The New York Jets believe they have found their franchise quarterback. The Detroit Lions believe they have found the head coach who can finally bring them playoff success. We’ll start to see if either or both are correct on Monday night.
The Jets drafted USC quarterback Sam Darnold third overall in the draft, and he wasted little time winning the starting job. The only one of the five passers picked in the first round to be tabbed to start the opener, he should have little trouble getting a jump on his classmates. Cleveland’s Baker Mayfield and Arizona’s Josh Rosen did not play Sunday, while Buffalo’s Josh Allen and Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson saw action only after the Ravens’ rout of the Bills turned into a glorified preseason game in the second half.
Matt Patricia takes over as head coach of the Lions, who recorded a winning record in three of four seasons under Jim Caldwell but had just two Wild Card losses to show for it. Still, Caldwell is the only Lions head coach since 1972 with more than seven games coached that posted a winning record (36-28, 0-2 playoffs) during his tenure. This is not a full rebuild; Patricia will feel heat if Detroit gets worse instead of better.
New York at Detroit
Kickoff: Monday, Sept. 10 at 7:10 p.m. ET
Spread: Lions -6.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Patricia’s impact
The Lions finished 9–7 last season on the strength of their offense and a defense that forced 32 turnovers, third in the NFL. But the unit did little else well, finishing 27th in total defense and 27th against the pass. Detroit also allowed 18 rushing touchdowns; only Buffalo allowed more. In six seasons as New England’s defensive coordinator, Patricia never had a defense finish outside the top 10 in the league in points allowed. How much of that was a product of working under Bill Belichick? How much did he benefit from having Tom Brady on is side, forcing teams to come from behind? We’ll start to find out against the Jets.
2. Darnold’s debut
While the Jets certainly have high hopes for Darnold’s career, no one is expecting him to immediately carry the team on his shoulders. Isaiah Crowell was brought in to join Bilal Powell in the backfield and bolster the running game, and if all goes well Darnold shouldn’t have to throw for 300 yards for the Jets to win. The fact is, New York fell short of 300 yards of total offense in 10 of 16 games last season and scored seven or fewer points in three of the last four games. If the running game is decent and Darnold replicates his solid-if-not-spectacular preseason, it would be a huge step in the right direction for the Jets offense.
3. Lions search for balance on offense
Matthew Stafford joins Drew Brees and Matt Ryan as the only QBs to throw for at least 4,000 yards in each of the past seven seasons. He also threw 29 touchdowns last season, and receivers Golden Tate and Marvin Jones both had 1,000-yard seasons. So what’s the problem? Detroit ranked dead last in rushing yards and yards per carry last season. So the Lions signed LeGarrette Blount and drafted Kerryon Johnson in the second round, hoping to keep defenses from teeing off on Stafford, who was sacked 47 times last season as opponents didn’t have to worry about the Lions’ running game.
If the Jets can run the ball and solve their red zone problems on defense (30 TD passes allowed last season), perhaps Sam Darnold can get them into the win column quickly. But a shootout with Matthew Stafford in Detroit will likely end badly.