The highly-anticipated 2021 NY Jets season kick-off is rapidly approaching, and Week 1 pits the revamped boys in green and white against a familiar face in Sam Darnold and his Carolina Panthers.
Here is my take on what to expect from the Panthers in this Week 1 affair.
The Jets have a lot of hurdles to overcome in this game. On the offensive front, they have to go up against a Sam Darnold with a chip on the shoulder after having the Jets dump him in favor of Zach Wilson.
Not only that, but now Darnold's got weapons at his disposal — something he didn't have much of when he was in New York.
The NY Jets might face a rejuvenated Sam Darnold in Week 1
The obvious one is Christian McCaffrey, back and healthy and ready to reclaim his title of best running back in football from Derrick Henry.
The combo of Darnold and McCaffrey is one that could wind up being the most lethal 1-2 punch in football this year with the latter's ability to provide Darnold with a check-down safety blanket in addition to what he'll be able to do purely running the football.
The not-so-obvious target for Darnold is the reunification with his favorite target when he was with the Jets in Robby Anderson.
Yes, Anderson has a history of off-field issues and his rivalry with Sir Purr is still alive and well, but one thing for certain is that he and Darnold just click. And his ability to work on the outside is going to give Darnold a potential No. 1 target.
That's not to say that D.J. Moore isn't a bonafide No. 1 target in his own right. He's now had back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons with the Panthers and should very well be on his way to another one with the likes of Darnold throwing to him — I'd argue the best thrower of the football he's ever caught from in the NFL.
The Jets may have a great defensive-minded head coach in Robert Saleh with a pass rush projected to do some damage this year, but without Carl Lawson and a still-young secondary trying to get its reps, Darnold's revenge could very well be easily attained in this opening matchup.
On the flip side of the ball, how will Wilson in his pro debut do against the Panthers' defense? To that, I say Carolina's defense is being vastly overlooked.
I look up-to-down on this Panthers' defensive depth chart and I don't see a weakness anywhere. When this season is all said and done, this Panthers defense could wind up being top-10 at the very least, and possibly even top-five if the team can manage to make a serious run at the postseason.
Their pass rush is young and excellent with Brian Burns and Derrick Brown leading the youth movement and the acquisitions of DaQuan Jones, Morgan Fox, and Haason Reddick, who was tied for fourth in sacks last season, shoring everything up on the front end.
Marquis Haynes, Bravvion Roy, Daviyon Nixon, and Yetur Gross-Matos are also legitimate guys and they'll be coming off the bench most likely.
That gives Carolina nine legit pass rushers as the Panthers have all the tools they need to potentially lead the league in sacks this year.
I like the left side of the Jets' offensive line, but the sheer magnitude of what will be thrown at them with zero plays being able to be taken off is going to take its toll.
Shaq Thompson is one of the most underrated linebackers in the game, and then on the back end, you've got a potential future All-Pro in Jeremy Chinn at safety with the pesky Donte Jackson and the best man-to-man corner in this year's draft, Jaycee Horn, as your two main cornerbacks.
I'm open to seeing what Zach Wilson can do, but all I'll say for now is that Week 1 could get ugly. More on this game from me in the coming weeks.