Jets' 2021 schedule: Game-by-game predictions

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Robert Saleh treated image black t-shirt, headset on, green background
Robert Saleh treated image black t-shirt, headset on, green background

The Jets’ 2021 schedule features six games against teams that went to the playoffs last year, and eight games against teams that finished over. 500. That’s not exactly an easy slate for a team with a rookie quarterback and rookie coach, trying to pick up the pieces after a 2-14 season – especially considering how tough the first half of the season looks.

Here’s a look at the 2021 slate, as acquired from various NFL sources, with some analysis and some way-too-early predictions on how their season will go:

Week 1: at Carolina Panthers, Sunday, Sept. 12

The NFL schedule makers sure do love drama! Four months of hype for Zach Wilson vs. Sam Darnold? Endless talk about the new Jets’ savior vs. the old one? Fantastic. It’s a debate that’s going to linger for years, so might as well start it early. Also, assume Darnold and the Panthers have the big edge in Round 1, considering it’ll be the then-22-year-old Wilson’s first NFL start.

Early prediction: LOSS

Week 2: vs. New England Patriots, Sunday, Sept. 19

At least Wilson won’t have to wait long to get a taste of the incredibly one-sided Jets-Patriots rivalry. One of the safest bets ever seems to be taking a Bill Belichick-coached team over one with a rookie quarterback, especially one making just his second NFL start. Unless rookie Mac Jones wins the Pats’ starting quarterback job by then.

Early prediction: LOSS

Week 3: at Denver Broncos, Sunday, Sept. 26

It’s hard to say whether Teddy Bridgewater or Drew Lock will be the Broncos starting QB at this point, or whether a bad offense will be any better. Honestly, even though it’s on the road, this is by far the easiest game in the first half of the Jets’ season. It might be the only truly winnable game, too.

Early prediction: WIN

Week 4: Week 4: vs. Tennessee Titans, Sunday, Oct. 3

The Titans are a good, solid football team with a dangerous offense. Sure, the Jets stole one of their top weapons in Corey Davis. But can Robert Saleh’s rebuilt defense have enough to stop Ryan Tannehill and Derrick Henry? That’s hard to imagine this soon.

Early prediction: LOSS

Tennessee Titans wide receiver Corey Davis (84) runs after a catch during the first half against the Houston Texans at Nissan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
Tennessee Titans wide receiver Corey Davis (84) runs after a catch during the first half against the Houston Texans at Nissan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Week 5: At Atlanta Falcons (in London), Sunday, Oct. 10, 9:30 a.m.

This is just a little too much, too soon. The Jets’ rebuilding defense will have to contend with a Falcons offense that now has a healthy Julio Jones and rookie tight end Kyle Pitts. And they’ll have to deal with an unusual and somewhat disruptive trip. Weird things tend to happen in international games, but a win is a lot to ask.

Early prediction: LOSS

Week 6: BYE

Week 7: at New England Patriots, Sunday, Oct. 14

Having two weeks to prepare to out-coach Belichick isn’t likely to help Saleh much. Maybe by now Wilson will be settling in. Maybe the defense will be coming together. But asking Wilson to win a game in Foxboro this early in his career is asking a lot. After all, the Jets haven’t won there in more than 10 years.

Early prediction: LOSS

Jan 3, 2021; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New York Jets wide receiver Denzel Mims (11) goes up for a catch over New England Patriots cornerback Joejuan Williams (33) during the first half at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 3, 2021; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New York Jets wide receiver Denzel Mims (11) goes up for a catch over New England Patriots cornerback Joejuan Williams (33) during the first half at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Week 8: Week 8: vs. Cincinnati Bengals, Sunday, Oct. 31

What a fun show this could be between two promising young quarterbacks. Wilson vs. Joe Burrow, last year’s No. 1 overall pick who is trying to come back from the torn ACL that ended his rookie season. Both teams have theoretical offensive firepower, too. It may come down to which defense is better, and the Jets might actually have the edge.

Early prediction: WIN

Week 9: at Indianapolis Colts, Thursday, Nov. 4, 8:20 p.m.

