- Rich Cimini, ESPN Staff Writer
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Every season includes pressure points, games that swing the season in one direction or another. After studying the Jets' 2012 schedule, released Tuesday night, we've identified five key games:
Week 1: Bills at Jets, 1 p.m.
Considering the way last season ended, the Jets need to start with a positive, team-unifying victory. So the NFL schedule maker provided a little help, giving the Jets their third straight season opener at home. That they face the Bills, a team they've beaten five straight times, doesn't hurt. Because of a tough early schedule, this is almost a must-win for the Jets. It's a chance to establish their identity, show the world how they're going to use Tim Tebow and deliver a statement to the AFC East's up-and-coming team.
Week 5: Texans at Jets, 8:30 p.m.
The Texans think their hot stuff, coming off the most successful season in franchise history. They're a trendy Super Bowl pick in 2012, and they'll be coming to MetLife Stadium with a Texas-sized chip on their shoulder. Why? The Jets have owned the all-time series -- 5-0. They've won blowouts, and they've won with miracle finishes. This game is a chance for the Jets to maintain their superiority over a talented, almost-elite team in the AFC.
Week 7: Jets at Patriots, 4:15 p.m.
After beating the Patriots in two out of three games in 2010, including the playoffs, the Jets were so cocky at the start of last season that Rex Ryan publicly challenged other teams to beat Tom Brady & Co. It was as if he was saying, "Hey, we can't do it by ourselves." Well, the words came back to haunt Ryan. The Jets got spanked twice last season, increasing the gap in the AFC East. Well, here's their first chance for a little get-back. If the you want rule the division, you have to knock off the champs.
Week 11: Patriots at Jets, 8:20 p.m.
The Jets will play on Thanksgiving for the third time since 2007. What could be better on a holiday than Bill Belichick and Ryan, Brady and Sanchez (or maybe Tebow?) and a whole lot of bad blood between the two rivals? If the Jets are as good as they think they'll be, this game will have huge implications in the standins. The Jets were embarrassed at home last season by the Patriots, who killed them with TE Rob Gronkowski. The Jets signed S LaRon Landry, in part, to neutralize the big fella.
Week 14: Jets at Titans, 8:30 p.m.
This is a Monday night in Nashville, the first of back-to-back prime-time games for the Jets. The Titans, on the rise under Mike Munchak, have one of the elite players in the league, RB Chris Johnson. This figures to be a physical game between two teams that want to run the ball, and a couple of teams that should be contenders in the AFC. The Jets have taken five of the last six in this rivalry.