For even the heartiest of Jets fans, the last couple of months have been trying. There's only so much talking you can handle before you start wondering why the team feels it is necessary to make such a sustained effort to convince the world that they are bona fide contenders for the Super Bowl.
We may love the confidence and the swagger and we may even believe the hype but there's still a gnawing feeling that it is all hot air until we actually see some proof on the field. The beginning of the end of those feelings comes on Monday night when the Jets play host to the Giants at the new stadium they share at the Meadowlands.
It's also the Jets' first chance to prove that there's a reason to even bother playing games without Darrelle Revis in the lineup and a chance for them to strut their stuff against the establishment team in their own backyard. Both issues probably contribute to Rex Ryan's decision to play his starters into the second quarter, a bit longer than most teams and yet another sign that the Jets have more on the line than most teams entering their first preseason game.
A sluggish start from the first teams, easily shrugged off in most cases, will intensify the calls for Revis and the naysayers who think that the Jets are all show and no go. That's ridiculous but it is the place the Jets are living in these days. Strong performances from these five Jets will do a lot to quiet the doubters late Monday night:
Antonio Cromartie: There's nothing Cromartie can do to eliminate the need for Revis. If his strong camp translates to the field, however, the Jets would be able to breathe a little easier about their current predicament. Cromartie is helped by the fact that Steve Smith is skipping this contest, but that also raises the risk factor. If Cromartie gets burnt by a lesser Giants receiver, all the gag orders in the world won't keep people quiet about how much the Jets miss Revis.
Matt Slauson: Slauson is ahead of rookie Vladimir Ducasse in the battle for the starting left guard spot right now. A good performance on Monday night would solidify that standing and allow the Jets to start focusing on cohesion instead of the position battle as the season grows closer. The biggest thing Slauson needs to do is establish his presence in the running game since anything he adds as a pass blocker immediately puts him ahead of Alan Faneca.
Nick Folk: Winning trust as a kicker is very difficult and Folk is starting with the dual disadvantages of replacing Jay Feely and getting forced out of Dallas last year. It will only take one missed kick, even if it is from 49 yards in the waning moments of a meaningless game, for the opposition to Folk's continued employment to grow to a fever pitch.
LaDainian Tomlinson: He's looked great during practices and scrimmages but no one is buying a thing until there are guys in other jerseys trying to stop him. If he keeps on looking good, the Jets offense will have more dimensions than most people believed and that's sure to help out...
Mark Sanchez: Last but certainly not least is the man who must be substantially better than he was as a rookie to make good on all the boasting. So many other things have grabbed attention, but let's remember that Sanchez hasn't played since having knee surgery at the start of the offseason so it is important to see just how comfortable he is in the face of pressure. The Giants should provide some and Sanchez will have to prove he's improved as a decision maker.