Week One is upon us, and the NFL season is set to begin in earnest this coming Sunday. The AFC East should provide us with some interesting storylines for the first set of games.
One team will see its future at quarterback take his first steps in the NFL, one will see another team’s franchise signal-caller do the same, and the other two will be facing off against each other in a key divisional matchup.
Here’s a quick look at the big storylines heading into the openers for the AFC East:
Bills at Jets: Kicking Off the Divisional Schedule
The first week also brings us our first divisional matchup, a key battle between two teams who are really up in the air for 2012. The Bills have a new-look defensive front featuring two new defensive ends and the return of a Pro Bowler who was limited by injury last season, while the offense sees the return of Fred Jackson, a healthy Ryan Fitzpatrick, and a newly-resigned Stevie Johnson.
The Jets, meanwhile, are a complete mystery after following up back-to-back AFC Championship Game appearances with a dismal 8-8 record. Rex Ryan’s honeymoon with the New York fans seems to be over, and the team will need to come together and produce or Ryan could be in danger of losing his job. Mark Sanchez is in a make-or-break season, and he’ll be counting on the continued emergence of running back Shonn Greene and rookie wideout Stephen Hill to help him step to the level expected of a fifth-overall pick heading into his fourth season.
The Jets will also be breaking in a new backup quarterback. You may have heard about it.
Pats’ New-Look Defense Gets Eased Into Action…
New England will be showing off their two new first-round picks on defense, inside linebacker Dont’a Hightower and defensive end Chandler Jones, whom they hope will be able to adequately replace departed defensive ends (and double-digit sackers) Andre Carter and Mark Anderson.
Their first test will be against a Titans team that is giving second-year quarterback Jake Locker his first NFL start and hoping that former 2,000-yard rusher Chris Johnson comes back to form. The Pats’ offense should be fine, but if the defense can’t contain this group then they might be in for another long season on that side of the ball.
…But Ryan Tannehill Does Not
Joe Philbin more-or-less shocked the football world by handing the keys of the offense to the unproven rookie in the first game, which will be his 20th start at quarterback in a meaningful game at any level.
Unfortunately for him, his first NFL start will be made on the road against 2011’s third-best pass defense.
To make matters worse, the receiver situation is still woefully unresolved in Miami, and his top two receivers will have a combined 4,339 career receiving yards and zero thousand-yard seasons between them. There have been situations in the past where quarterbacks have been thrown into action and succeeded (see: Manning, Peyton), but there have been several more who have not (see: Couch, Tim; Smith, Akili; McNown, Cade; etc.).
Matchup to Watch: Bills WR Stevie Johnson vs. Jets CB Darrelle Revis
Revis Island is a place few receivers want to go on Sundays. Johnson has been so successful there that he picked up a timeshare on the beach.
In two games last season, Johnson picked up 11 catches for 159 yards and a touchdown against the Jets, being covered primarily by Revis. That includes 8 catches for 75 yards and the touchdown in Week 11, which could have been higher had Johnson not dropped a key pass at the end of the game (something of a habit of his).
Johnson is known as one of the better route-runners in the league, largely because of a set of moves he uses at the beginning of the routes to break coverage. Many consider Revis the best cornerback in the league by a significant margin, and while he has earned that reputation he is not perfect. He can exorcise one of his few demons by shutting down Johnson on Sunday.
RBV Report (Each week will highlight a rookie, backup, and veteran to keep an eye on)
Rookie: New England inside linebacker Dont’a Hightower: The Patriots are looking for a major upgrade in their run defense, and Hightower will be expected to show big things right from the start. His first test is a former 2,000-yard rusher with something to prove after a down year.
Backup: New York quarterback Tim Tebow: Hype machine aside, nobody is really sure what Tebow is going to add to the team in 2012. The first game should at least give the rest of the league an idea of how Ryan really plans to use him this season.
Veteran: Miami running back Reggie Bush: Bush is coming off of his first 1,000-yard season after largely disappointing in New Orleans (he was serviceable, but nowhere near what was expected out of him coming out of USC). With a rookie under center, Bush is going to need to be the focal point of the offense, both to take pressure off Tannehill and to help achieve the goals he set for himself for 2012.