New York Jets at Detroit Lions
When and Where: Monday, Sept. 10, Ford Field, Detroit, Mich., 7:10 p.m. EDT.
The Sam Darnold era begins for the New York Jets as the rookie quarterback and third overall selection in the draft makes his NFL debut in primetime Monday night looking to spoil Matt Patricia’s coaching debut with the Detroit Lions.
Darnold emerges winner of three-way tango for Jets QB job
In a class stacked with franchise quarterbacks, the Jets made arguably the most aggressive play leading up to the draft in April when they swapped spots with the Indianapolis, moving up three places from sixth to third in exchange for two 2018 second-round picks and a 2019 second-rounder.
They then drafted Darnold, whom some considered the best quarterback among the five selected in the first round. The USC prdouct was the second to be selected behind No. 1 overall pick Baker Mayfield to Cleveland, and he became the highest quarterback taken by the Jets in franchise history since selecting Joe Namath No. 1 overall in the 1965 AFL draft.
Namath gave Darnold his seal of approval as the Jets begin their 50th season since he led them to their only Super Bowl appearance, his famous guaranteed 16-7 win over the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III.
“I look at him as from a quarterback’s eyes and I see the way he goes through his progressions,” Namath told the Jets’ official website. “He knows where to go. I see him buy time with his feet. Between the ears, you’ve got to know somebody. You have to live with him so to speak as a football player, as a coach, as a player. Sam has a special gift going on inside his head. He can analyze things, learn things quickly and it’s exciting to see the potential he has.”
Darnold — who will be the youngest quarterback to start a season opener since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970 — completed 29 of 45 passes for 244 yards with two touchdowns and an interception in three exhibition games, displaying a strong arm and accuracy throwing on the run while out of the pocket. His ability to quickly grasp coordinator Jeremy Bates’ West Coast offense made Teddy Bridgewater expendable as he was dealt to the New Orleans Saints last week, and the Jets still have capable veteran Josh McCown in the event Darnold falters.
“It was close obviously,” coach Todd Bowles said Monday. “Sam had a good preseason. We weren’t holding him back, but we weren’t rushing him at the same time. He’ll have some things to learn, but his poise in the pocket, the way he grasped the offense coming in right away and the guys were around him and absorbed him playing football — he gives us a very good chance to win.”
Darnold has a competent group of receivers but no standout No. 1. Two of them, though, may not be available for the opener. He will have Robby Anderson for this game since the league did not hand down any disciplinary action for his two arrests in a nine-month span.
Jermaine Kearse, who had 65 catches for 810 yards in his first season with the Jets in 2017 after being acquired via trade from Seattle, missed the final two preseason games with an abdominal injury. Quincy Enunwa and Terrelle Pryor will likely split time opposite Anderson and be the primary receivers in three-wideout sets.
Any receiving contributions at tight end will be welcome since the position has a combined 26 catches from the four players listed at the position. Eric Tomlinson, who had eight receptions in his first full season in 2017, is expected to start
The backfield returns Bilal Powell and added Isaiah Crowell, who signed a three-year deal in free agency after playing his first four seasons with Cleveland. Crowell started all 16 games each of the last two years, totaling 1,805 yards. Elijah McGuire is on IR after suffering a foot injury during camp.
On defense, the Jets have a young nucleus led by defensive tackle Leonard Williams and second-year safeties Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye, though the latter is questionable with a foot injury. They bolstered the secondary with the signing of cornerback Trumaine Johnson, who had 10 interceptions his last three seasons with the Los Angeles Rams.
Patricia looks to get Lions to next level
While the Jets have not been to the Super Bowl in 50 years, the Lions are the only non-expansion NFL team yet to play in one — their trophy case empty since winning the 1957 NFL title.
Despite three winning seasons and two playoff appearances in four years under Jim Caldwell, the Lions fired him as their 26-17 loss to Cincinnati in Week 16 ended their postseason hopes in 2017 despite a 9-7 finish.
Patricia, who had been with the New England Patriots since 2004 and was defensive coordinator the past six seasons, was brought on board to help the defense catch up to the offense. He got a first-hand look at the struggles during the preseason, when the Lions gave up an NFL-worst 27.8 points per game.
Patricia ran into some controversy shortly after his hiring regarding a dismissed sexual assault case in 1996. He vigorously denied the charge when it came to light in May, and the team backed Patricia, noting the charge was dropped and also that there was neither a settlement nor any money paid to the accuser.
Patricia’s primary goal is to revamp the culture of a franchise that has won exactly one playoff game since that 1957 NFL title, and that came back in 1991. Detroit looked disjointed throughout preseason as his Patricia’s philosophies took hold, which is why ex-Patriots and veterans Ricky Jean Francois and LeGarrette Blount were brought in this offseason to help the team acclimate.
