Every week during the season, we’ll scout out the Jets' next opponent. This week, that opponent is the San Francisco 49ers.
At some point this season, the Jets were going to have to play the 49ers.
The NFL schedule rotates interconference matchups and the AFC East drew the NFC West this year. There wasn't going to be any time where facing the 49ers was going to be easy, but there probably wasn't a worse place for the Jets to run into them than right now.
When you looked at the Jets schedule heading into this season, there were a few games you could circle and point to as ones where the Jets would need their defense to carry them to a victory. This is one of those games, although the loss of Darrelle Revis makes the whole defensive reliance thing a pretty dubious proposition.
The last thing the Jets offense needs right now is a chance to get smacked in the mouth, kicked in the stomach or otherwise physically abused by a defense that's good under any circumstances. The fact that they're coming off an embarrassing loss to the Vikings and playing in an unexpectedly good division that will make a second straight division crown a hard task to pull off only makes it that much more difficult.
San Francisco's defense isn't just strong in one area. They rush the passer, stuff the run, cover well down the field and have perhaps the league's finest defensive lineman in Justin Smith.
If the Jets have been holding something back on offense, in other words, now would be the time to break it out. We don't really think that's the case, but we're pretty sure the howls will be coming from more than a few corners if Smith, Patrick Willis and rest of the 49ers treat the Jets like doormats.
Here's some other elements to keep in mind heading into Sunday.
Jim Harbaugh - Harbaugh has a little bit of Rex Ryan to him in his fondness for brash statements and an outsize personality that's a bit difficult to love unless he's leading your team to wins. Harbaugh's off to the same great start that Rex lived through and his team looks pretty well stacked for a run at bettering Ryan's marks.
Trench Battles - We mentioned the San Francisco defense up top, but the battle up front will be just as important on the other side as well. The Jets have struggled stopping the run thus far and the Niners have a physical crew of blockers that will try to exploit that early and often.
Randy Moss - Moss has been a part-time player in San Francisco thanks to the presence of Michael Crabtree and Mario Manningham, but there's a feeling that there's something being held in reserve and that the old Moss will show up at some point. Without Revis in the lineup, the 49ers could take a couple of shots in Moss' direction.
Vernon Davis - In a characteristic bout of understatement, Ryan called Davis the best tight end in the NFL. Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham likely disagree, but that won't make it any easier for the Jets to hang with the matchup nightmare that Davis presents this weekend.