The NFL is often a game of matchups, and each week, there are key cogs that change based on the strengths of the opponent or weaknesses the Panthers need to cover. This week, we’ll highlight three individuals that have something to prove, and need to step up for the team to be successful on Sunday.
Let’s start with the obvious, talked about ad nauseum. Sam Darnold gets a week 1 matchup against his former team and a real chance to prove that even in his most delicate of moments (his first game with the Panthers) he is still better than the route they have chosen. There is no reason to doubt he can do it. The Panthers have much better wide receivers, running backs, and even a better offensive line than Darnold ever had in New York. The Jets will be missing their top two edge rushers on Sunday, which should buy him even more time. Finally, the Jets do not have a shutdown corner by any measure. You hate to make the first game of the season out to be a statement game, but it always does set the tone for the year, and for Darnold... a glimpse into a career hopefully reborn.
John Miller will very likely be out on Sunday, having landed on the COVID list, and that will clear the way for one of either Dennis Daley or Deonte “Blastoise” Brown to start at right guard. I know the fans want to see Deonte after a great preseason, but I would be shocked to see the rookie start ahead of a guy with some familiarity with the other offensive linemen after a fairly active first season.
Daley will have the toughest assignment on the line on Sunday, likely tasked with blocking or doubling the Jets best overall player DT Quinnen Williams. Given the lack of edge talent, I suspect the team will devote extra resources to blocking and doubling Williams on every down. That said, this will be a test, and has implications for Daley’s career moving forward as Brown waits in the wings.
To say that the Panthers kicking situation is still “fluid” would be a monumental understatement. This game is as much a stress test for the Panthers new kicker as any other player on the roster. While his preseason debut was better than Joey Slye’s efforts, it also wasn’t what I would call convincing. A doink that happened to fall inside looms large. If he wants to be the permanent answer, it starts here in week 1.