Photo: wikipedia
Photo: wikipedia

The New York Jets' 2021 schedule, released by the NFL Wednesday night, is a bundle of firsts in franchise history mixed in alongside those familiar touchstones that pop up in every schedule every year.

The unique scheduling wrinkles begin with opening day on Sunday, Sept. 12. The Jets' first game of head coach Robert Saleh's tenure comes at the Carolina Panthers, to whom the Jets traded Sam Darnold in April. Thus the game sets up a potential QB matchup of the third overall pick of the 2018 NFL Draft — Darnold — against the second pick of this year's draft — Zach Wilson — right from the jump.

Also, the last time the Jets opened a season against an NFC South opponent was 2013, against Tampa Bay at MetLife Stadium. The Green & White have never opened a season on the road against the Panthers or any other NFC South team since 2002. And of their seven games all-time against Carolina, they've never before played the Panthers in September.

New York Jets schedule 2021

The Jets open the season against Darnold and Panthers in Week 1. That game kicks off at 1 p.m. ET on Sunday, Sept. 12 on CBS. The rest of the Jets' schedule is as follows:

Week Date Opponent Kickoff time TV
1 Sept. 12 at Panthers 1 p.m. ET CBS
2 Sept. 19 vs. Patriots 1 p.m. ET CBS
3 Sept. 26 at. Broncos 4:05 p.m. ET CBS
4 Oct. 3 vs. Titans 1 p.m. ET CBS
5 Oct. 10 at Falcons (London) 9:30 a.m. ET NFL Network
6 Oct. 17 BYE
7 Oct. 24 at Patriots 1 p.m. ET CBS
8 Oct. 31 vs. Bengals 1 p.m. ET CBS
9 Nov. 4 (TNF) at Colts 1 p.m. ET CBS
10 Nov. 14 vs. Bills 1 p.m. ET CBS
11 Nov. 21 vs. Dolphins 1 p.m. ET CBS
12 Nov. 28 at Texans 1 p.m. ET CBS
13 Dec. 5 vs. Eagles 1 p.m. ET CBS
14 Dec. 12 vs. Saints 1 p.m. ET Fox
15 Dec. 18 or 19 (TBD) at Dolphins TBD TBD
16 Dec. 26 vs. Jaguars 1 p.m. ET CBS
17 Jan. 2 vs. Buccaneers 1 p.m. ET Fox
18 Jan. 9 at Bills 1 p.m. ET CBS

The Jets are already looking better heading into 2021, at least on paper. Saleh should be a coaching upgrade over Gase, and they have a new quarterback in the fold in Wilson. It may take time for everything to come together, but the Jets will have a chance to log more than the two wins they did last year.Generally speaking, the AFC East teams had tougher schedules last year than they will this year, as they were playing two of the better divisions in football, the AFC West and NFC West. That definitely didn't help the lackluster Jets last season. They were one of the worst teams in the NFL under Adam Gase and began the year on a 13-game losing streak. However, they won two of their last three games to finish the season 2-14 and avoid the No. 1 pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.

Since the Jets are playing a last-place schedule after finishing fourth in the AFC East, they do have some good-looking matchups on the slate, as a few teams have some holes in the secondary that can be exploited. The Falcons, Texans, Eagles, and Bengals stand out as teams that could be solid matchups for the Jets. There definitely will be more winnable games on the schedule this year.

Jets key games

  • Week 16 vs. Jaguars: This is a matchup of the top two draft picks in 2021 as Zach Wilson will battle against Trevor Lawrence. The top two quarterbacks have taken typically don't meet often in Year 1, with the last meeting being Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota in 2015.
  • Week 1 at Panthers: The Jets will face Sam Darnold for the first time as he has his new home in Carolina. New York will get a first look at how much Darnold has improved -- or if he's the same quarterback that failed with the franchise.
  • Week 8 vs. Bengals: One of the winnable games on the calendar for the Jets, New York will get its first look at Joe Burrow and the high-powered Bengals offense. This one could be a shootout at MetLife, one of the more exciting games of the year.


