As the 2005 NFL season kicks off, expectations are high for the Jets and Giants. Both teams went 3-1 in their exhibition games, but this weekend, both will be put to the test in games that count. Here's a look at the challenges they will face.
WHEN THE JETS HAVE THE BALL
It's hard to think of a better team against which to test Chad Pennington's surgically repaired shoulder. Kansas City added some veterans in an attempt to bolster their beleaguered defense, but the poor pass defense that has plagued them in recent seasons showed no signs of being resolved during the Chiefs' 0-4 preseason. Receivers Laveranues Coles and Justin McCareins are both capable of stretching the field, and that's something we should see repeatedly against the shaky K.C. secondary.
WHEN THE CHIEFS HAVE THE BALL
The Chiefs are going to live and die with the running game. Their offensive line is one of the league's most formidable, veteran Priest Holmes is still one of the best rushers in the league, and backup Larry Johnson had three 100-yard rushing games in five starts last season. Tony Gonzalez may be the best tight ever, but his usefulness this weekend could be limited because of injuries at quarterback. Starter Trent Green had surgery two weeks ago to address a circulatory problem in his leg, and backup Todd Collins and third-stringer Damon Huard are both questionable for the game. The Jets will rely on linebackers Jonathan Vilma and Eric Barton to shed blockers and make plays.
KEY TO THE GAME
The Jets defense will need to contain the Chiefs' running game and force them to throw the ball. The Chiefs don't have a playmaker at wide receiver and with Green's leg problems, it's not likely they'll be able to beat the Jets with their aerial attack. If the young Jets' line can keep Holmes and Johnson from running wild, the Jets will win.
WHEN THE GIANTS HAVE THE BALL
With a full off-season under his belt, fans are eager for the Eli Manning to show why he was worthy of being the top pick in the 2004 draft. That day may be coming soon, but it probably won't be this Sunday. Although the team insists that his sprained elbow won't limit him, look for the Giants to rely primarily on their running game. Tiki Barber is still one of the best backs in the league, and the Cardinals ranked 27th in run defense last year. The Giants will try to establish the run early and control the tempo of the game.
WHEN THE CARDS HAVE THE BALL
The addition of veteran quarterback Kurt Warner to Arizona's trio of dangerous young receivers - Anquan Boldin, Larry Fitzgerald, and Bryant Johnson - should provide the Cardinals with an explosive. But it may take a while before everybody is on the same page. On the ground, injuries to the offensive line have made it a difficult preseason for rookie running back J.J. Arrington. If the Cardinals can't establish the ground game on Sunday, it'll be hard for them to open things up downfield. The Giants defense has looked sharp during the preseason, particularly in the air, where they led all teams with eight interceptions.
KEY TO THE GAME
The Giants' defense will need to get a good pass rush from the front four and drop the other seven defenders into coverage to contain Arizona's dangerous wideouts. If they can't generate pressure up front, Warner will make some big plays. Squeeze him hard enough, and he'll will make mistakes, either by taking costly sacks, fumbling the ball, or throwing into coverage.