New York Jets' 2021 schedule: Robert Saleh era opens against Sam Darnold

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The New York Jets' 2021 schedule was released along with the rest of the NFL slate on Wednesday.

The 2021 NFL season will kick off on Thursday, Sept. 9 with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers hosting the Dallas Cowboys (8:20 p.m. ET). ESPN's Monday Night Football opener on Sept. 13 will feature the Las Vegas Raiders hosting the Baltimore Ravens (8:15 p.m. ET).

The NFL will change its schedule for the first time in 44 years, expanding to 17 regular-season games. The final regular-season games will be played Jan. 9, 2022. The playoffs begin Jan. 15, 2022 and continue through Super Bowl LVI on Feb. 13, 2022 at Los Angeles' SoFi Stadium.

Here's what is in store for the Jets:

Schedule

Sept. 12: at Carolina

Sept. 19: vs. New England

Sept. 26: at Denver

Oct. 3: vs. Tennessee

Oct. 10: at Atlanta (in London)

Oct. 17: Bye

Oct. 24: at New England

Oct. 31: vs. Cincinnati

Nov. 4: at Indianapolis (TNF)

Nov. 14: vs. Buffalo

Nov. 21: vs. Miami

Nov. 28: at Houston

Dec. 5: vs. Philadelphia

Dec. 12: vs. New Orleans

Dec. 18/19 (TBD): at Miami

Dec. 26: vs. Jacksonville

Jan. 2: vs. Tampa Bay

Jan. 9: at Buffalo

Strength of schedule (ranked hardest to easiest): T-19th, .489

Biggest takeaway

The Sam Darnold debate, which polarized fans and media for the better part of the offseason, will be revived in a big way to start the season. The Jets open against their former quarterback, whom they traded to the Carolina Panthers in early April. The NFL loves revenge games. This is reminiscent of the 2013 opener, when former Jets star Darrelle Revis visited MetLife Stadium a few months after being traded to the Buccaneers. The Darnold date will be bigger than the Revis return because it includes an added layer of intrigue -- the likely debut of rookie Zach Wilson, Darnold's replacement. Such a delicious storyline.

The outcome of one game won't define general manager Joe Douglas' QB Gambit, but it will douse the start of the coach Robert Saleh era if Darnold, with help from ex-Jets wide receiver Robby Anderson, lights up his old team.

One storyline to watch

The entire season should be viewed through the prism of Wilson's development. The good news: The 2021 No. 2 overall pick won't face a top-10 defense (based on 2020 total yards allowed) until Week 9, when the Jets travel to the Indianapolis Colts on Thursday night -- their only prime-time game. Some of the Jets' early foes -- namely, the Denver Broncos, Tennessee Titans and Atlanta Falcons -- finished in the bottom third of the league. Year-old rankings shouldn't be taken as gospel, but perhaps they are an indication that Wilson -- the Jets' presumptive Week 1 starter -- might have a chance to get his sea legs before the schedule gets nasty over the final five weeks. The only late respite is Week 17 against Trevor Lawrence and the Jacksonville Jaguars -- a fun matchup. The last time two quarterbacks, drafted first and second, faced each other as rookies was 2015 -- Jameis Winston (Bucs) versus Marcus Mariota (Titans).

What Vegas thinks

The oddsmakers have the Jets' win total at six. To hit the over, they will need Saleh's defense to carry the flag early in the season while the offense -- led by Wilson and first-time coordinator Mike LaFleur -- finds its identity. That's asking a lot of the defense, considering the lack of experience at cornerback.

Bold prediction

New coach, new quarterback, new offensive scheme, new defensive scheme, pretty much new everything -- and that's a good thing because the old way stunk. But there will be growing pains, plenty of growing pains, so the Jets are headed to a 6-11 season. Vegas has it right.