The Buffalo Bills kick off their 2023 NFL season on the road tomorrow night when they head to MetLife stadium to face the New York Jets. It’s certain to be a huge AFC East showdown, especially with Aaron Rodgers now in command in the Meadowlands.
Is Rodgers up to the task, though one admittedly familiar under the direction of offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett? Last season the Jets gave the Bills all the could handle, featuring a defense that flustered, frustrated, and forced Buffalo’s offense into mistakes through two nail-biting affairs. Is there a weakness to exploit within the Jets’ defense, which features incredible talent at all three levels?
While we know the the biggest names who’ve joined the Jets this offseason, what additions have flown under the radar, of which Bills Mafia should take notice? What about running back Breece Hall and Dalvin Cook, and of course 2022 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year wide receiver Garrett Wilson? Should we expect more of the same from all three players — especially considering Cook as a new weapon on the Jersey side of the Hudson?
This week, I dove into all this and more with Gang Green Nation’s deputy manager, MacGregor Wells — who took the time to answer my questions ahead of Monday night’s game. Let’s get to it, including a prediction based around the current line at DraftKings Sportsbook!
1. Certainly, the talk of the NFL this offseason has been about Aaron Rodgers landing with the Jets. In most circles, his arrival immediately made Gang Green a popular Super Bowl pick. Since his arrival, and considering only how he fits with the Jets — what about Rodgers’ game leaves you optimistic for great things in 2023, and where are your concerns with his play as it relates to this team?
I think the best thing about Rodgers for the Jets is he isn’t Zach Wilson (or any of the other disasters the Jets have fielded at quarterback over the last 15 years). In what will be a revelation for Jets fans, the Jets’ offense is likely to look competent this year, as long as Rodgers’ protection holds up. I don’t know how much Rodgers has left in the tank, or if he can return to his MVP form. I do know whatever he provides the Jets will be light years better than the dreck the team has been trotting out there for ages.
The major concern with Rodgers is of course his age, and whether last year’s less-than-stellar performance was a product of the hand injury he suffered, or age-related decline. Rodgers turns 40 this season. Outside of Tom Brady there aren’t a lot of examples of 40-year-old quarterbacks tearing up the league. There are plenty of examples of 40-year-old quarterbacks falling off a cliff, if they haven’t already retired. Rodgers clearly lacks the mobility he had when he was younger, but the rest of his game appears to be largely intact, judging from the little we saw from him in preseason. We’ll see how this works out when the games count, but I am confident at a minimum Rodgers will be the best Jets quarterback since Brett Favre in 2008.
2. The Jets have one of, if not thee, most talented defense in the league. At every level, there’s at least one bona fide stud to contend with — be that DT Quinnen Williams, LB C.J. Mosley, or CB Sauce Gardner. That said: If you were game planning to face the Jets’ defense, is there a weakness you’d have identified as exploitable?
The Jets’ linebackers and safeties struggle to defend against the pass. Consequently, a team that can exploit that weakness with tight ends, running backs and slot receivers in the passing game will likely see success against this Jets defense. In addition, the Jets run defense is hyper aggressive, stressing penetration and tackles in the backfield. When it works it’s great, but if you can get running backs past the initial penetrating linemen, the potential for big runs opens up, particularly with faster running backs.
3. Bills Mafia knows the big names who’ve joined the Jets this offseason. Can you tell us about some of the more unsung players who joined the team, either via free agency or the NFL Draft — and what their addition could mean for the Jets in 2023?
On offense, the return of Mekhi Becton after missing two years with injuries isn’t exactly an addition to the roster, but it feels like an addition since we haven’t seen him in action since 2020. If Becton can give the Jets a healthy season that should be a major upgrade at right tackle. There aren’t a lot of other unsung additions on offense that are slated to play a big role for the Jets. Perhaps running back Israel Abanikanda, the Jets’ fifth-round draft choice in 2023, could have an impact if Breece Hall and Dalvin Cook are both limited due to injuries. Abanikanda has elite speed, and is capable of big plays. However, he is currently fourth on the Jets’ running back depth chart, so he may see little if any action on Monday night.
