Jets host Bills for Sunday’s season opener: 3 keys to the matchup

Jets quarterback Sam Darnold returns under center for his second NFL season after modest rookie success. Photo Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

Sam Darnold leads Gang Green against fellow Class of 2018 quarterback Josh Allen at MetLife Stadium on Sunday.

Jets quarterback Sam Darnold returns under center for his second NFL season after modest rookie success.
Jets quarterback Sam Darnold returns under center for his second NFL season after modest rookie success. Photo Credit: Maya Rajamani

Let the Adam Gase Era begin at MetLife Stadium on Sunday afternoon, as the new head coach of the New York Jets leads his team onto the field for the first time against the visiting Buffalo Bills.

Whether this era will be any better than the previous run, in which Todd Bowles oversaw a 10-6 campaign but missed the playoffs and proceeded to win 14 games over the next three years, remains to be seen. 

Fortunately, Gase and his charges start the season against a fellow AFC East rival in the Bills that projects to be about as good (or bad) as the Jets themselves. As such, Week 1 offers a great chance to start this regime off on a high note.

Read on for three keys to the matchup in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

Class of 2018 clash

Sam Darnold and Josh Allen will forever be linked as members of the five-man class of quarterbacks selected in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft. Both Darnold, who when No. 3 overall to the Jets, and Allen, who went four picks later to Buffalo, each found modest success late in their rookie seasons after overcoming injury. 

Expectations will rise in Year 2. Darnold fits the mold of the average modern quarterback who can move when the time is right but does his best work with his arm, while Allen took off and ran on one out of every five plays last year and scored nearly as many touchdowns with his legs (eight) as through the air (10).

The Bills bring the superior defensive unit to the field, while the Jets retooled unit must deal with this unconventional quarterback for just the second time. Gang Green got the best of Allen the first time they met last year, so the returning players will look to learn from the experience and apply the lessons to this matchup. 

A not-so-bold prediction: Whichever quarterback plays better Sunday will win the game.

Ring the Bell

Le’Veon Bell makes his debut for the Jets on Sunday, marking the first time he appears in an NFL game that counts since January 2018. It’s no secret that he might not be in a Jets uniform if he hadn’t sat out all of last season amid a contract dispute with his former team, the Pittsburgh Steelers.

When he was on the field for Pittsburgh, Bell was practically peerless. His career average of 129 yards from scrimmage per game ranks currently first all-time among players with at least 7,900 yards. 

With his contract situation resolved and in a new situation as the unquestioned top offensive threat, the pressure is on Bell to prove he was worth the investment. If he hits the ground running against Buffalo, that will bode well for the team going forward. If he’s lost a step after years of high usage, he might not be the difference maker Gang Green hoped. And that’s a major problem.

Buffalo bullies

As noted earlier, the Bills are no slouch on defense. They led the NFL with the fewest passing yards allowed in 2018 and finished second in total yards surrendered. That they did so without so much as an All-Pro selection indicates a defense with few holes, but not necessarily many dominant individuals.

Their most high-profile addition was 2019’s No. 9 overall draft pick, Ed Oliver. The 4-3 defensive tackle could team with fellow interior lineman Star Lotulelei to wreak havoc on the Jets’ revamped offensive line.

It will be up to a pair of Jets veteran newcomers and former Pro Bowl blockers, center Ryan Kalil and guard Kelechi Osemele, to team with top holdover Brian Winters to keep the inside of the line sturdy and allow Darnold to navigate around standout cornerback Tre’Davious White and company.

Scott’s prediction

Jets 28, Bills 24

Scott Fontana