National networks could finally smile upon the young yet improving New York Jets
This week sees the several valuable NFL commodities earn their initial destinations as the next landmark on the path to the 2022 season.
Yes, the coming, oft-discussed and analyzed draft in Las Vegas will provide several landing places for the stars yet to arrive. But, we’re going to leave the draft behind, if only for a short while, to analyze a far more predictable but apparently equally exciting affiar: the release of the regular season schedule.
Perhaps nothing showcases the stranglehold the NFL has on the American imagination than the release of the yearly ledger. It’s hardly akin to Selection Sunday’s bracket of surprises – provided the league doesn’t expand beyond its current 32 teams, all but three of their 17 matchups for the foreseeable future are predetermined.
The full ledger is complete the moment the regular season ends. Yet the mere attachment of times and dates to the contests provides a gridiron adrenaline rush denied to the football-loving public (at least the faction not brave enough to dive into the realm of spring games) since February.
The NFL’s media partners, particularly those showcasing the biggest games, are no exception to a lively free agency period. The long-paired tandem of Joe Buck and Troy Aikman have moved from Fox to ESPN in a drastic shift of the famous “Monday Night Football” booth.
Premier spots on Sunday and Thursday are also in transition. Al Michaels has left his seemingly eternal standard spot on Sunday night to join the new Thursday endeavor at Amazon Prime with Kirk Herbstreit. Mike Tirico takes over Michaels’ spot on NBC, which will retain Cris Collinsworth in the analyst’s chair.
Schedule release day, in fact, is no more. The NFL has engaged in a new series of schedule release days, per a league statement from last week. The opening stage, in fact, will invade the draft, as the combatants for Amazon’s “TNF” debut will be revealed during first-round affairs on Thursday.
Matchups for the 2022 slate of international games will be unveiled on May 4, with “select games” on pace to be revealed during the week of May 9. The slate’s reveal will be completed three days later at 8 p.m. ET on May 12.
The New York Jets, alas, have had little reason to concern themselves with such affairs. The Peacock network hasn’t called the Jets to their airwaves since 2011, save for an unofficial appearance during the Thanksgiving holiday the following year.
New York has made 16 showings on Monday night since 2010 (tied for most amongst AFC teams alongside Pittsburgh) but wasn’t invited onto the program last season. The most recent season was particularly hard on the Jets’ exposure – their only national appearances came through a London-based appearance on NFL Network that kicked off at 9:30 a.m. local time and a November Thursday-nighter in Indianapolis.
This latest iteration of the Jets’ seemingly eternal rebuild does offer a sense of optimism that could force the networks to come calling. It’s true that the Jets are likely still several moves away from entering bona fide contention, but they’ve no doubt become one of the NFL’s more interesting squads thanks to a combination of youth, potential, and perhaps even a sense of the gridiron macabre.
The green affair is headlined by the second-year offensive reps Zach Wilson, Alijah Vera-Tucker, Elijah Moore, and Michael Carter. New York was able to welcome back breakout special teams star Braxton Berrios while adding Jordan Whitehead and D.J. Reed on defense.
To that end, the extended curiosity in New York football could put the Jets back on the widely-viewed stages. Jets X-Factor embarks on a different kind of power rankings, analyzing the Jets’ most likely contests destined for the national level.
14. Minnesota Vikings
Even if the former tight end is re-signed before his former employers come to visit, don’t expect the national networks to pay much mind to a potential Chris Herndon (or Sheldon Richardson) Bowl, even if this does mark the Jets’ maiden voyage to U.S. Bank Stadium.
— NFL Network (@nflnetwork) October 2, 2020
13. Denver Broncos
The Jets and Broncos are set to do battle for the third straight season. Denver will undoubtedly get more national nods with Russell Wilson in tow, but the Jets’ visit probably won’t be one, especially after their recent 2020 get-together (a sloppy 37-28 Bronco win between winless teams in front of a literally empty MetLife Stadium) received the Thursday night treatment.
12. Baltimore Ravens
These AFC brothers somewhat surprisingly don’t do battle often. The Ravens’ trip north will be just their second appearance at MetLife Stadium since partly christening the building with a 10-9 win in a 2010 Monday nighter.
With this unstoried rivalry’s last chapter also appearing on Thursday night (Baltimore’s 42-21 win in 2019 gave them a 9-2 advantage in the all-time set), consecutive showings are perhaps as likely as a lengthy video tribute to new Raven Morgan Moses.
11. Pittsburgh Steelers
Had the Steelers been slated on the Jets’ 2021 ledger (in time for the 10th calendar year anniversary of their battle in the AFC title game), this might’ve been a more attractive matchup. But while Pittsburgh will undoubtedly remain a prime-time draw in the post-Ben Roethlisberger era, the Jets are far from their most attractive opponent.
10. Detroit Lions
Rare hope infiltrated New York territory when the Jets opened the 2018 season (and the short-lived Sam Darnold era) with a blowout win at Ford Field on the Worldwide Leader in Sports’ airwaves.
Not much has changed for either of these star-crossed franchises since then, though some could be intrigued by the idea of second-overall picks (Wilson vs. a potential pursuer in Aidan Hutchinson or Kayvon Thibodeaux) or sophomore playmakers (Moore/Amon-Ra St. Brown) squaring off.
