2. The NY Jets must win the battle in the trenches
The one area on paper where the Jets have a clear advantage over Carolina is in the interior of their defense. New York boasts one of the better defensive tackle groups in the league with Folorunso Fatukasi, Quinnen Williams, and Sheldon Rankins.
Carolina had issues last season with their offensive line, but their interior group was their weakest point. Right tackle Taylor Moton is their best player up front, but overall, the Panthers allowed 36 sacks last season.
And for all the changes that Carolina has made to their roster, the one area that they didn't address in the offseason by signing prominent free agents or drafting premium draft picks is their offensive line.
The Panthers will be trotting out former Jet Pat Elflein, Matt Paradis, and Dennis Daley on the interior. Except for Paradis, Elflein and Daley have been replacement-level players in the NFL.
For the obvious mismatch that Carolina's receivers present against the Jets' inexperienced group of cornerbacks, the Jets can negate that advantage if Williams, Rankins, and Fatukasi dominate their matchups and push the pocket into Sam Darnold's face.
Putting immediate pressure up the middle will make life easier for Shaq Lawson, Bryce Huff, and company on the outside. And ultimately, a collapsed pocket would negate what Darnold does best, and that's escaping to the outside and throwing on the run.
On offense, the matchup for the Jets against Carolina in the trenches is more difficult on paper. The Panthers have a very capable front seven with some standout players in their front-seven like Brian Burns, Derrick Brown, Shaq Thompson, and Haason Reddick.
Sunday will be the Jets' first glimpse at their highly touted tandem of Mekhi Becton and Alijah Vera-Tucker. For the Jets offense to become competent in 2021, these two young studs on the left side need to play up to their billing.
The last thing the Jets want is for Zach Wilson to face consistent pressure in his first start. Establishing a run game would also help.
Center Connor McGovern is a big key in this game. Dealing with the atmosphere is always a factor on the road. McGovern will need to communicate at a high level to his fellow line mates and get his group set up correctly.
The Panthers will try to confuse the Jets' line and, ultimately, the rookie quarterback. And Carolina's defense will be utilizing the energy of its home crowd to aid them on Sunday.