The Jets will be a much more competitive team than the one that lost 21-7 at home to the Colts last year. And the Colts might turn out to be a little worse with Carson Wentz at quarterback instead of Philip Rivers. Regardless, this will be Wilson’s first experience with a short week in the NFL, and on the road, too. That’s a bad combination.

Early prediction: LOSS

Week 10: vs. Buffalo Bills, Sunday, Nov. 14

The Bills are still the class of the AFC East and they came so close to winning the entire AFC last season. This season they might actually be better, as long as quarterback Josh Allen doesn’t regress. At some point during his rookie season, Wilson will steal a win that was unexpected. It would be a shocker if it happens against the Bills.

Early prediction: LOSS

Week 11: vs. Miami Dolphins, Sunday, Nov. 21

On the other hand, this might be a good spot. The Dolphins are well-coached and won some surprising games last season. But they also have big questions at quarterback with Tua Tagovailoa. They might be just offensively-challenged enough for Wilson to carry the Jets over a solid defense here.

Early prediction: WIN

Week 12: at Houston Texans, Sunday, Nov. 28

Anyone trying to guess what this mess of a franchise will look like this late in the season is wasting their time. Who knows if Deshaun Watson will be available this season due to his legal issues, or would even play for Texans if he is available. They weren’t a good team with him and J.J. Watt and others who left. They might turn out to be the worst team in the NFL now.

Early prediction: WIN

Week 13: vs. Philadelphia Eagles, Sunday, Dec. 5

These two games probably represent the softest part of the Jets’ schedule as the Eagles try to rebuild under new coach Nick Sirianni and quarterback Jalen Hurts. They lost 7 of their last 8 last season and don’t look all that much better now. Unless the NFC East is weak enough to keep them afloat, their season could be over by now.

Early prediction: WIN

Week 14: vs. New Orleans Saints, Sunday, Dec. 12

Just when Jets fans are starting to get excited about the future and a three-game winning streak... here comes the rug being pulled out from under them. It’s true, the Saints don’t have Drew Brees anymore. But their defense, coaching and their overall offensive firepower will make this a difficult game – even away from the Superdome, where the Saints are rarely the same.

Early prediction: LOSS

Week 15: at Miami Dolphins, Saturday or Sunday, Dec. 18 or 19

If all goes well, Wilson should be rounding into form now, showing everyone more than a few flashes of the talent that made him the Jets’ No. 2 pick. Can he win a division game on the road against a tough opponent? He’ll have to do it at some point. But it might be a lot to ask for a rookie. It also seems unlikely he’ll beat any division team twice.

Early prediction: LOSS

Nov 3, 2019; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; New York Jets defensive tackle Quinnen Williams (95) reacts after sacking Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick (14) during the first half at Hard Rock Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 3, 2019; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; New York Jets defensive tackle Quinnen Williams (95) reacts after sacking Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick (14) during the first half at Hard Rock Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Week 16: vs. Jacksonville Jaguars, Sunday, Dec. 26

It’s a bit surprising the NFL buried this game the day after Christmas and didn’t even put it in prime time. Trevor Lawrence vs. Zach Wilson, the No. 1 vs. the No. 2 pick, seems like a juicy matchup. Then again, these two teams were a combined 3-29 last year so... yuck.

Early prediction: WIN

Week 17: vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Sunday, Jan. 2

Whatever positives anyone is going to take from the rookie seasons of Wilson and Saleh better have happened by now, because the final, two-game stretch is a killer. Even at the Meadowlands, playing the defending Super Bowl champs, who are bringing just about everyone back, is a game where the Jets should consider themselves winners if they can keep it close.

Early prediction: LOSS

Week 18: at Buffalo Bills, Sunday, Jan. 9

Maybe the Bills will have clinched their playoff position by now and will have nothing to play for. It seems more likely they’ll still be in the push for home-field advantage in the AFC, though. Regardless, it could be cold and nasty in Buffalo and Wilson will be hitting the end of a long, exhausting rookie season. Ending on a high note is nice dream, but probably not reality.

Early prediction: LOSS