Healthy and $64MM richer, Chad Pennington will open the Jets season for the first time in 2004. (Jets Insider/Abe Goldberg Photo)
So here we go again; I hope everybody is strapped in tightly. Another football season is about to kick-off and the multitude of Jets fans are filled with the hopes that this may finally be their year. There are many exciting storylines that will unfold before us concerning our beloved Gang Green over the first few weeks of the season and what better way to return to my duties writing for Jetsinsider.com than with a rambling, haphazard, and ill-conceived article. In other words fellow Jet fans, Iím back!
First of all, Chad Pennington will finally get to play a full season, barring injury, from beginning to end as the starting quarterback for the Jets. This is extremely exciting. Ever since Pennington first walked out onto the field in week four of the 2002 season, relieving Vinny Testeverde against Jacksonville (and eventually becoming the teams starting signal caller) Jet fans have been salivating at the chance to see what he can do while playing for an entire season. The outcome of what transpires between the lines during this yearís campaign may be the defining moment in Chadís career.
Come to think of it, this really will be a make-or-break type of situation for many people within the Jets organization. If Pennington does not perform as expected, especially after recently receiving the keys to the organization for the next few years from Terry Bradway and company, or even worse shows a penchant for getting injured it will incur dire ramifications for the Jets general manager. If Chad does fail to live up to the expectations set out before him Bradway may finally be shown the door along with offensive coordinator Paul Hackett. Since Hackett also undertakes the tasks of quarterbacks coach he is hypothetically in just as precarious a situation as Bradway if Chad shows any signs of stagnation. Not good times for either of them.
Now, I actually believe that as long as Chad is durable enough to stay on the field Jet fans will be treated to watching some very exciting football for the next few years to come. I personally cannot remember ever feeling this excited about a quarterback in a long time. Vinny Testeverde was a surprise in 1998 and never quite lived up to the expectations after that magical year. Glen Foley was not exactly a barnstormer, and never played the way Bill Parcells had hoped. Ray Lucas never really had a chance. Neil OíDonnell was the guy who lost the Super Bowl to the Cowboys by throwing a pair of picks, and Boomer Esiason was a nice story of the prodigal son returning home, but not quite the answer for the Jets at quarterback.
Continuing along the same lines, will be the performance of Justin McCareins and if he is the real deal or not. McCareins had a very productive season last year with the Tennessee Titans in limited action and it will be interesting to see how he performs in the spotlight as one of the primary targets in the Jets passing game. Now if you couple that with Santana Mossí hamstring problems and McCareins may have to carry a heavier load than he has ever done before. Now he has received many impressive endorsements from plenty of people in the media who are well respected (which actually influenced me to take him in my fantasy football draft), but sometimes I get leery of a player who receives a ton of accolades before he even plays. His performance will definitely be worth watching.
Rounding out the last of the main questions facing the offense will be the performance of newly acquired Pete Kendall and the rest of his teammates on the offensive line. It will be interesting to see how well they gel together and perform in the upcoming weeks. Last seasonís slow start had a direct relationship to the poor rushing attack over the first four games of the 2003 campaign and it will be interesting to see if the Jets ground game can once again become a force to be reckoned. Being that depth is an issue on the OL, itís important that the front five stay healthy as well.
As far as the defense goes, is it really going to be drastically improved? Are Donnie Hendersonís new, more aggressive schemes going to help finally solve the issues the Jets have had with opponentís halfbacks since Herman Edwards has been the head coach? I donít know.
To be honest I still think it will be pretty suspect. Although in theory the defensive line should be one of the best in the game with four first round draft picks sharing time down in the trenches most of those players are known as pass rushing specialists and turning them into formidable run-stopping machines has yet to occur. Add to that the new linebackers and the suspect secondary and you may still see players like Lamar Gordon rushing for 165 yards against them.
The Jets also have to depend on some players that, as of yet, have not proven themselves to be reliable. The team has almost all of their eggs in Dewayne Robertsonís basket which makes his performance paramount above all other defenders, including Jonathan Vilma.