.@BakerMayfield made his debut vs. Sam Darnold in a battle of 2018 top 3 picks!
And the @Browns pulled out the trickery 👀
— NFL Network (@nflnetwork) April 9, 2020
9. Cleveland Browns
The Jets and Browns are frequently used as girdirion punchlines, but that doesn’t scare broadcasters away from this matchup. New York and Cleveland partook in the original edition of “Monday Night Football” in 1970 and two of the last three showdowns were played after dark (each rued by Jets fans for different reasons), coming in 2018 (Thursday) and 2019 (Monday).
The Browns’ sudden collapse after a surprising playoff run in 2020, however, removes some of the luster, even with one-time Jets target Deshaun Watson under center.
8. Chicago Bears
There’s really not much that Da Bears’ coming visit to the Meadowlands can offer in terms of conventional football excitement, but two primetime factors shot them up this list. The value of the New York and Chicago markets can’t be denied and Wilson will potentially face 2021 draft classmate Justin Fields, who heard his name called nine picks after Wilson in Cleveland last spring.
7. Buffalo Bills
Divisional matchups should probably be higher up on this list, and Jets-Bills used to be a “Thursday Night Football” staple (appearing four times between 2009 and 2017). Buffalo’s recent marketing push of emphasizing the fact that they’re literally the only NFL team that plays in New York State should only make things hotter.
But last season’s yearly pair proved that the Jets have a lot of work to do if they wish to supplant the Bills from their new perch atop the AFC East.
6. Jacksonville Jaguars
Whether they like it or not, Wilson and Trevor Lawrence will be forever linked as the opening picks of the most recent NFL Draft. It’s somewhat surprising that the NFL didn’t use each of these rebuilding teams’ mandated national appearance to stage a freshman fracas but the rookies still managed to put on a heck of a show when all was lost in a Boxing Day brawl.
Both sides still have plenty of work to do until they’re national game staples, but Wilson vs. Lawrence should still have reasonable cache.
5. Miami Dolphins
The social media era, one based on instant reactions generated by headline reading, will undoubtedly try to inject some intensity into the dormant Jets-Dolphins rivalry based on newly minted Floridian Tyreek Hill’s out-of-context “Who?” when asked how close he was to becoming a Jet upon his public aquamarine debut.
Hill’s arrival to the long-standing rivalry no doubt adds some juice to this north/south showdown, as does the youth-infested quarterback battle and young receiving showcase (with Tua Tagovailoa and Jaylen Waddle respectively repping South Beach).
— New York Jets (@nyjets) October 31, 2021
4. Cincinnati Bengals
Michael Myers’ reign of terror at the multiplex will probably never end, but don’t expect Mike White’s Halloween thriller to get a sequel with a healthy Wilson reassuming his duties on top of the Jets’ passing depth chart.
If the sophomore Wilson is indeed ready to face the Bengals this time around, parallels (unfair as they may be) will undoubtedly be made to his tiger-striped counterpart Joe Burrow, who took Cincinnati to the Super Bowl in his own second season.
Wilson wasn’t the only major Jet to miss the Bengals’ visit last fall. Former Queen City pass rusher Carl Lawson was expected to be a major contributor for New York’s 2021 attack, but missed the entire season after a preseason injury.
3. Green Bay Packers
The Jets and Packers have little history as interconference foes, but the Jets’ visit to Green Bay resembles a family reunion. Each of Lambeau Field’s hallowed sidelines will feature a member of the LaFleur clan, as Packers head coach Mike will look to stop a Jets offense run by his brother Matt.
Furthermore, Jets head coach Robert Saleh (whose San Francisco defense brought Aaron Rodgers down to Earth during the 2019-20 NFC title game) was the best man at Matt’s wedding after the two previously collaborated at Central Michigan.
2. Seattle Seahawks
With Jamal Adams’ Pacific Northwest dream effectively rendered a nightmare upon Russell Wilson’s departure, the Jets’ extra road game (enacted through a matching fourth-place finish with the NFC West’s Seahawks) could carry an aura of “careful what you wish for”.
An Adams Bowl has already happened – Adams made history in a 40-3 Seahawks shellacking in 2020 – but this time, yields from the trade that made it happen will be able to partake.
The Jets indirectly gained potential blocking staple Alijah-Vera Tucker with one pick gained from the deal, while the fate of the final bounty (the 10th overall pick in Las Vegas this week) has yet to be determined. In either case, it could be a reunion for Reed, who made a defensive name for himself over the last two seasons in Seattle.
— NFL (@NFL) September 19, 2021
1. New England Patriots
If the Jets accomplish one thing this season, it should be the conclusion of the Foxboro monopoly in their yearly AFC East dates.
Plenty of Patriots staples, including the arguable GOAT the Jets inadvertently unleashed in September 2001, have left New England but the mastery of Gang Green has carried on into the Tom Brady-less decade.
That hasn’t stopped the national networks from frequently carrying the gridiron edition of a New York-Boston rivalry, though they took a break from the concept last season.
Each side has something to prove this time around. There’d be no better way for the latest iteration of this Jets rebuild than ending the dozen-game losing streak to New England while the Flying Elvises are looking to prove that their return to the NFL playoffs under the watch of incoming franchise thrower Mac Jones was no fluke.
Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags