After years of banging their heads against the wall trying to win big in the same division with Tom Brady and the Patriots, the Bills and Jets apparently came to the same conclusion in the offseason: We’re not winning now, so it’s time to start over.
Buffalo has turned over more than half the roster after firing head coach Rex Ryan and general manager Doug Whaley in favor of Sean McDermott and Brandon Beane. There are six new starters on defense, and while the entire starting offensive line returns along with QB Tyrod Taylor and RB LeSean McCoy, the entire receiving corps is new. And with a new offense that doesn’t seem to play to Taylor’s strengths, many think the team is just setting him up to fail. The plan seems to be to change the culture and stockpile draft picks (the Bills have two in each of the first three round next year) while still trying to win some games this season.
The Jets seem less concerned with winning now. While they kept head coach Todd Bowles and GM Mike Maccagnan in place, most of their big names are gone. Brandon Marshall, Eric Decker, Nick Mangold and Darrelle Revis were all released. Sheldon Richardson was traded to Seattle for a draft pick and WR Jermaine Kearse — who arrives with more career catches than the rest of the Jets' receiving corps combined. In fact, the Jets begin the season with eight players who have been on the team less than a week, including three receivers. Talk about setting your quarterback up to fail.
New York at Buffalo
Kickoff: Sunday, Sept. 10 at 1 p.m. ET
TV Channel: CBS
Spread: Bills -9
Three Things to Watch
1. Ground and pound
Given that neither quarterback is all that familiar with his receiving corps yet, the passing may not exactly be sharp in this game. But beyond that, there’s good reason for both teams to want to run the ball. Buffalo’s offensive line is much better in the run game than in pass protection, and McCoy is by far the most explosive player on either team. McDermott said this week he’ll play McCoy every snap if he has to. While that is very unlikely, it is reasonable to expect that McCoy gets more touches than a year ago when he produced more than 1,600 yards from scrimmage. Meanwhile, the Jets have a solid-if-not-spectacular duo in Matt Forte and Bilal Powell, who combined for nearly 2,200 yards from scrimmage last season. Despite the roster turnover, the Bills front seven returns largely intact from a unit that ranked 29th in the NFL against the run last season.
2. Tyrod’s last stand
Many outside the Bills organization believe that you can win with Tyrod Taylor at quarterback, but then most of them don’t need to try to win in the same division with Tom Brady. While Taylor is a serious threat with his legs, throws a great deep ball and doesn’t turn it over much, he has proven to be limited as a passer in what has become a passing league. He has one career 300-yard passing game, and has failed to throw for even 200 yards in in 15 of 29 starts with Bills. Buffalo brought him back only after he took what amounts to a $10 million pay cut over the last two years of his deal. Offensive coordinator Rick Dennison’s offense will have him under center much more than he has been in the past, and his receiving corps lacks the deep threat he had in Sammy Watkins. With rookie Nathan Peterman coming off a strong preseason and a stacked 2018 quarterback class expected in the draft, Taylor is likely facing his last chance to prove himself — with the odds stacked against him.
3. McCown’s leash may be even shorter
While the Bills already seem to have decided Taylor is not their long-term answer, everyone KNOWS the 38-year-old Josh McCown is not the long-term answer for the Jets. So how long until we see Bryce Petty and/or Christian Hackenberg? Even if McCown is the starter, it’s not hard to imagine the Jets wanting to see what they have in the youngsters in the second half of blowout losses — of which there could be many. And while the Bills aren’t likely to win many blowouts, they are favored by more than a touchdown here. Don’t be stunned if McCown doesn’t finish this game.
If the Bills want to make anyone believe they are still trying to win while also rebuilding, they better beat the Jets at home. There may be no other opponent against which Buffalo has more top-end talent and more depth. Once injuries start hitting, the Bills' lack of depth will be exposed. But for one week anyway, they should be the superior team.