NEW YORK (PIX11/AP) — As we wrap up the Labor Day weekend, the unofficial end to summer, the NFL season is upon us.
Thursday night, Kansas City faces Detroit. For us New Yorkers, football is a welcome sight after what we have watched from both the Mets and the Yankees this year. The Giants and Jets come into this season with expectations of being playoff teams.
New York Jets
Super Bowl or bust? Well, that might be a bit of a stretch for a franchise that has gone 12 straight years without reaching the playoffs — the longest active drought in the NFL. But Aaron Rodgers’ arrival energized the team and fanbase, and the 39-year-old quarterback fueled expectations by saying the goal is winning a Super Bowl and adding a partner to what he said is a “lonely” Lombardi Trophy from the Jets’ only other appearance in 1969. Robert Saleh’s squad has talent and depth on both sides of the ball — and most importantly a quarterback who’s one of the best players in NFL history. It all sure looks good on paper, but the Jets will get the chance to prove quickly it’s more than just hype with a tough opening six-game stretch that includes matchups with the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs and runner-up Philadelphia Eagles.
Rodgers, RB Dalvin Cook, offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett, WR Allen Lazard, WR Mecole Hardman, WR Randall Cobb, OL Billy Turner, OL Wes Schweitzer, DL Quinton Jefferson, NT Al Woods, S Adrian Amos, P Thomas Morstead, first-round pick DE Will McDonald, second-round C Joe Tippmann, fourth-round OT Carter Warren, fifth-round RB Israel Abanikanda.
OC Mike LaFleur, WR Corey Davis, DT Sheldon Rankins, DL Nathan Shepherd, QB Mike White, WR/KR Braxton Berrios, P Braden Mann, QB Joe Flacco, OT George Fant, RB Ty Johnson, G Nate Herbig, G Dan Feeney.
Defensive line, cornerback and quarterback. Led by Quinnen Williams up front, the Jets boast one of the top D-lines in the league and have lots of depth for Saleh and coordinator Jeff Ulbrich to rotate and mix and match. McDonald is expected to add a speedy pass-rushing presence off the edge along with second-year DE Jermaine Johnson and veterans Carl Lawson and Bryce Huff. Sauce Gardner, the reigning AP Defensive Rookie of the Year, and the steady D.J. Reed form arguably the top cornerback tandem in the NFL. Despite coming off a good, not great season, Rodgers provides stability at the quarterback position the franchise hasn’t seen in years.
Offensive line. The big guys up front struggled mightily last season with consistency and injuries, and it took most of training camp for the unit to take shape. RG Alijah Vera-Tucker is a rising star and C Connor McGovern is consistent, but there are questions along the rest of the line, with LT Duane Brown coming off shoulder surgery, LG Laken Tomlinson trying to rebound from an off year and Mekhi Becton winning the RT spot after missing most of the last two seasons with knee injuries.
The Jets boosted an already talented running backs group by adding Cook, who rushed for at least 1,000 yards in each of his past four seasons in Minnesota. He’ll complement Breece Hall, Michael Carter and Abanikanda to give Rodgers plenty of options out of the backfield. Davis’ decision to step away from football at the end of training camp was a stunner that scrambled the depth chart a bit for a receiving group that’s still solid.
Fantasy player to watch
WR Garrett Wilson. The reigning AP Offensive Rookie of the Year caught 83 passes for 1,103 yards and four touchdowns without Rodgers throwing to him. With the four-time NFL MVP under center and already calling him, “special,” Wilson appears to be a weekly plug-in and play with the potential to be one of fantasy football’s top wide receivers.
New York Giants
The Giants are a better team than the one rookie head coach Brian Daboll led to the playoffs in 2022 for the first time since 2016. The offense is much improved with playmaking receivers to go along with quarterback Daniel Jones and running back Saquon Barkley. Jones had a career season and Barkley had his best season since his rookie year in 2018. Their average of 21.5 points could go up with tight end Darren Walker and receivers Jalin Hyatt and Parris Campbell in the mix. Defensively, the additions of linemen A’Shawn Robinson and Rakeem Nunez-Roches and inside linebacker Bobby Okereke should help Leonard Williams and Dexter Lawrence stop the run. Placekicker Graham Gano is among the best in the league. The Giants haven’t made the playoffs in consecutive seasons since 2007-08. That should end this year.
TE Darren Waller, ILB Bobby Okereke, CB Deonte Banks, C John-Michael Schmitz, WR Jalin Hyatt, WR Parris Campbell, DL A’Shawn Robinson, DT Rakeem Nunez-Roches and CB Tre Hawkins.
C Jon Feliciano, S Julian Love, WR Richie James, LB Jaylon Smith.
The playmakers. Waller, who has the speed of a wide receiver, will be a matchup problem for any opponent. Wide outs Campbell, Hyatt and Sterling Shepard should get a lot of single coverage. The improved passing game also should prevent opposing defenses from loading up in the box and help Barkley both run and catch the ball.
The biggest concern has to be the offensive line. Left tackle Andrew Thomas is one of the best in the league. The rest of the line is a question mark. Second-year right tackle Evan Neal struggled as a rookie and he has been up and down in camp. Schmitz has looked good at the center, but the guard spots are uncertain. Mark Glowinski returns on the right side and veteran Ben Bredeson and second-year pro Josh Ezeudu are battling at left guard.
Sixth-round pick Tre Hawkins out of Old Dominion has been one of the biggest surprises. He flashed early and has not stopped using his size, speed, length and toughness to push for a starting job at cornerback along with first-round pick Deonte Banks. They have played so well top coverage cornerback Adoree Jackson may end up being the cornerback in the slot in the nickel. Jason Pinnock has emerged as the replacement for Love at safety
Fantasy player to watch
Waller, who was acquired in a trade with Las Vegas before the draft, has had a strong training camp. He has regained the Pro Bowl form he showed in 2019 and ’20, when he caught a combined 197 passes for 2,341 yards and 12 TDs.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.