Photo: reddit
Photo: reddit
  • The season certainly begins on an exciting note as the Jets begin 2021 against the Carolina Panthers. Carolina happens to have the Jets’ former quarterback Sam Darnold, their former top receiver Robby Anderson, and the guy they almost hired as head coach Matt Rhule. It felt like this game was destined for some high-profile slot, either the opener or primetime.
  • The home opener also could have some excitement as the Patriots come to town in Week 2. It could be the first meeting between AFC East rookie quarterbacks Zach Wilson and Mac Jones.
  • It’s a bit of a surprise that the Jets haven’t been to London since 2015. Their owner was just the United States ambassador to the United Kingdom for more than three years. This year the Jets finally return for a Week 5 game against the Falcons.
  • A bye predictably follows the early season London game. I don’t love that. My general rule on byes is the later, the better. I prefer a bye near the end of the season to get the team fresh for the stretch run. You never know how things will work out, though. The Jets’ last trip to London also brought an early bye in 2015. It proved beneficial as the team had been dealt several early-season injuries to key players who got time to heal.
  • One positive of the London trip is that it technically will be for a Falcons home game. The Jets also get the new 17th game at home. That means the team has nine home games and only seven true road games (along with the neutral site London game against Atlanta).
  • The Jets only have one primetime game, against the Indianapolis Colts on a Thursday night. It’s a bit of a surprise to see the league choose this over Jets-Jaguars for a Thursday night game that would have matched up the top two picks in the NFL Draft. A lack of primetime games suggests the league office isn’t expecting the Jets to be very good. Every game aside from the contests against the Falcons and the Colts (along with a late-season game against Miami that could be flexed to Saturday) is scheduled for 1:00. I’m not upset, though. I personally prefer 1:00 starts. It doesn’t matter much anyway. After the first few weeks of the season, games can be flexed to another time slot if the Jets exceed expectations.
  • The Jets do get a bit of a break as an important AFC East game against Buffalo comes after the Thursday night contest with the Colts. They get a few extra days to prepare in something that resembles a mini-bye week.

Pivotal Matchups

If there is any game that will get the attention of a national audience, it's Week 16 for the home matchup against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

These teams had just three wins between them in 2020 but will now be led by the top two picks of the 2021 draft. The Jaguars took Trevor Lawrence with the No. 1 pick, while the Jets went with Wilson at No. 2.

If they live up to expectations, this could be the beginning of an exciting rivalry between the two young signal-callers. Of course, a big performance by Lawrence could help remind the Jets what they gave up by winning two late games last year.

Meanwhile, the most important games in the standings will likely come within the division.

New England is coming off its worst season in 20 years, yet New York still wasn't able to get a win against Bill Belichick and company. The Jets have lost their last 10 games against the Patriots dating back to an overtime victory in 2015.

Ending this streak would endear Saleh to the fanbase and prove these aren't the same old Jets, Bleacher Report noted.

Jets strength of schedule

Photo: usatoday
Photo: usatoday

Though the Jets are playing a last-place schedule, their strength of schedule is only 19th-rated across the NFL. It's tied with the Patriots at a 0.489 SOS mark. For those wondering why the Jets would have, mathematically, the toughest strength of schedule in the AFC East, keep in mind their 2-14 record is dragging down the strength of schedule of the rest of the teams in the division.

The Jets have some winnable games, and they'll be better off with Saleh and Wilson at the helm, but it may take time for things to get geared up in New York.

Toughest Tests: As is the case with every team in the AFC East, the toughest matchup for the Jets will be against the Buccaneers. The Bucs just dominated the Chiefs in the Super Bowl and have Tom Brady at the helm. With most of the Bucs key players returning to action, they will continue to be a big-time threat in 2021.

Save for that, the two matchups against the Bills always tend to give the Jets trouble while a sneaky-tough game could be the one where they have to travel to Denver to take on the Broncos. Were that a home game, the Jets may have a chance (provided that Aaron Rodgers doesn't go to the Broncos), but since it's on the road at high altitude, it will be a tough test for the team.

Biggest Breaks: When looking at the Jets' non-divisional home schedule, it doesn't look too bad. Sure, you've got the Bucs, but aside from that, the Bengals, Jaguars and Eagles all have porous defenses that the Jets can move the ball on, while the Titans have their share of issues on the back end as well. The Saints could be fine without Drew Brees, but they could also be an up-and-down dome team traveling to New York.

These nice matchups could give the Jets a legitimate chance to win a solid chunk of their home games.

Bottom Line: The Jets don't have a very difficult-looking schedule right now. The only question is about how much you're willing to trust them. They are undergoing a lot of changes and are still in a rebuild. They made some nice additions this offseason, but just how much will their quarterback be ready to produce as a rookie? If he stumbles out of the gate, that could put the Jets in a hole that isn't easy to recover from.

The Jets' time may come under Saleh and GM Joe Douglas. For now, though, don't expect Wilson to lead the Jets to a winning season. It's going to take patience for New York fans to get the most out of Wilson, Sporting News predicted.

2021 season prediction

Even with a 2021 schedule that ranks 10th-easiest, the Jets could be set for some growing pains this season. Wilson was impressive in his final season at BYU, but he is still a huge question mark in the NFL. On top of that, New York is trying to overhaul the roster and bring in new schemes on both offense and defense.

Their division is going to be tough, as it seems to be growing as one of the toughest throughout the league. The Bills are one of the best teams in the AFC, and both, the Patriots and Miami Dolphins will consider themselves challengers for the playoffs.

The Jets’ best chance to win games will come against the other young QBs they face on their schedule. Although they seem headed in the right direction, this, unfortunately, feels like another long season for Jets fans.

Projected 2021 record: 5-12

New York Jets

The franchise began as the Titans in the American Football League in 1960. The team changed its nickname to the Jets in 1963. New York's high point of their AFL days came with a stunning upset of the NFL's Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III. The team returned to the postseason often during the 1980s and then in 1998 won its first AFC East crown.

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