A share of first place. Can you imagine that? If the Bills can defeat the New York Jets on Thursday night at the Meadowlands, they would improve to 6-2 at the midway point for the first time since 1993. You remember that year, Buffalo’s last of four consecutive Super Bowl appearances.
No one can possibly dare to believe the Bills are headed to that lofty place this year, but with a victory at MetLife Stadium in front of a national TV audience on NFL Network, the Bills could pull even with the New England Patriots for first place in the AFC East. The Patriots are idle this weekend.
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“It’s a great opportunity,” said quarterback Tyrod Taylor. “Night games give you just a different feeling. Of course, when you know everyone’s watching you, you look forward to those moments. Even with the short week, guys are preparing hard and looking forward to this opportunity to show the other team what we can do, but as well as show the people that are going to be watching — everyone’s going to be tuned into Thursday Night Football — to show that this team is real.”
Here's my preview of the game:
1. Can the Bills continue to pound away on the ground? If you’re looking for instrumental reasons why the Bills were able to win back-to-back over the Bucs and Raiders, I’d start right here. Buffalo has rediscovered its running game, which in turn opens up the rest of the offense. Now the Bills come up against a Jets defense that is ranked 27th against the run, and may be minus star DE Mo Wilkerson. In the first game against the Jets, LeSean McCoy ran for 110 yards and the Bills piled up 190 rushing yards in all. The Bills controlled much of the game on the ground and it looked like another year of rushing dominance was in store. Then came that four-game stretch where the Bills couldn’t find a way to beat eight-man boxes and they stalled. Since the bye, they’ve got their mojo back as coordinator Rick Dennison has used some balance with inside and outside runs to free things up, and the offensive line has responded with two solid games.
2. If Kelvin Benjamin plays, can he help the pass offense? We probably won’t know until the inactive list is announced Thursday night what the new wide receiver’s status will be. But there’s a chance the Bills will try to get him on the field with a limited number of plays, and that would be a good idea. Yes, the coaching staff will be worried that another position might take a hit, but honestly, would the Bills be better off activating Benjamin and having the potential for some impactful plays, or sitting him for the 46th man on the active game-night roster who will be used on punt coverage? I think we know the answer. If nothing else, Benjamin has to be accounted for by the Jets secondary, more than, for instance, Andre Holmes or Zay Jones. If he’s up for it, they should get him involved right away in a scaled down way and teach him the rest of the playbook with the extra time leading up to the Saints game.
3. Should the Bills be worried about Josh McCown? McCown gets ripped all the time, and when you look at his won-loss record (21-47 as a starter), you get it. But he’s actually had a pretty good year playing for a team that has limited playmakers and a shoddy offensive line. He’s completing 70.5 percent of his passes which is second behind only Drew Brees, and he’s just ahead of Taylor in passer rating at 95.3. If Derek Carr couldn’t take advantage of the Bills’ banged up secondary, you may ask how can McCown? Maybe he can’t, but the Bills better find a way to get some pass rush and force him into mistakes because he’s been quietly efficient this season, and he’ll benefit from having already played against the Bills. FS Jordan Poyer is questionable for the game and may be able to play, but CB E.J. Gaines is out, so Shareece Wright will start and that’s an area concern.
This is one of those games that should scare the living daylights out of you, and for good reason if you’ve paid attention to Bills history. There have been so many times in the inglorious past where this was exactly the type of game that has cost Buffalo dearly; one it was expected to win, and somehow found a way to lose. Just last year, the Bills let the Jets roll them in their home opener on a Thursday night, then turned it around and won four straight before going to Miami and losing to a team that hadn’t yet found its footing. Two killer losses that cost them a playoff spot. Or In 2014 at Oakland, a brutal loss that ended their playoff chances. I could go on, but it’s too painful. The Bills are better than the Jets, and anyone can see that, and they’ve already beaten New York this year. At 5-2, they are firmly in the middle of the AFC playoff race, while the Jets are on a three-game losing streak and, given their difficult schedule, may not reach five victories this season. The Bills cannot bumble and stumble in front of a national TV audience and waste a chance to pull even with the Patriots atop the division. We have every reason to believe, based on what we’ve already seen, that this team isn’t like some of the previous iterations. Well, here’s a chance to prove it again. Go win and keep the momentum rolling. MY PICK: Bills 26, Jets 20.
