The NFL preseason has come and gone for the Jets and Giants, and heading into next week’s season-openers, the big questions on both teams still have to be answered.
The Jets open their season Sept. 13 at Houston, and the Giants open their season the same day at home against Washington. For all of the new faces and big-name players on both squads, how each team fares this season will be determined by two very different phases.
The Giants, who went 1-3 in the preseason, are one of the favorites in the NFC to reach the Super Bowl. They have a stout defense that overcame a rash of injuries last year and is one of the best in the league.
Quarterback Eli Manning is steady, if unspectacular like his brother Peyton, and Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs give the team what they believe is one of the best backfield tandems in the league.
The question marks are at wide receiver, where Plaxico Burress and Amani Toomer are gone and will be replaced by an untested group. The team believes it has the replacements for the two veterans in Steve Smith, Mario Manningham, Hakeem Nicks and Domenik Hixon.
Smith, in his third year out of USC, is the most experienced and caught 57 passes last year for and will probably be the guy Manning looks for in the clutch. Whether he can become the team’s No. 1 option is unclear. The Giants struggled down the stretch last year when Burress left the team, and Smith will see a lot of extra coverage this year.
Manningham, in his second year out of Michigan, had just four receptions last year. Nicks, the team’s first round draft choice out of North Carolina, has played well in the preseason. He caught six passes against the Jets last week and Thursday against New England, he took in a 64-yard touchdown pass.
Hixon’s value is primarily on special teams, where he is a dangerous return man, but he could also see time at receiver in obvious passing downs.
It’s going to be critical for the Giants to develop a passing game so teams can’t load up in the box against Jacobs and Bradshaw, who will also see their share of passes from Manning. But if the young receivers can’t get separation and force the Giants to become one-dimensional, they won’t be heading to the Super Bowl.
The Jets (2-2 in the preseason) aren't considered Super Bowl contenders, but Rex Ryan was brought in to improve a defense that played poorly during last year’s 9-7 campaign.
The team brought in Mark Sanchez as the team’s top pick and named him the starting quarterback after a preseason competition with Kellen Clemens, but the team’s success will be determined by its defense.
Ryan brought over linebacker Bart Scott from Baltimore, and he should help improve a defense that had difficulty stopping teams last year. The Jets surrendered 356 points last year, the most allowed in the AFC East. With Scott and All-Pro safety Kerry Rhodes, there are some pieces for an attacking defense, which Ryan employed as the defensive coordinator for the Ravens.
While Sanchez and running back Leon Washington are the featured offensive players, it will ultimately be the defense that decides the fate of the Jets this year.