The New York Jets are throwing caution to the wind and trotting out their No. 3 overall pick in the draft to battle the Lions in Detroit in their season opener. Yes, Sam Darnold, the youngest Week 1 starter since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970, gets the nod after the Jets traded away Teddy Bridgewater for a third-round pick to the Saints which effectively extinguished any quarterback controversy that was looming. In essence, they not only received a decent pick for the 25-year-old signal caller but got something even more valuable – peace of mind.
So now they have Darnold, fresh-faced and eager after a brilliant career at USC, as the man under center with absolutely no competition from 39-year-old Josh McCown who will play the role of mentor and clipboard holder to the young upstart. This could go sideways quickly if New York’s offensive line does not do their job and protect The Franchise. Although the expectations for Darnold have spun wildly out of control, as is apt to happen under the microscope of one of the most star-crossed franchises in all of sports, Darnold will be expected to continue his ascension after a preseason that saw him go 29-of-45 with two touchdown passes, one interception and 244 passing yards in three appearances.
Let's not forget that the Jets did not surround Darnold with Pro Bowl caliber players and when your top target is an undrafted third-year veteran from Temple (Robby Anderson) who has had more than one off-field brushes with the law then you better be able to manufacture plays in a hurry. A baptism by fire could be the worst thing that ever happened to Darnold but the Jets' brain trust believes he is up to the task. The first test is on Monday night when New York travels to the Motor City as we now review that opening week clash.
They always say if you’ve got a hunch, bet a bunch. Although I don’t believe that is the wisest strategy in the opening week of the NFL season, we can’t help but look the review of a top-notch online sportsbook like 5Dimes and to see how the oddsmakers are viewing this Week 1 showdown. As of this midweek writing the Lions are -6 ½ in most sportsbooks but 5Dimes has them pegged at -7 (+110) which means it will cost you -130 instead of the usual vig of -110 to get Gang Green with a full touchdown head start.
The game comes down to whether or not the Jets’ defense can slow Matthew Stafford and a retooled rushing attack led by LeGarrette Blount and the second-round rookie out of Auburn, Kerryon Johnson. We know Stafford can and will throw the ball but the Lions have had issues with their ground game. However, if the Blount and Johnson can crease the Jets defensive line often enough, it will give Stafford the opportunity to pass without the menacing pressure to which he is accustomed. I believe it is a tall task to ask a 21-year-old quarterback, without the requisite offensive arsenal around him, to somehow create a game plan that will pierce the schemes of Detroit’s new head coach and defensive guru Matt Patricia. We can all keep our fingers crossed that Darnold is the savior we’ve been waiting for but even if the Jets don’t win, and cover for that matter, all is not lost. Consider for a moment that only four quarterbacks, aged 21, have started in Week 1 and all four lost badly. Let’s also not forget that the Jets are 2-6-1 ATS in their last nine road games while Detroit is 5-1 ATS in their last six Monday night appearances and 4-1 ATS in their last five Week 1 contests.
The sky won't be falling if Darnold and the Jets lose on Monday night and if the reports on the former USC standout are true, he is as resilient as they come and ready for the responsibilities that come with leading an NFL franchise. So, let's give the kid a little space in victory or defeat. He may not be the next Willy Joe Namath but he is most likely going to be much better than the Skittle-eating Mark Sanchez. And if he is closer to the former than the latter then the Jets have found themselves a quarterback for the next decade.