By the Numbers
7 – That’s the largest deficit the Bills have faced all season, on four occasions against the Broncos, Bengals, Bucs, and Raiders. And only once have they trailed by seven points in the fourth quarter, that against Tampa Bay.
14 – Buffalo’s turnover margin which leads the league and is the best in the NFL through a team’s first seven games since the Bengals were plus-16 in 2005.
1993 – The Bills haven’t been 6-2 in a season since then, but if they beat the Jets, that’s where they’ll be at the halfway point.
DT Kyle Williams on the lack of a pass rush: “Well, we keep doing what we’re doing. We’re not going to press or do anything out of the normal. A lot of that comes hand-to-hand, he has to hold the ball, he has to do some separate things. Game plan-wise, if they’re planning to run screens, into play-action, into quick pass, we just have to stay after it, and get there when we do have an opportunity to do it.”
RB LeSean McCoy on showing the NFL who the Bills are: “I think what’s more important is it’s a divisional game that we must win. We beat them already at the beginning of the year. They’re playing a lot better as a group. We have to get this win, it’ll be big for us, to go up 6-2 in our division. That’s more important than, (or) bigger than just everybody in the world seeing what we do. The whole underdog (thing), I guess, each week is, ‘Aw man, is this team for real? They won another one, are they for real?’ We don’t play to answer that question. Each week we just want to play hard and get a win.”
WR Andre Holmes on building off his performance last week: “You know, I feel like I have a lot of momentum. I feel like in the past few weeks, I’ve been ready to be called upon, if I got the chances. It’s nice to be able to go out there and make plays on both special teams and offense, and have an impact.”
Quote to Note
WR Jordan Matthews on the close-knit nature of the team: “I’ve been on a lot of teams where you separate the offense, you separate the defense, and you separate the special teams and it really feels like three different teams on one Sunday going out and trying to get a win for one (collective team). With us, we really build a collective game plan between offense, special teams, and defense to try and go win games. It’s almost like it’s really just one unit.”
Total offense: 303.3 yards (25th) ; 307.9 (23rd)
Rush offense: 124.6 yards (T8th); 95.8 (T22nd)
Pass offense: 178.7 yards (29th); 212.1 (21st)
Points scored: 21.8 (T15th); 19.6 (21st)
Total defense: 346.6 yards (22nd); 361.4 (26th)
Rush defense: 80.1 yards (3rd); 128.3 (27th)
Pass defense: 266.4 yards (29th); 233.1 (20th)
Points allowed: 16.4 (3rd); 23.2 (22nd)
Bills: LeSean McCoy 137 carries, 521 yards; Mike Tolbert 44-178; Tyrod Taylor 44-175.
Jets: Bilal Powell 74-316; Elijah McGuire 48-207; Matt Forte 43-164.
Bills: Tyrod Taylor 125 of 196, 1,343 yards, 8 TDs, 2 interceptions.
Jets: Josh McCown 179 of 254, 1,840 yards, 12 TDs, 7 interceptions.
Bills: LeSean McCoy 38 catches, 242 yards; Charles Clay 20-258; Jordan Matthews 15-193.
Jets: Austin Sefarian-Jenkins 31-201; Jermaine Kearse 29-342; Robby Anderson 27-235; Matt Forte 25-203; Jeremy Kerley 22-217.
9/10 vs. Jets W 21-12
9/17 at Panthers L 3-9
9/24 vs. Broncos W 26-16
10/1 at Falcons W 23-17
10/8 at Bengals L 16-20
10/22 vs. Buccaneers W 30-27
10/29 vs. Raiders W 34-14
11/2 at Jets
11/12 vs. Saints
11/19 at Chargers
11/26 at Chiefs
12/3 vs. Patriots
12/10 vs. Colts
12/17 vs. Dolphins
12/24 at Patriots
12/31 at Dolphins