“This is something that is a change in the way that we’re doing things to try to make it a sustainable situation,” Patricia told the Detroit Free Press. “We’re not trying to do something that’s just going to happen for one day and then not the next. We’re trying to do it consistently over a long period of time. That I have seen progress with and we’ve got a long way to go and we’ll continue to do that.”
Offensively, though, not much is changing since Matt Stafford is still the quarterback and Jim Bob Cooter is still the offensive coordinator. Stafford surpassed 4,000 yards for the seventh straight year in 2017 and is 251 shy of 35,000 for his career.
After finishing with 4,449 yards and 29 TD passes to only 10 interceptions last year, the 10-year pro continues to be one of the upper-tier quarterbacks in the league despite the lack of postseason success. Blount is expected to start at running back, giving him first crack to end Detroit’s 68-game drought without a 100-yard rusher dating back to Reggie Bush in 2013.
Both of Stafford’s 1,000-yard receivers — Golden Tate and Marvin Jones Jr. — return, though Luke Wilson has big hands to fill at tight end since Eric Ebron and his 53 receptions from 2017 went to Indianapolis.
On defense, end Ezekiel Ansah anchors the pass rush after racking up 12 sacks in 2017, and Anthony Zettel added 6.5 sacks on the opposite side. Coordinator Paul Pasqualoni is counting on veteran safeties Glover Quin and Tavon Wilson to help a defense that gave up 39 touchdowns last year improve, and big things are expected of cornerback Quandre Diggs after he signed a three-year, $20 million extension this week.
The Lions are:
- 5-1 ATS in their last six Monday games.
- 6-2 ATS in their last eight games as home favorites.
- 4-1 ATS in their last five Week 1 games.
- The under is 4-1 in their last five games as home favorites between 3.5 and 10 points.
- The under is 5-1 in their last six games as favorites between 3.5 and 10 points.
The Jets are:
- 0-4-1 ATS in their last five road games as underdogs between 3.5 and 10 points.
- 2-6-1 ATS in their last nine road games.
- 1-5-1 ATS in their last seven road games as underdogs.
- The under is 7-3 in their last 10 road games.
- The under is 4-1 in their last five Monday games.
The Bottom Line What to bet on this game.
Full-Game Side Bet
This is not as much a pick for the Lions as it is against the Jets considering they are short-handed at wide receiver coupled with the lack of any experienced pass-catching tight end targets for Darnold.
Kearse is unlikely to play, though Anderson being available will be a huge help. Enunwa will be under a lot of pressure as the No. 2 receiver despite his 58 catches for 857 yards last season. Pryor has a lot to prove after an injury-plagued 2017 — can he reclaim his 1,000-yard form from 2016? Powell and Crowell are going to get plenty of touches as Bates will try to put Darnold in a position to not play beyond himself.
The Lions, meanwhile, can always fall back on Stafford and his receivers offensively. If Tate and Jones can get going early against Jets cornerbacks Johnson and Morris Claiborne, it will take pressure off a running game which has historically struggled.
Prediction: Pick: Lions -6.5
Full-Game Total Pick
Despite Detroit’s struggles in the preseason, it would be surprising to see Bates aggressively dial up deep pass plays for Darnold. The Jets will likely look to keep things simple and control the ball to put the rookie quarterback in favorable down and distance positions.
The Lions biggest challenge will be to bottle up New York’s ground game — four of the Jets’ five wins came last season when they topped 100 yards rushing. Crowell could be the X-factor for New York, the more he adds to the receiving game in the backfield, the more competitive the Jets are.
Detroit has the advantage offensively with Stafford, but New York’s defense should be competitive enough to keep this a relatively low-scoring game.
Prediction: Pick: UNDER 44.5 points
Full-Game Prop Bet
If the Lions get ahead early as expected, it means Darnold and the Jets will have to chase the game. Trusting a rookie quarterback to do that in his NFL debut is a bridge too far, and such a scenario would allow Detroit to both sit back and disguise its coverages to frustrate the Jets quarterback.
Prediction: Pick: Jets UNDER 19.5 points
Half-Time Side Pick
If Maye is unable to play for the Jets, Stafford will likely have a green light to challenge the secondary deep with Tate and Jones. Detroit’s big-play potential combined with New York’s likely conservative offense is a favorable scenario for the Lions to emerge with at least a touchdown lead by halftime.
Prediction: Pick: Lions -3.5 (-115)
Half-Time Total Bet
This again relates more to what is expected of New York’s offense in Darnold’s professional debut, and its defense being good enough to make the Lions work for their points offensively. Unless either defense accounts for a touchdown, it would be surprising to see four first-half scores.
Prediction: Pick: UNDER 22.5 points
Half-Time Prop Prediction
With the expectation the Lions will come out aggressively on offense, this pick is worth taking a flyer on, especially at a plus-115 play to simply be ahead after 15 minutes.
Prediction: Pick: Lions -0.5 points 1st quarter (+115)