Under Pressure: Ringmaster Rex Ryan could feel the heat early

By Will Brinson | NFL Writer
Things might not be so funny for Mark Sanchez and the Jets if they can't score on Sunday. (AP)

As we move along in the season, Under Pressure, our weekly look at the hottest seats in the NFL, will feature more and more people actually facing issues with maintaining their jobs. For the first week of the season, though, let's take a look at some people who can ill afford bad starts if they want to see their teams improve and/or keep themselves off of the hot seat.

Rex Ryan would like you to believe that he dislikes the "circus" description attached to the Jets. This seems impossible since Ryan consistently draws attention to his team for too many ridiculous reasons to stuff under a big top. A more accurate description might be a band. Or, if you want to get specific, how about Kings of Leon?

Remember when they were cool and edgy and swore a lot and sold a bunch of records and then one day you thought to yourself that if you heard "Sex on Fire" one more time you were going to kill someone? That's the Jets this offseason. The addition of Tim Tebow and their refusal to quietly go about their business turned them into a sorely saturated storyline that forced the media into hackey segments like "Our Daily Tebow."

The proverbial headless chickens have stumbled home to roost though, and it's time for real football. And real football is something Rex is quite good at -- coaching up the Jets to back-to-back AFC Championship Game appearances in 2009 and 2010 was fine, fine work. His team probably will be quite good at defense in 2012, just like it was in 2011 and the two previous years.

But it's hard to imagine many more people being under more pressure than Ryan when the Jets offense takes the field against the Bills on Sunday. Will they unveil the Wildcat? When they do, will it bring Buffalo's revamped defense quivering to its knees? Will Tebow catch passes? How many snaps will Tebow get compared to Mark Sanchez? What happens when it doesn't work?

Because it can't work. It won't work. I'm sorry, it just won't. And if it doesn't work against the Bills, it won't work against the Steelers, or the 49ers or the Texans, three of the Jets' other first five opponents (they also get Miami). Ryan has a daunting challenge during the first few weeks of the season, and we're going to figure out pretty quickly if the new-look Jets offense can produce enough points to vault them near the top of a difficult AFC East.

Ryan claims that he has his "best team" during his tenure as Jets coach, but I think it's the opposite -- Ryan's going to have to do his best coaching job since he arrived if he wants to find himself back in the playoffs. Maybe the Jets stun the world and show up against the Bills. If they don't, Ryan and Gang Green could be staring down a bad start to the 2012 season. I don't think he does, and that puts him more under the microscope than just about anyone in the NFL when the circus comes to town on Sunday.

Brees, the OC. (Getty Images)

Drew Brees isn't facing any job security, but he still lucked out with his first matchup as de facto offensive coordinator of the Saints. The Redskins, already facing a weakness at safety, has lost Brandon Meriweather for a few weeks. Brees dominates good NFL safeties on a weekly basis anyway, so he should have a field day against Washington's depleted defensive backfield. That being said, the world is watching to see how New Orleans responds following a disastrous offseason that leaves them without head coach and offensive savant Sean Payton. If the offense struggles at home against a weakened Skins defense, there will be more than an eyebrow or two raised around the league.

Leslie Frazier maintained this week that Adrian Peterson is a game-time decision and if he plays, he won't get more than five or 10 carries against the Jaguars. But this is the same Fraizer who inexplicably decided that he'd put AP into a game late in the 2011 season -- a three-win campaign -- when the franchise running back already was banged up. The result was three-pops and a twist, forcing Peterson to spend his offseason freakishly rehabbing from torn knee ligaments. Even though Frazier's only a single full year into his tenure, a lack of improvement for the Vikes in 2012 could mean trouble for Frazier. It wouldn't be good if that affects his plan for bringing Peterson back from injury.

Gerald McCoy hasn't been able to stay healthy throughout his young career, having played in just 19 games in two years. The Buccaneers badly need him to hold up in 2012, particularly in the first week against the Panthers, who would love to grind up yardage with their rushing attack. With Da'Quan Bowers hurt and Brian Price traded out of town, it's just McCoy and Adrian Clayborn left from the Bucs big defensive draft haul. McCoy's the guy who makes the difference in Tampa's run defense, and he has to stay healthy and effective if they don't want a disaster like they had in 2011.

For Norv Turner, it's not always sunny in San Diego. (Getty Images)

Norv Turner is a freebie for this spot, from now until the time when the Chargers lock up a playoff spot. He's got to be the odds-on favorite for a midseason firing, when you factor in San Diego's penchant for starting out slow and how tenuous his hold on his job was in the first place. It shouldn't help Norv much that he's starting an undrafted free-agent rookie at left tackle. Even with Mike Harris protecting Philip Rivers' blindside, there's not much reason why the Bolts shouldn't handle the Raiders on Monday night. If they can't, the temperature on Turner's seat gets cranked up quickly.

Maurice Jones-Drew will get third-down carries and perhaps more against Minnesota. He'll eventually get the starting gig back ... we think. If he shows up in Week 1 and struggles to handle the offense and Rashad Jennings looks particularly good running the ball as the first-week starter, there at least has to be a concern for MJD that a miffed coaching staff could see fit to continue punishing him for his holdout by sending a message with more carries for Jennings.

John Skelton or Kevin Kolb or whoever the quarterback du jour for the Cardinals is each week can be stenciled into this piece, too. There's a pretty good chance that Ken Whisenhunt flops this starting gig once or twice during the season based on injury or (more likely) struggles under center. Neither Skelton nor Kolb impressed at all during the preseason, and there's bound to be a quick hook for everyone involved in order to try to get something going for Arizona's offense.

For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnNFL on Twitter, subscribe to our RSS Feed watch Pro Football 360 daily at 3 p.m. ET and NFL newsletter. You can follow Will Brinson on Twitter here: @willbrinson.

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