Written by: Perry Griffith IV
Despite low expectations yet again this season for the Jets, for the first time this decade they have a promising young QB in Sam Darnold waiting in the wings. The current Jets quarterback crew is an interesting mix of players when you consider the stages of their career, and I’d argue that only one of them is feeling pressure to perform at a high level this season: Teddy Bridgewater. Teddy’s time in Minnesota showed sparks of promise, but injuries held him back from solidifying his place as an NFL starting QB. Here’s a big opportunity for him in NY to show his capabilities for the whole league to reconsider his capabilities.
McCown faces little pressure, playing near the tail-end of his career and publicly embracing the mentor role for Darnold. I expect McCown to start Week 1 unless Bridgewater impresses during preseason and training camp. If the team consistently struggles to begin the season, then Jets fans will start daydreaming about their future “franchise QB” and hitting Mike Francesca up on the phone lines about it.
So if we’re asking the question of “when?” for Darnold’s potential first start, their schedule needs to be considered. Week 1, the Jets kick things off on a Monday night game at Detroit. The only pressure involved with Darnold is on the team management to “baby him” when it comes to his confidence. Although I don’t think Darnold needs as much coddling as Mark Sanchez seemed to require during his early career with the team, the Jets will not put the pressure of a season opener on him, especially in prime time. They also won’t put Darnold in for the home opener in Week 2 vs Miami or against any early tough competition.
I can’t believe I’m saying this, but the Jets will have their second prime time game within the first three weeks with a Thursday night game at Cleveland. I’m sure the league and networks would love to see a Mayfield/Darnold matchup, but I again don’t see the Jets wanting to place Darnold in a short-week, prime time game.
Week 4, the Jets play at Jacksonville. Too tough of a matchup at this point in the season for Darnold. Week 5, we’re now in October, and we’re now at a stretch in the schedule where Darnold starting is conceivable. In October, the Jets play home vs. Denver, Indianapolis, and Minnesota, and then they finish at Chicago; an easier month of games compared to September. At this point, Darnold’s first start will depend on how poorly the Jets start the season. They can easily be looking at a 1–3 or winless start, in which case pressure will grow to start Darnold from Jets fans and media. If they’re winless by October, the Week 5 Broncos game could be Darnold’s first start. But the Colts and Bears games could also be good games to ease Darnold in against lighter competition. Although a game after the bye week would typically make sense in a situation like this, I don’t think Bowles wants to wait until their Week 11 bye in mid-November for Darnold’s first start. Ultimately, the worse the Jets start the season, the sooner the influential NY sports media will push for Darnold to start… a pretty nice go-to option for the Jets this season to keep fans satisfied if things turn really ugly.