AFC East

Week 1 Previews

Jaguars vs. Giants

If you follow the Giants or Jaguars, this game is pretty straight forward to figure out. If the Giants stop the run and force Blake Bortles into third-and-long situations, James Bettcher can dial up his blitz package and the Giants’ defensive backs should be more than capable of covering Jacksonville’s short-handed receiving crew. Olivier Vernon’s absence will hurt, so the blitz has to work for the G-Men to get to Bortles. The Jaguars’ offense is extremely well coached, despite some of its limitations. Their best path to success on offense is Leonard Fournette breaking off a few big runs behind an improved offensive line, and a healthy dose of play action.

On the other side of the ball, we’ll find out just how improved the Giants’ offensive line really is on Sunday. This is a great test against perhaps the NFL’s most talented defense. The Jags primarily play cover-3, which allows them to play fast and makes opponents put together long drives consistently by taking away big plays downfield. The G-Men have struggled for years now to put together sustained drives. Hopefully for them, Pat Shurmur will find imaginative ways to put all their dangerous offensive weapons on display and sustain drives. There was far too little of that in the McAdoo era.

Most likely, we will get a low scoring game. Given the Giants’ schedule, this one feels more important for them at home than for last year’s AFC runner up.

 

Jets vs. Lions

The Jets have some nice, young talent scattered throughout their defense. However, their ability to consistently generate a pass rush without blitzing could continue to be a problem. Without getting to Matthew Stafford, it will be difficult for them to slow down Detroit’s receivers, who can beat you deep (Kenny Golladay), with physicality (Marvin Jones), and with short and intermediate passes (Golden Tate). Throw in what should be a more versatile and effective running game with LeGarrette Blount and rookie Kerryon Johnson behind an improved offensive line, and we like the Lions’ chances. There just don’t appear to be many matchups on this side of the ball that favor the Jets.

The Jets should be excited about rookie quarterback Sam Darnold. We expect Matt Patricia to play plenty of man coverage on the outside and throw lots of disguise at the rookie quarterback making his debut. The main concern for the Jets is their offensive line. The Jets will have to find ways to manufacture pass protection – namely, finding ways to get the ball out of Darnold’s hands quickly, and mixing in some screens to tame Detroit’s pass rush. A good running game always helps a young quarterback, but we are not sure the Jets can control the line of scrimmage against this Lions front.

 

Texans at Patriots:

Leading up to this game, we’ve seen way too many references to last year’s week 3 matchup. Yes, Deshaun Watson was terrific, and the Texans gave the Patriots a battle in Foxboro. However, consider the circumstances from a season ago. The Texans had played one game with Watson at the helm, and that was on a Thursday night. Watson was named the starter and then had a short week to prepare. The book on how Bill O’Brien would run the offense with Watson under center was not quite out yet.  On top of that, New England’s defense was in shambles, and they kept their coverages and defensive looks simple as a result.

This season, the Patriots defense is in much better shape. Adrian Clayborn was an under-the-radar signing that should provide a boost to their pass rush. Dont’a Hightower is back at linebacker and the run defense is rock solid. How much will Watson be able to rely on his physical tools in his first game back from a significant knee injury? There should certainly be excitement around the Texans offense this season, we just aren’t sure that the circumstances of this matchup favor them, especially considering Belichick has had months to prepare for this game.

On paper, the Texans should have one of the best defenses in the league. The combination of Clowney, Watt, Mercilus, and now Tyrann Mathieu can give even the best offensive coordinators nightmares. That being said, Josh McDaniels and Tom Brady have proven time and again that they can handle most of what any defense throws their way. Over the past several years, game-changing pass rushers have been rendered borderline irrelevant against New England. This isn’t because they do anything wrong necessarily. Instead, it’s more that the Patriots’ quick passing game negates their effectiveness. We like the Patriots in this one.

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