The NFL season is less than a week old, and already the New York Jets and Buffalo Bills have to be feeling a little like their backs are against the wall. Both lost in Week 1, then had to watch nemesis New England escape with a win Sunday night in Arizona. Just like that, even without Tom Brady playing, the Bills and Jets are already in a hole in the AFC East.
Still, an 0–2 start isn’t the end of the world, right? Whichever team loses this game has plenty of time to right the ship and can avenge the loss later in the season. So why panic?
Because 0–2 could turn into 0–4 or worse very quickly. Buffalo’s next two games are against Arizona at home and at New England. It’s even worse for the Jets, whose next four games are at Kansas City, home vs. Seattle, at Pittsburgh and at Arizona. Including Thursday’s game, the Jets play six of their next eight on the road. Are you starting to see why this is a big game?
Sadly, it probably won’t be a pretty one. The intensity level should be higher than your average Thursday night clunker. In part because of the stakes mentioned above but also because it’s the Bills’ home opener and their first primetime home game since 2012.
Still, it figures to be a defensive struggle. The Bills won both meetings last season by identical 22–17 scores, and neither team gained as many as 320 yards in either game. The Jets lost both and missed the playoffs as a result because they turned the ball over seven times in the two games. Rex Ryan and Co. would love the same kind of result.
New York at at Buffalo
Kickoff: Thursday, Sept. 15 at 8:25 p.m. ET
TV Channel: CBS
Spread: Bills -2.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Buffalo’s Sammy Watkins vs. New York’s Darrelle Revis
Watkins got the better of Revis last season. He didn’t do much in the first game other than beat Revis for a late first down that allowed the Bills to run out the clock. But in the season finale with the playoffs on the line for the Jets, Watkins exploded for 136 yards on 11 catches. Watkins caught just four passes for 43 yards in the season opener but intends to play despite a sore foot. Revis had a rough opener against Cincinnati and is taking most of the heat for a 12-catch, 180-yard day from Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green. While he may be slipping at 31, Revis is unlikely to struggle to that extent again against Watkins with a sore foot and Tyrod Taylor, who is not on Andy Dalton’s level as a passer.
2. Rex vs. Fitz
Bills fans have rooted for and against both guys, and they have been on both sides of Ryan Fitzpatrick’s struggles against Rex Ryan’s defenses. Fitzpatrick is 1–8 in his career against Ryan, completing just 48 percent of his passes and averaging 178 yards per game. Last season he did manage to throw four touchdowns in two games against the Bills, but he hit just 31-of-71 attempts and was intercepted five times, including on three straight possessions in the Jan. 2 regular-season finale with a playoff berth on the line. The Bills’ front seven is still missing Marcell Dareus (suspended) and Shaq Lawson (injured). But Jerry Hughes had two sacks in Week 1, and cornerbacks Stephon Gilmore and Ronald Darby are among the best in the league. It’s hard to see Fitzpatrick having a big night.
3. Ground and Pound
So if the Bills can’t consistently get the ball to Watkins, and Fitzpatrick can’t solve the Buffalo defense, the running games will be important. The Bills generally run the ball better, but part of that comes from being more committed to it. Despite trailing the Ravens throughout, the Bills still ran the ball more than they passed it in Week 1, and no one was more run-heavy last season than the Bills. Can they run it against a Jets defense that allowed just 52 yards on the ground against the Bengals last week? Probably not as well at they would like, but they will keep trying and grind it out. Last season the Jets had a top-five run defense by any measure, and the Bills averaged 130 yards on the ground against them.
This could be one of those games where the first team to double digits wins. Buffalo’s offense did almost nothing right in the season opener; and the going won’t get any easier against a Jets defense that shut down the run and recorded seven sacks against the Bengals. Still, being at home will be a plus for the Bills, and of the two quarterbacks, Ryan Fitzpatrick is much more prone to take chances — and commit the big turnover.