This is one of those love it/hate it matchups on opening day.
The New York Jets love it because they're at home, facing a rookie quarterback and a suspect passing attack -- the ideal situation for their depleted secondary. The Oakland Raiders hate it because of the location (13 consecutive losses in the Eastern time zone) and because Jets coach Rex Ryan's confusing defensive scheme can be a nightmare for neophyte quarterbacks.
That said, you never know what might happen. Remember, we're not talking about two juggernauts here. The Raiders have 11 straight non-winning seasons, the Jets three. This is a vital game for two teams that need to catch a few breaks along the way if they want to be in the playoff conversation come December.
Jets reporter Rich Cimini and Raiders reporter Bill Williamson discuss the matchup:
Cimini: One of the Jets' goals this season is to cause more turnovers on defense. In that respect, they wouldn't have minded facing Raiders backup Matt Schaub, who was a pick-six machine last season for the Houston Texans. On the other hand, nothing waters the mouth of an aggressive defense more than playing against a rookie. The Jets respect Derek Carr's physical skills, but they also believe he can be rattled. So, Bill, what can you tell us about the young man?
Williamson: Rich, the fact that Carr will start certainly gives this game an extra sense of intrigue. I am no believer in the preseason being any indication of anything to come. With that said, Carr was tremendous last week against Seattle. He had three touchdown passes (two on one-play drives) and just two incompletions. He raised the energy level of the offense and looked like a five-year starter. Carr has a cool, collected edge about him. That is a wonderful trait for a quarterback to have. Still, his task is tall this week. The preseason is over. If Carr has a big debut, there will be legitimate excitement in Oakland at the position for the first time in ages. If he struggles, it could deflate a fan base starving for something to cheer about.
So what's up with Geno Smith?
Cimini: If anyone can relate to Carr, it's Smith, who started every game last season as a rookie. Smith got lucky; he won his first game, thanks to Lavonte David's "Greatest Shove of All." (Jets fans don't need an explanation.) This is a huge game for Smith because he's still trying to win over a cautiously optimistic fan base. He closed last season on the upswing (in fact, his turnaround began against the Raiders) and he did some nice things in the preseason, so the expectation level is higher. It has to be. With Michael Vick lurking, Smith could be benched if he hits a prolonged rough patch. The fans will turn on him quickly if he starts flinging interceptions at last year's rate. The players are confident in Smith, so we'll see.
Aside from breaking in a rookie quarterback, what's the Raiders' biggest worry?
Williamson: It's the passing offense in general. When the offense was struggling in camp with Schaub, Raiders coach Dennis Allen said the entire offense wasn't doing its job in the passing game. He blamed route-running and dropped passes by receivers and lack of protection by the offensive line. Again, I think one of the reasons Carr got the job is because the coaching staff thinks he can raise the level of the players around him. But we have to see it. This offense has some flaws. We have to see if it’s up to the task when the lights come on. So what's keeping Jets' fans awake at night these days?
Cimini: I think the hot dog vendor on the corner of 34th Street and Eighth Avenue could tell you the Jets' biggest concern. Everybody knows it's the cornerback situation. It was suspect at the start of training camp and it turned ugly with a spate of injuries and the departure of Dimitri Patterson, who was suspended and later released. Their No. 1 corner, Dee Milliner, probably won't play because of a high ankle sprain, so they're looking at Darrin Walls (four career starts) and converted safety Antonio Allen as the starters, with Kyle Wilson in the slot. Allen has been playing corner for about three weeks, so he doesn't know what he doesn't know. The Raiders will be tempted to attack through the air, but do they really want to put the game on the shoulders of a rookie quarterback? Speaking of first-year players, catch me up on the Raiders' other rookie.
Williamson: All eyes are on Carr and I get that. He is the first rookie quarterback of this class to start. It's a big deal. But everyone has seemed to forget about the No. 5 overall pick, linebacker Khalil Mack. The Raiders think he can be an instant difference-maker as a pass-rusher. The Raiders will unleash him and hope he makes Smith's day miserable. This defense needs a jolt, and it will be interesting to see what Mack can do in his first game.
Cimini: I can tell you the Jets are very happy with their No. 1 pick, Calvin Pryor, who will start at safety. He missed some time in training camp with a concussion, but he seems comfortable in the defense. He's a big hitter -- Ryan compared him to former Raiders great Jack Tatum -- but I think you may see Pryor in the deep-middle position more than in the box. He has better range than Dawan Landry, but he obviously doesn't have Landry's savvy -- not yet, anyway.