The rookie quarterback will make his debut on Monday against the Detroit Lions as the franchise begins a new era.
After being drafted third overall in this year’s draft, Darnold beat out Josh McCown and Teddy Bridgewater in preseason, completing 29-of-45 passes for 244 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.
The Jets aren’t expected to be competitive in Darnold’s first season, but the franchise is hoping to see enough from the 21-year-old that he can be the foundational piece for the future.
In the meantime, Darnold will struggle to life a Jets roster that isn’t bursting with talent, especially on the offensive side of the ball.
The running game will feature Isaiah Crowell and Bilal Powell, while Darnold’s primary targets will be Jermaine Kearse, Quincy Enunwa, Terrelle Pryor and Robby Anderson, who was the team’s leading receiver last year with 941 yards and seven touchdowns.
In Detroit, Darnold will face a defence that gave up the sixth-most passing yards last season (243.3), but ranked 15th in passer rating against (84.1).
Matt Patricia’s arrival on the sidelines, however, could freshen up the unit and the team as a whole after the former defensive coordinator came over from New England.
Under former head coach Jim Caldwell, Detroit plateaued with consecutive 9-7 seasons the past two years.
Patricia had plenty of success with the Patriots against the Jets, so that familiarity should help the Lions in the opener. Darnold’s presence under centre and the unpredictability the rookie brings saps some of that though.
For the Lions offence, many of the same faces in the passing game return to flank quarterback Matthew Stafford, but after racking up the fewest rush yards in the league last year, Detroit are hoping the additions of veteran LeGarrette Bloutn and rookie Kerryone Johnson liven up the ground attack.
One year after making an unexpected leap, the Los Angeles Rams won’t be taking anyone by surprise this season.
From hunters to the hunted, the Rams are now dealing with great expectations after significantly improving their team with the addition of multiple big-name players.
The reigning NFC West champions, who went 11-5 last year, aren’t just considered favourites in their division – they’re seen as one of the best teams in the league and serious Super Bowl contenders.
Their Week 1 meeting with the Oakland Raiders won’t make or break their credentials, but it will serve as an initial test for a defence that has massively turned over.
Aaron Donald, the 2017 Defensive Player of the Year, will take his usual place on the defensive line, but he’ll now be joined by fellow pass rush dynamo Ndamukong Suh.
Oakland have one of the best interior lines in football – if not the very best – so the match-up will be a battle of strengths and showcase just how dominant the pairing of Donald and Suh can be.
In the secondary, new cornerback duo Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib will line up against Amari Cooper and Jordy Nelson as they try to limit Derek Carr and the Raiders’ passing attack.
Oakland’s offence as a whole took a step back last season after an impressive 2016, but they still possess the kind of talent that should challenge the revamped Rams defence’s chemistry in their first full game together.
Coping without Mack
On the other side of the ball, the Raiders were always going to have their hands full against last season’s top-scoring team, but after trading Khalil Mack to Chicago last week, they’re also now without one of the best defensive players in the league.
Los Angeles allowed just 28 sacks last year, fifth-fewest in the NFL, but as much as Mack’s pass rushing will be missed – he’s had at least 10.5 sacks in each of the past three seasons – so will his work in the running game and ability to drop into coverage.
Todd Gurley had 2,093 total yards from scrimmage last season and once again figures to be the focal point of the Rams’ offence as both a runner and receiver.
Oakland’s linebackers will have their work cut out trying to slow down Gurley, while the secondary has to contend with the trio of Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp and Brandin Cooks.
The Rams paid a premium for Cooks, trading a first and sixth-round pick to the New England Patriots for the wide receiver and a fourth-round selection. And that was before they extended him with a five-year deal worth $81 million.
The speedster should bring many of the same elements Sammy Watkins did during his lone season in Los Angeles, but it will be interesting to see if he and Jared Goff can develop more of a chemistry and utilise the connection in other ways instead of just deep routes.
Return of Gruden
Along with the action on the field, there will be plenty of intrigue on the sidelines as Jon Gruden coaches his first regular season game since 2008.
Ten years in the NFL is a long time, so it’s unclear how Gruden’s coaching will be affected by his hiatus.
During his previous head coaching gigs, especially with the Raiders from 1998-2001, he leaned on the running game during an era that preceded the passing boom. The league is so much different now, which means Gruden may not have the same success in his return if he continues clutching to past principles.
There’s also some mystery in how Gruden’s players will respond to his coaching. The trade of Mack was a shock for many of them and could have created some mistrust in the locker room.
Whether or not Gruden can unite his team and have them playing hard will be somewhat telling for the rest of the season.
Setting your lineup in Week 1 is relatively easy with few injuries and no bye weeks to deal with, but If you’re willing to get adventurous, here are five sleepers that could pay dividends off your bench or the waiver wire.
A popular streaming play this week, the Cincinnati Bengals quarterback has a favourable match-up against the Indianapolis Colts, who last year allowed the fifth-most passing yards per game (246.6) and the sixth-most fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks. And between A.J. Green, Tyler Eifert, Joe Mixon and John Ross, Dalton has weapons to work with.
Especially for those in PPR leagues, the New England Patriots running back could offer plenty of points with how much work he’s likely to get in the passing game. Rex Burkhead will likely start and get a significant workload, but with how thin the Patriots’ wide receiver group is, White should be lined up out wide or in the slot often. If Tom Brady sees a linebacker lined up against White, he’ll attack the mismatch over and over again.
If you have the fortitude to start a Jacksonville Jaguars receiver this week, make sure it’s Cole. The New York Giants allowed the second-most passing yards last year (252.4), and although they should be better defending the air game this season, they’ll also be without their top pass rusher, Olivier Vernon, in the opener. And who else is Blake Bortles going to throw to? Cole is a better option than Dede Westbrook or Donte Moncrief.
He may be old and well past his prime, but Gates can still help fantasy owners in the right situation, and this week against the Kansas City Chiefs is certainly that. The game should be a high-scoring affair with both defences dealing with key injuries and from Gates’ perspective, he’ll likely get a Chiefs unit missing Eric Berry. He should be able to do damage in the middle of the field and he’s also a favourite target of Philip Rivers near the end zone.
Streaming defences is one of the most common strategies in the fantasy community because it’s so predicated on match-ups. Defences facing the New York Jets this season will often be used, with the Detroit Lions getting the first crack at rookie quarterback Sam Darnold. While he does have immense talent, Darnold should make his fair share of mistakes as he gets his feet wet as a starter. The Jets’ skill players don’t exactly strike fear into hearts either.