While it appears for the moment that Mark Sanchez has taken the lead in the Jets' starting quarterback competition, that could change as quickly as one abysmal preseason performance. And Sanchez is not immune to bad performances.
But for the first time in his NFL career, Sanchez has an actual threat backing him up. Unlike Tim Tebow, Greg McElroy or Mark Brunell, rookie Geno Smith comes into the organization with high expectations. The Jets did not draft Smith to sit on the bench for his entire career and if Sanchez falters even a little bit, the hook to pull him will come a lot quicker than the one that Rex Ryan held last year without any good backup options.
That first step for Sanchez to either get a tighter grip on the job or to open the door wider for Smith starts in the first preseason game against the Lions on Friday. Here is a closer look at both teams and what to expect:
Meet the Lions
The Lions took Matthew Stafford with the first pick of the 2009 draft, while the Jets took Sanchez four picks later. And whereas Sanchez's job security stands on shaky ground, Stafford got a lot more comfortable after the team signed him to a three-year contract extension for a total of $76.5 million over five years -- this coming despite the fact that Stafford struggled a lot more in 2012 than he did during his breakout 2011 season.
Stafford will try to get back on track this year after throwing 21 fewer touchdown passes last season than he did the year prior, with fewer yards (on more attempts) and one more interception.
The most recognizable addition to the offense will be infamous Heisman-winning running back Reggie Bush, who is coming off of a 1,278-total yards season with the Miami Dolphins. With Stafford, Bush and receiver Calvin Johnson, the Lions will have three stars on offense who were drafted with a top-two pick.
But the players you are most likely to see for Detroit on Friday are quarterback Kellen Moore, running backs Joique Bell and Theo Riddick, and receivers like Patrick Edwards, Kris Durham, Corey Fuller and Terrence Austin.
Meet the Jets
Once Sanchez gets his reps, the team is going to take a long look at Smith, the 39th overall pick who put up mind-boggling numbers for West Virginia last year: 4,205 passing yards, 42 touchdowns and just 6 interceptions. But Smith, once thought to be a candidate to go first overall, only saw his stock fall during the pre-draft process and he was left without a team after day one of the draft, until the Jets took him in the second round.
Ryan will also need to take a close look at who will win some of the other important battles going on in training camp. Someone will need to take over for departed running back Shonn Greene, with many speculating that Chris Ivory is a breakout player, but can he stay healthy? Santonio Holmes won't be playing in this game, and could miss the first month of the year, so which other receivers can step up in his place? Keep an eye on the speedy Clyde Gates, but this team also needs to see progress from second-year player Stephen Hill.
The Jets' specialty, though, has been defense over the last few years, and they spent first-round picks on defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson and cornerback Dee Milliner, the guy who needs to fill the shoes of All-Pro corner Darrelle Revis. Can they team up with Muhammad Wilkerson and Quinton Coples to bring this defense back to its glory days of AFC Championship appearances in 2009 and 2010?
Local Takes: Detroit Lions
Sean Yuille from Pride of Detroit listed 10 things to watch for in Friday's game, including what to look out for in the wide receiver competition:
Patrick Edwards seems to be separating himself from the rest of the pack for the No. 4 spot on the Lions' depth chart at wide receiver. That could change with a rough performance on Friday, though. On the flip side, he could solidify his status in the two-deep with a strong performance. Kris Durham, Chaz Schilens, Corey Fuller, Mike Thomas, Matt Willis, Micheal Spurlock, Terrence Austin and Cody Wilson could all use strong performances as well as they look to make the 53-man roster.
Local Takes: New York Jets
Scott Salmon from Gang Green Nation gives the Jets' perspective on what to watch for on Friday, including the high expectations for second-year linebacker Demario Davis:
Davis has been hyped up by many, but now it's time to see if he's actually capable of making an impact. He had a quiet 2012, and failed to make much of an impact, even with a decrepit Bart Scott in front of him. I wouldn't be surprised to see him matched against Reggie Bush on a few occasions, so let's see how he handles it.
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It can be incredibly difficult to make predictions in a preseason game where the most important thing to both teams isn't winning, but staying healthy and giving equal playing time to the players you are evaluating for your final 53-man roster.
Still, we will do the best we can with what we have.
The Jets had the better record last season, but the Lions play in the much tougher NFC, not to mention the NFC North where three teams won at least 10 games. Detroit still has some of the most talented players at the top of its roster with Stafford, Johnson and Ndamukong Suh, but those guys won't be playing much, if at all. The real question is whether or not the Lions have any depth.
As for the Jets, though their quarterback situation is murky at best, the truth is that you'll see extended playing time from Sanchez and Smith and maybe that's to their advantage. But maybe not, since it is Mark Sanchez and a rookie after all.
Playing at home, coming off such a disappointing year, maybe Detroit needs this a little bit more. Just a little.
Detroit 24, New York Jets 21
The Lions are 3.5-point favorites at home, according to OddsShark.com.
Another imperative game in the ongoing quarterback saga, the Jets play their first game of 2013 in MetLife Stadium as they return home to face the Jacksonville Jaguars. The game is scheduled for Saturday, Aug. 17 at 7:30 p.m. ET.
Meanwhile, the Lions travel to Cleveland to take on the Browns in FirstEnergy Stadium on Thursday, Aug. 15 at 7:30 p.m. ET.