"I'm torn on it," Saleh said Saturday after the second joint practice with the Falcons. "I wake up one day and I'm like, 'OK, they're going to play.' The next day I wake up and they're not going to play."
It's a multilayered decision for Saleh. The starters played only two series in the preseason opener against the Philadelphia Eagles, and they typically don't play in the final game. If they sit against the Falcons, it would be like having three consecutive bye weeks before the Sept. 11 season opener.
On the flip side, there's the injury factor. The Jets already have suffered key injuries to right tackle Mekhi Becton (season-ending knee surgery) and quarterback Zach Wilson (arthroscopic knee surgery). Wilson, hurt against the Eagles, is expected to miss about a month, making it likely that Joe Flacco will face the Ravens in Week 1.
Flacco, 37, saw no action against the Eagles, so he would have no game reps before the opener -- a risky proposition for a quarterback who hasn't seen much game action in recent years.
"He doesn't need it, but I feel like everybody can use it as a reminder of how to get yourself prepared and making sure every game is just a normal game," said Saleh, hedging once again.
Saleh said they got two productive days of work against the Falcons, reducing the need to see his starters in the game. The Jets were in a similar situation last year, and those memories aren't pleasant.
They lost defensive end Carl Lawson to a season-ending Achilles injury in a joint practice against the Green Bay Packers, then played their starters in the subsequent game. One of them, linebacker Jarrad Davis, suffered a significant ankle injury and was sidelined for two months.
"It was like bloodshed," Saleh said, recalling the trip to Green Bay.
The Jets were crushed by injuries during the season, too, which may explain Saleh's cautious approach. In Philadelphia, he decided at the last minute to rest key veterans, most notably Lawson, linebacker C.J. Mosley and tackle George Fant.
One potential problem area is the offensive line. As a result of Becton's injury and Duane Brown's late arrival, the starting five has yet to practice together. Brown, 36, who signed Aug. 15, spent the entire week with the conditioning staff, working his way into football shape. He won't play Monday night, meaning the offensive line might not be together in a game setting until the opener.
Safety Jordan Whitehead said the joint practices were "like the preseason," but acknowledged that actual game reps are important, too.
"When you do get into the game, it speeds up, so you definitely need some reps to get ready for the season," he said. Another factor for Saleh: Monday Night Football.
"There's tremendous value in this one. This one is different because it's Monday Night Football," he said. We're such a young team and that's what a lot of guys dream of."
Saleh said the Monday Night Football stage creates a "heightened environment," which he believes helps prepare the players for the intensity of the regular season.