Circle these three games on the New York Jets’ 2022 schedule
By now, the narrative about the New York Jets‘ offseason and chances during the regular season is pretty set. The Jets had a great offseason on paper, but… they have a hard schedule, they’re too young, their QB was the worst in the league last year, they’re the same old Jets, etc.
I believe that there are a few games on the Jets’ schedule, particularly earlier in the year, that will tell us a lot about this squad. These games do not necessarily need to be won, or even winnable. Nevertheless, they are important because of the matchup, the situation, or some other critical factor.
Here are three games that will give us an idea about how the Jets’ season is going to go.
Week 1 vs. Baltimore Ravens
We’ve been all over the Jets’ weak run defense at this website. While the hope is that Joe Douglas can still find upgrades for the soft spots in the middle, there is no doubt that this will be a weak link. The question, then, comes down to how weak.
The Ravens are a very stiff Week 1 challenge, giving us a sense of where that run defense is holding.
I am not entirely sold on Lamar Jackson as a passer. He has been a bit all over the place in his first four seasons, and he’s coming off an injury-plagued year. There is no doubt, though, that he is one of the best rushing quarterbacks in NFL history. Between Jackson, J.K. Dobbins, and Gus Edwards, this is a running game to fear. An offensive line that ranked fifth in the NFL in run block win rate last season is only going to get better after adding the best center in the draft in Tyler Linderbaum and getting back a healthy Ronnie Stanley.
The biggest question is, can the Jets play bend-but-don’t-break ball? Can they limit the leaks and prevent the huge plays?
On the other side of the ball, the Ravens ranked second in the NFL in run stop win rate last season, per ESPN. They went out and added safety Marcus Williams, who has been strong against the run for most of his career.
The Jets project to set up their offense with the run. Michael Carter is coming off a strong rookie season, and Breece Hall was the consensus top running back in the draft. Will the Jets be able to run against the Ravens? If not, it puts added pressure on Zach Wilson in Week 1 of the regular season and shows other teams a formula to beat the Jets.
While I believe this game is winnable, I also think that how the game shakes out is just as important as the final score.
Week 3 vs. Cincinnati Bengals
It’s no coincidence that I chose another home game. The Jets play some really tough opponents on the road this season, and it’s hard to call those games “defining” due to their difficulty. This one, though, is a good gauge of where the Jets are holding.
Joe Burrow & Co. are coming off a Cinderella run to the Super Bowl. Burrow had a Year 2 breakout for the ages. Ja’Marr Chase was unstoppable, with Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd rounding out Pro Football Focus’ #1 ranked receiving unit. Pass defense is supposed to be this Jets defense’s strong suit, which makes it a revealing matchup.
Cincinnati is due for a regression. The Jets worked on their front four and secondary to force quarterbacks like Burrow into holding onto the ball too long, hopefully forcing mistakes. It’ll be interesting to see how the Jets’ pass rush fares against the Bengals’ revamped offensive line.
Another thing I’d like to see in this game is whether Zach Wilson can play well against the Bengals’ defense. This was a middling-to-below average unit last year (ranked 19th in Defense-adjusted Value Over Average, which measures a defense’s performance relative to its strength of schedule, situational performance, and other factors), but Trey Hendrickson has become quite a fearsome pass rusher over the past couple of seasons. If Cincinnati takes an early lead, can Wilson keep his team competitive and bring the Jets back?
Holding their own against the Bengals would help convince the league that the Jets are not an easy out.
Week 5 vs. Miami Dolphins
Division games are always crucial. Still, if I had to pick one that is extremely important, I’d say it’s this home matchup against the Dolphins.
The Jets are 0-12 in their division over the past two seasons. Some analysts project that the Dolphins will make a run after picking up Tyreek Hill, Terron Armstead, Raheem Mostert, Sony Michel, Chase Edmonds, and Cedrick Wilson in the offseason.
The Jets boosted their secondary to deal with the receiving threats in the division. Hill and Jaylen Waddle form as potent a one-two punch as you’ll find around the league. This game will show us if D.J. Reed and Sauce Gardner can stand up to the test. It will be a challenge for a young and reconstructed secondary. Tight end Mike Gesicki is also a threat to watch, as the Jets’ linebackers and safeties leave something to be desired in coverage.
This game will also be the tale of two young quarterbacks. Although Tua Tagovailoa was not drafted the same year as Zach Wilson, the two have similarities in their situations. Each of them has questions surrounding their ability to live up to their lofty draft status. Both were surrounded with weapons in the offseason. Can Zach outplay Tua?
This home game against the Dolphins will give us a picture of where the Jets stand in their division.