After posting a 7-9 record last season, the Jets will have seven games against 2019 playoff teams and the 2020 schedule strength is .533. With training camp on the horizon and September not too far off in the distance, NewYorkJets.com is examining each of the Green & White's matchups. Next in the series, we discuss with legendary radio voice Greg Papa the Jets' home opener against the San Francisco 49ers in Week 2.
QB Jimmy Garoppolo and the 49ers returned in February to the Super Bowl, where they suffered a fall-from-ahead loss to Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs. Papa feels the Niners have a possible edge over opponents, can represent the conference again in the big game this season in Tampa, and win their first Super Bowl since the 1994 season.
"I think they're hopeful that they're going to be able to pick up where they left off and maybe have a slight advantage over teams," Papa told Eric Allen and Ethan Greenberg in a recent Official Jets Podcast. "It's not like they have a rookie quarterback or Jimmy's playing his first full year — he's been in the system for a while and if he stays healthy this year, it'll be his second full year. And you've got Fred Warner, who's calling the defense since his rookie year, now going into his third year. ... They think the continuity's going to be key."
Every top team suffers defections the next year, and so it has been with San Francisco. DT DeForest Buckner was traded to Indianapolis for the 13th overall pick in April's draft, which the 49ers then used to trade down one rung and take DT Javon Kinlaw. And WR Emmanuel Sanders, who came from Denver in trade to start 12 games for the Niners through the SB, has departed as a UFA for New Orleans and has perhaps been replaced as the No. 2 receiver by low-first-rounder Brandon Aiyuk. And let's not overlook new LT Trent Williams (see below).
"When I first heard of this trade, I immediately thought of Jerry Jeudy, the wide receiver out of Alabama," Papa said. "I thought if you lose Sanders, you bring in Jeudy, he's the finishing piece. But they had their sites set on Kinlaw. He's different than Buckner in that he's heavier. He told me right now he weighs about 315 and that's substantially more than Buckner, who had one issue — teams would move him a little bit. Now will Kinlaw be as good as Buckner? We'll see. Buckner became, in years 3 and 4, a pretty good player for the 49ers."
Matchups to Watch
A huge matchup will be Garoppolo (69% accuracy, 3,978 yards, 27 TDs and 13 INTs last year) throwing to TE George Kittle and WR Deebo Samuel (although Samuel's availability is in question after he recently underwent foot surgery) against the Jets' Jamal Adams-led secondary that has revamped its corners with the additions of Pierre Desir and Quincy Wilson and rookie Bryce Hall to holdovers Brian Poole and Bless Austin.
And Papa cites a few more. Even without Buckner, the 49ers 4th in the NFL last year in sack rate, will rush the likes of Nick Bosa, Arik Armstead and Dee Ford at Sam Darnold. And Raheem Mostert and Tevin Coleman return at the top of their No. 1-ranked rushing attack at 204 yards/game.
"This team is dominant in two areas," the voice of the 49ers said. "Without question Adam Gase' thought process has got to be to block what I call 'the Gold Rush.' And then on the other side, you've got to stop the 49ers' state-of-the-art running game. And you plug Trent Williams in at left tackle? Joe Staley was a tremendous player, a borderline Hall of Famer, but Williams in my opinion is a significant upgrade. So in order to control the 49ers, you've got to handle their two rushes."
Why It's Important
The game is crucial for a successful 2020 takeoff by the Jets. Either they'll be following a rousing opening day win at Orchard Park with a home-opening W over a Super Bowl team to go to 2-0 OR they'll be trying to counter a difficult defeat to the Bills and avoid an 0-2 start against the fortified 49ers. Papa, who hails from Buffalo and counts Joe Namath as "one of my heroes growing up," isn't discounting his Niners at all but likes how Darnold, the Gregg Williams D and the Jets as a whole are shaping up.
"The AFC East is wide open this year," Papa said. "I think Buffalo going into it on paper is the strongest team, but New England is right there and I don't think it's out of the realm that the Jets could flip that 7-9 based on the 6-2 finish and get to nine or 10 wins and challenge. Now with the extra playoff spot, you're talking about making the playoffs in Darnold's third year."