And, while looking at the defense you have to focus on John Abraham and Shaun Ellis, both of whom can become free agents at the end of the season. Hopefully that means big things from both players. Ellis had a stellar season last year, finally breaking out of Abrahams shadow and showing he can also be an explosive force at defensive end. The Jets will watch his performance this season very carefully and hope that last season wasnít just smoke and mirrors but a full-fledged coming out party.
Then there is Abraham himself, who has had problems on and off the field all of last year and carrying through to this off-season. Can he stay healthy enough to play every game? Can he put behind him his off-field troubles? Then, if he does, what do the Jets do next season when both he and Ellis are up for new contracts? Now understanding the salary cap and all the finance rules in the NFL is right up there with understanding the Canterbury Tales, David Lynch movies, and Hieroglyphics: impossible. But, if my understanding is correct I would sign Ellis at the end of the season and slap the franchise tag on Abraham. Then at least you can buy yourself an extra year with both of them.
As far as this weekís game goes against the Cincinnati Bengals, I would have to assume that this is a favorable match-up for the Jets. You have a Bengals team which came out of nowhere last season under Marvin Lewis. They almost scratched out a playoff run yet fell short to finish last season with an 8-8 record. A great accomplishment considering that the Cincinnati Bengals are almost synonymous with losing, which makes me think of the alarming similarities between Herman Edwards and Marvin Lewis. Both coaches were considered products of the leagues new rules on interviewing minority candidates for head coaching positions and they both have taken over teams with checkered pasts and many ghosts roaming the halls. Both coaches are doing their best to destroy the previous culture and expectations of their respective teams. I digress.
With the Bengals handing the starting quarterback job to Carson Palmer as planned, even after Jon Kitna was comeback player of the year in 2003, there may be a few bumps in the road. Also considering that Rudi Johnson is now the full-time starting running back in his second year and you can see why I think Cincy is going to take a step backwards even though I do believe they are on the right track to redemption. With all of that said, the Jet should win this game fairly convincingly.
While I am making predictions, I may as well close this article out with the first weeks picks.
Just in case people donít remember last season I had gone through the process of picking three games every week and then flipping a coin to choose a random team in the same match-ups in order to see who would come out on top; my football know-how or a quarter. Now although I prevailed last season (29-22) the coin wasnít far behind (26-25). This occurrence made me re-think my strategy. So this year I am picking against my mother, who knows nothing about football.
Game 1: Indy at New England: I have to believe that the Colts desperately want to redeem themselves against a Patriots squad who trashed them in last seasonís AFC Championship Game. If Peyton Manning has any kind of competitive fire he will play better than ever in the season opener. Also add to it that it is the first game of the year for both teams which means no pressure for Manning, so no folding chair impression. The Pats normally start out a season slowly anyway. My Pick: Colts.
My mother on the other hand has selected the Patriots. Her verbatim response, ďThe Colts verses the PatriotsÖwhere are they from?Ē She decided to pick Tom Brady and company because they are from New England and consequentially, close to New York. Momís pick: Patriots.
Game 2: Atlanta at San Francisco: I really only wanted to pick this game because I have Michael Vick as my quarterback and I think that San Francisco is going to be the worst team in football this year by far. Now although I think the Falcons are in for a rough season as well I do think they have enough to beat up on the 49ers. My Pick: Falcons.
Mom again chooses due to her affinity for the location of the teamís home and chooses San Francisco. Momís Pick: 49ers.
Game 3: Green Bay at Carolina: I figured to pick this game because of two reasons; one it will give me a chance to pick a game with the other team that was in the Super Bowl, and two, because it is the first Monday Night Football game. I really had to rack my brain on this one for a while. I hate picking against Brett ďFav-rahĒ even though he is at the point of his career where he can hurt his team as well as help it. With that thought and the impressive defensive line of the Panthers I think I have to go with them to win this game. My Pick: Panthers.
Here are some more quotes from Mom concerning her reasons for picking Carolina; ďTheyíre kind of new, arenít they? Iíll pick them because they are a new team and the other ones have been around for a long time.Ē Momís pick: Panthers.
As an added bonus my suicide pool pick this week is the Eagles over the Giants. I think even with some of the personnel moves that the Eagles have had they are still the team to beat in the NFC and the Giants look like they may be on their way to one of their roughest years yet.