A final guy on offense might be tight end Jeremy Ruckert, who was the Jets’ third-round pick in 2022. Ruckert saw very little action in 2022, and he is still listed as third on the Jets’ tight end depth chart, so he may see little action on Monday night. But he flashed some big play abilities in training camp this year, so maybe he shows us something.
On defense Tony Adams is the guy to watch. Adams was signed by the Jets as an undrafted free agent in 2022. He saw just 118 snaps on defense all last year, but he is slated to be the Jets’ starting free safety this season. Adams tested extremely well athletically, but he is an almost complete unknown when it comes to starting at safety in the NFL. The Jets raved about him all preseason, but we’ll just have to see if he can hold up against Josh Allen and the Bills’ offense when things get real.
On special teams the Jets signed undrafted free-agent wide receiver Xavier Gipson this year, and Gipson appears to have won the returner role for the Jets (although that is somewhat uncertain — Mecole Hardman may end up in that role). Gipson did some good things returning in preseason. We’ll have to see if he gets the chance on Monday.
4. Running back Breece Hall was on a mission to run away with Offensive Rookie of the Year honors last season before his season-ending injury. As Hall makes his return, has there been any hint at how offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett will utilize Hall and running back Dalvin Cook?
I don’t think anyone really knows how the carries will be divvied up for the Jets. Neither Hall nor Cook, who is coming off shoulder surgery of his own, played a snap in preseason. To me Hall is the better back if he is 100% healthy. However, you have to believe that Cook would not have signed with the Jets unless he was assured a fairly prominent role this year. The Jets also paid a fairly substantial amount (for a running back) to Cook at $7 million for this season. That indicates the Jets anticipate Cook playing a big role in the Jets’ offense. If I had to guess, I’d say the two backs will share the work fairly evenly this year, with Hall getting maybe 55-60% of the work and Cook 40-45%. Hall probably sees more of the work on passing downs. There may be times we see both backs on the field at the same time, with Hall lining up as a receiver. But with both guys probably on a pitch count due to their health issues early in the season, neither may see a ton of work in Week 1. Look for Michael Carter to get plenty of run in what may be a fairly even three-way distribution of snaps for the Jets on Monday night.
5. Speaking of incredible rookies from 2022, Garrett Wilson has the look of another slam-dunk pick for the Jets. After a performance that earned him ORotY award, what do you predict Wilson will do for a follow-up this season?
Wilson appears to already be Aaron Rodgers’ favorite, and Rodgers tends to throw a ton to his top target. I think Wilson is primed for a big year this year, as long as he stays healthy. Maybe something like 1250+ yards and 8+ touchdowns. Rodgers is going to be targeting him a ton.
6. Okay, you know I have to ask: How do you see things shaking out on MNF — is DraftKings Sportsbook’s line a bit too skewed in favor of the Bills, considering the moves the Jets made, in addition to playing at home on what is certain to be an emotional night paying tribute to those who lost their lives on 9/11?
I’d love to pick the Jets here, but objectively the Bills are what the Jets hope to be. The Bills are an established, elite team in the NFL. They’ve proven it over the last several years. The Jets haven’t proven anything yet. I think until the Jets show it on the field, you have to favor the established powerhouse, and that’s the Bills.
I think this will be a close game, but ultimately the Jets are too much a team in transition. Their offensive line has yet to play a single snap together. Their top two running backs haven’t seen any snaps in the preseason. They have a new quarterback, new offensive coordinator, an entirely new wide receiver corps outside of Garrett Wilson, and a new free safety. Even if things work out as the Jets hope this season, it probably will take a little time to come together. So reluctantly I have to pick the Bills on Monday night.
My thanks to MacGregor Wells for taking the time to chat with me before the Bills and Jets face off tomorrow night. Be sure to check out Gang Green Nation for more Jet-related content ahead of the Monday Night Football showdown, including my turn in the hot seat answering questions about the Bills!