looked like a whole new quarterback in the three contests he appeared in, completing 23 of 33 passes for 268 yards, a touchdown and an interception. He also tacked on 47 yards on the ground and a rushing score.
Smith looked to be in charge of the offense, as he made smart and sure throws all over the field. His decision-making was terrific, as his lone interception was a result of miscommunication with receiver David Nelson.
If Smith can continue to play this way in the regular season, New York could easily win 10 games.
New addition Chris Johnson also looked revitalized throughout the preseason, rushing for 107 yards and a touchdown on just 23 carries while also catching six passes.
In all, Gang Green's offense appeared more fluid and dangerous.
The defensive front also looked as strong as always, as Damon Harrison and Demario Davis put together some strong performances. Rookies Ik Enemkpali and Trevor Reilly made some big plays as well.
The secondary, however, was terrible throughout the four games. The unit allowed Andy Dalton to register a perfect passer rating on eight pass attempts while also failing to slow down the passing attacks of the Giants and Eagles.
The back end of the defense is New York's biggest worry entering the season, and the unit showed nothing in the preseason to alleviate that concern.
News and Notes
Antonio Allen Is Officially a Corner
With Dee Milliner unlikely to suit up on Sunday, per Darryl Slater of The Star-Ledger, Antonio Allen will play at cornerback in a regular-season game for the first time in his career.
Allen, who was cleared to return to practice this week following a preseason concussion, was told he would start against the Raiders, according to Mike Mazzeo of ESPN New York.
Allen spent much of last season as the team's starting free safety, but New York is now desperate for corners, and the South Carolina product fits the mold of an outside cover man reasonably well.
The third-year defensive back possesses good height at 6'1'', and he's shown an ability to compete with bigger bodies.
However, Allen is as raw as they come at cornerback, and he didn't show much in the preseason that would indicate he's ready to perform well at his new position immediately.
What the Jets will get out of the 25-year-old is a major question heading into the weekend.
Will Eric Decker Continue to Own the Raiders?
Eric Decker has been one of the most productive receivers in the NFL in recent seasons, but he seems to perform even better against the silver and black.
Decker has had the Raiders' number over the course of his career, and Oakland seemingly can't find a way to contain him.
In two games against his former divisional rival last year, the Minnesota product caught 12 passes on 13 targets for 160 yards and two touchdowns.
The year prior, Decker reeled in 15 passes on 19 targets for 167 yards and a touchdown in two contests against Oakland.
And in the year before Peyton Manning came to town, the 27-year-old racked up 100 yards and a touchdown against the Raiders.
Decker may be in a different uniform, but there's no doubt he feels confident heading into Sunday's matchup against Oakland's suspect secondary.
Chris Johnson Expects to Carry the Load
Chris Johnson has never received less than 250 carries in a season in his six-year career, but chances are that changes in 2014.
Johnson is expected to split touches with Chris Ivory and Bilal Powell, but the exact distribution of those touches is unknown.
Regardless, the former 2,000-yard runner expects to be the main man in New York's backfield, per Rich Cimini of ESPN New York.
The 28-year-old is by far the most explosive member of Gang Green's backfield, but Ivory and Powell are better short-yardage and goal-line backs.
It'll be interesting to see how the playing time is split up in Week 1 against the Raiders, who ranked a respectable 13th against the run a year ago.
*All injury information courtesy of Rich Cimini of ESPN New York
The Jets haven't suffered any catastrophic injuries thus far, with the exception of a torn ACL to rookie cornerback Dexter McDougle a few weeks into training camp.
However, the high-ankle sprain suffered by Dee Milliner is a huge blow to the secondary. Although Milliner isn't expected to miss multiple games, he's extremely doubtful for Sunday's contest.
Milliner is expected to emerge as the top-flight corner New York anticipated him to be when the team took him in the top 10 of last year's draft, as well as a leader in an inexperienced secondary.
The other injuries aren't major concerns, as Bellore, Enemkpali and Bush are just backups who only see the field on a few packages.
