Two trendy playoff picks will take to the gridiron in Week 1 in a game with potential January repercussions. The Cincinnati Bengals will travel to the East Coast to square off with a rising New York Jets team in MetLife Stadium.
For Cincinnati, Sunday's showdown is the first step toward winning its third AFC North title in the past four seasons. The Bengals haven't missed the playoffs since 2010, but they haven't advanced out of the Wild Card round — or scored more than 16 points in a postseason game — during that span.
The Jets, on the other hand, haven't been to the postseason since 2010. That year, Mark Sanchez — who now plays for the Cowboys after a stint with the Eagles and cup of coffee with the Broncos — led them to the AFC Championship game. The Jets missed the playoffs last winter despite a 10-6 record thanks to a Week 17 defeat to former coach Rex Ryan and the Buffalo Bills. Now Todd Bowles' team has to prove 2015's revival was no fluke.
Each team will have a close eye on its starting quarterback. For the Bengals, Andy Dalton will return for his first meaningful game since breaking the thumb on his throwing hand midway through December last year. The 28-year-old, who was having his best season of his career before the injury, will try to pick up where he left off. With Dalton taking the majority of his team's snaps last season, the Bengals went 10-2. With AJ McCarron behind center, they fell to 2-3, including a painful Wild Card loss to arch rival Pittsburgh.
The Bengals have tried to move on from that loss, but they will have at least one reminder. They'll be without linebacker Vontaze Burfict for first three games of the season after he was suspended for a vicious helmet-to-helmet hit on Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown.
The Jets, on the other hand, will hope Ryan Fitzpatrick's late career revival holds true despite a lengthy contract holdout with the team. Fitzpatrick didn't sign with the team until July 27, one day before official practices got underway. That last-minute maneuvering prevented the team from having to turn to the Murderers' Row of Geno Smith, Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg under center. He'll command a Jets offense stacked with receiving options thanks to the presence of dynamic pass catchers like Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker, as well as former Chicago Bears running back Matt Forte.
Sunday's winner will gain an early edge in the race to the AFC playoffs. For Cincinnati, a victory would be a return to form for Andy Dalton. For New York, a declaration that 2015's 10-win season wasn't an outlier for an underperforming team.
Before the game, the Jets will pay tribute to the victims of the 9/11 attacks on the 15th anniversary of the tragedy. Players from the Jets' 2001 team, along with representatives from NYPD, FDNY, PAPD and the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Tower Foundation will serve as honorary captains.
How to watch
Time: 1 p.m. ET
Location: MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, N.J.
Announcers: Jim Nantz, Phil Simms and Tracy Wolfson
Online: NFL Game Pass