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Head coach Robert Saleh joined Rich Eisen on NFL Network to discuss his first schedule at the helm of the New York Jets.

Geoff Magliocchetti

Head coach Robert Saleh now has a specific path for the New York Jets in his first year at the helm. After Wednesday, they know it starts in Charlotte and ends in Orchard Park.

Saleh and his 31 NFL compatriots received their official schedules for the 2021 season on Wednesday, with the Jets’ opening with a visit to Bank of America Stadium to battle the Carolina Panthers on Sept. 12. The newly minted Jets boss spoke with NFL Network’s Rich Eisen on schedule release day to talk about his first ledger as a head coach.

“It’s exciting to get the schedule,” an enthused Saleh told Eisen. “It’s exciting to see what we got going on over the course of the year and put the schedule together with regards to how we’re going to operate from a day to day operations.”

In addition to the game in Carolina, Saleh’s first slate features a visit to London’s Tottenham Hotspur Stadium to take on the Atlanta Falcons. The Jets also welcome in old division foe Tom Brady and his defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers in December.

Kickoff weekend is four months away, but the opening game between two non-playoff teams has already generated a significant amount of hype because of the names involved. The Panthers’ presumed starter will be former first-round pick Sam Darnold, the Jets’ former franchise quarterback who was dealt down south in April after spending the last three years as the primary green quarterback. Though Saleh wouldn’t fully commit to it, it’s likely that the Jets will counter with Zach Wilson, Darnold’s successor chosen second overall in April.

When it comes to Darnold, Saleh isn’t letting New York nostalgics get in the way of potentially starting 1-0.

“It really didn’t matter. You know we’re going to see somebody in Week 1, and the fact that it’s Sam doesn’t change your approach,” Saleh said. “But I am excited for Sam and his opportunity. He’s a fantastic young man it’s gonna be it’s going to be a great challenge to go against.”

Carolina also welcomes back former Jets primary receiver Robby Anderson to their offensive fold, another potential reason behind the Week 1 placement.

Despite their opening matchup gaining significant hype, the Jets’ 2021 slate is dominated by placements in the early Sunday afternoon spot. They haven’t appeared on NBC’s Sunday Night Football since 2011 (a 2012 appearance in the peacock network’s Thanksgiving slot notwithstanding) and they have no Monday Night Football showings for the first time since 2017.

The Jets’ lone scheduled prime time game comes in November when they visit Lucas Oil Stadium to battle the Indianapolis Colts. The game is part of NFL Network’s Thursday Night Football package. Saleh is looking forward to taking advantage of the de facto second bye week after the Jets and Colts open Week 9 action. Their conventional open date comes after the visit to London in October (Week 5).

Though tantalizing matchups linger on the newly minted 17-game slate, Saleh is most looking forward to a prescience off the field: fans at MetLife Stadium.

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Saleh’s longing for spectators is completely understandable after his 2020 season in San Francisco, his last as a defensive coordinator in the Bay Area. The 49ers were one of 13 teams that did not welcome fans at any point during the regular season. Local regulations against the ongoing health crisis later removed them from Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, forcing them to play their final three home games at the State Farm Stadium, home of the Arizona Cardinals.

The dream to see live-action Jets fans, and hear their propensity for spelling, inched closer to reality this week when New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said there was a “pretty good” chance that East Rutherford’s MetLife Stadium could open to capacity crowds this season. The Jets open their home slate on September 19 against the New England Patriots.

“They absolutely are starving for something good to happen and our hope is that is that we deliver on that hunger,” Saleh said of Jets fans, whose passion he compared to fellow bearers of green at Michigan State University. “It’s going to be exciting, it’s going to be fun and they’re every bit of part of this as we are so it’s going to be some really cool experience to go through.”

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

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Geoff Magliocchetti is a veteran football writer with years of credentialed experience with the Jets and Giants. Email:
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