Nonetheless, Enemkpali has been seen sporting a boot, which means he could be out for a while. After an impressive preseason, that's difficult for the rookie to swallow.
With the exception of Milliner, New York should be in full force when it hits the field on Sunday.
X-Factors and Matchups to Watch
Jets' Defensive Line vs. Darren McFadden and Maurice Jones-Drew
New York's defensive line has a good case that it's the best front in football.
Muhammad Wilkerson is one of the most complete defensive ends in football. Sheldon Richardson should build off his award-winning rookie campaign, and Damon Harrison is the most underrated, and arguably the best, run-stopper in the league.
The Sons of Anarchy were a huge reason why the Jets ranked third in the NFL in rushing yards allowed a year ago and first in yards per carry.
The Raiders ranked 12th in rushing yards in 2013, but they remodeled their backfield this offseason, letting Rashad Jennings walk in free agency and signing veteran Maurice Jones-Drew.
Jones-Drew and the oft-injured McFadden will attempt to shed the image that they're past their prime this season, but they will have a tough time finding space against Gang Green's front on Sunday.
Darrin Walls and Antonio Allen vs. James Jones and Rod Streater
Walls and Allen are probably the most inexperienced cornerback duo starting in Week 1, as they have a combined four starts at the position.
However, they'll be matched up against a pair of receivers who don't exactly strike fear into opposing defensive coordinators.
Don't get me wrong—Jones and Streater are two talented players. Nonetheless, Jones has managed to only put up one great year with one of the league's best quarterbacks in over a half-decade, while Streater hasn't broken out in any way yet.
With the explosive receiving corps of the Packers, Bears and Lions due up in the next month, this game will be an important indicator of how well the cornerbacks can perform this year.
If they struggle against Oakland's receivers, fans better be worried.
Rex Ryan vs. Derek Carr
Say what you want about his ability to coach an offense, but Rex Ryan is one of the best defensive minds in football, if not the best.
He consistently gets the best out of his defensive players, and his complex blitzing schemes are incredibly difficult for quarterbacks to pick up.
Ryan's scheming ability is particular deadly against rookie quarterbacks who struggle to get a grip on what the defense is going to do on a play-to-play basis.
Rex Ryan-coached teams are 7-3 vs. rookie starting QBs. Three losses: Manuel, Wilson and Tannehill. #nyj— Rich Cimini (@RichCimini) September 2, 2014
Derek Carr was one of the most productive collegiate quarterbacks in recent memory, but he's never faced a defense like Ryan's.
Young quarterbacks rarely get the best of Rex, and Carr has to showcase a composure and confidence rarely possessed by signal-callers in their NFL debut.
Jets' X-Factor of the Week: Breno Giacomini
Breno Giacomini was brought in to replace the departed Austin Howard this offseason, and he hopes to best the now-Raider on Sunday.
Giacomini is a mauler who brings a tough and experienced presence to the offensive line. If he can avoid committing too many penalties, he could end up being a free-agent steal.
The former Seahawk will have a difficult challenge in his first appearance in green and white, though, as he must match up with former Pro Bowler LaMarr Woodley and perhaps top-five pick Khalil Mack.
Woodley and Mack are both explosive pass-rushers who will be looking to disrupt Geno Smith. Giacomini must hold them off if Smith and New York's offense are to move the chains on a consistent basis.
With six serious playoff contenders on their schedule in the first half of the season, the Jets cannot afford to come out slow and drop their opening contest against the visiting Raiders.
New York is the far superior team, and if the Jets show up, they should win this game without much trouble.
Despite signing several high-profile veterans in free agency, Oakland is still in the midst of a decade-long rebuilding phase. That's why the Raiders are starting a rookie quarterback over the experienced Matt Schaub.
If Geno Smith can avoid committing costly turnovers and New York's suspect secondary can hold up against Oakland's receiving corps, Gang Green could run away with this game early.
I do think the Raiders will compete for at least the first half, but the Jets ultimately outclass the cellar-dwellers of the AFC West and begin the season with a victory for the fourth consecutive season.
Jets 24, Raiders 13