Key players and matchups...
By this time tomorrow, some of the most critical positions in the Jets organization will very likely be vacant, and a tumultuous offseason full of change (hopefully!) will have commenced. Until then, there is still a game to play. The 6-9 New York Jets will make the short bus ride up to Orchard Park to take on the similarly inept 5-10 Buffalo Bills, and both teams hope to receive contributions from young players that will hopefully set a foundation for the future. Since the Jets' 48-28 thrashing of the Bills in week 1, not much has changed in Buffalo. Their only victories came against Kansas City, Cleveland, Arizona, Miami and Jacksonville, a who's who list of the NFL's worst teams. You have heard that running the ball and stopping the run win football games, and Buffalo actually has one of those down to a tee: they are 6th in the NFL in rushing and feature two dynamic backs in Fred Jackson and CJ Spiller, although Jackson will miss this game after being placed on injured reserve. The Bills' downfall is stopping the run, which leads to the first key:
Bilal Powell and John Griffin: Shonn Greene will likely get the majority of the carries, but Bilal Powell and John Griffin are the two players I will be watching closely against the Bills, who give up 147 rushing yards per game (worst in the NFL) . Greene's contract expires after this season, and since he hasn't shown much in his time here, the Jets will have little incentive to offer him #1 running back money (especially given their financial situation). Bilal Powell hasn't been a star but he has shown a little bit more than Greene, including flashes where he has looked downright dynamic. The Jets coaching staff has never trusted Joe McKnight with a large role on offense, so I'd expect newly signed John Griffin to receive a few carries over McKnight. The Jets kept Griffin around for much of the year, so they must see something in him. Plus, why would they call him up for one game if they don't intend to give him carries (given that all the other running backs are healthy)? If Powell or Griffin show something with increased carries against legitimate NFL competition, it could only bode well for the future.
CJ Spiller: As mentioned before, the Bills have rushed for 141 yards per game, the sixth highest mark in the NFL. This is largely due to the success of CJ Spiller, who has been carving up defenses to the tune of 1185 yards on only 183 carries (6.5 yards per carry). Many pundits believe that he is better suited to be the change of pace back behind Fred Jackson, but Spiller has actually been most efficient when receiving 14 or more carries. Against a Jets team that is 27th in the NFL with 135 rushing yards allowed per game, Spiller could be in line for an enormous game. Stopping Spiller would be key in shutting down the Bills' offense.
Braylon Edwards: One of the weakest units of the 2012 Jets has been the wide receiver corps, which started out as an area of concern and has developed into an absolute embarrassment after injuries to Santonio Holmes and Stephen Hill. We know what we have in Holmes, Hill, and Jeremy Kerley, the receivers that are signed through next season. The one guy that has something to prove is Braylon Edwards, who is playing for a contract and for another opportunity to stick in New York. In many ways, Bray has been the Jets' best receiver since he was signed two weeks ago. He is questionable this week with a knee and hamstring injury, but a big game out of Braylon could cement his spot on the 2013 roster.
Show Us Somethin': I think it's pretty clear that Mark Sanchez is not the future at quarterback, at least not here. For purely sentimental purposes, it'd be great if Mark Sanchez could repeat his week 1 performance against the Bills (19/27, 266 yards and 3 TD) this Sunday. Sanchez has always come across as a genuinely nice guy, so I'd like to see him get back on track. We all know that Sanchez' play is directly correlated with his confidence level. Against a lackluster Bills secondary, the opportunity to regain some confidence is there. Who knows, the Sanchize may find a spot somewhere in the NFL.
Player to Watch: Today is special teams guru Mike Westhoff's last game after 12 years with the Jets organization. The Jets have always had one of the NFL's most disciplined and most explosive special teams units, and Coach Westhoff always seems to keep a gamebreaker tucked away when a big play is needed. With nothing to play for, I'd expect Coach Westhoff to put his creative hat on and let loose on the Bills. In fact, it seems to be on the Jets' minds:
"Hopefully, I'll be able to send him out with a bang,"
-Jeremy Kerley, via Kimberly A. Martin, Newsday
We often take special teams for granted, but Jets fans have been truly lucky to watch Mike Westhoff coached units for the last decade. I'll be watching our special teams units carefully today, because Mike Westhoff might have something special planned as a going-away present.
Prediction: With the playoffs out of reach and many changes expected in the offseason, this game does not mean much in the grand scheme of things. A loss would probably push us up a few spots in next year's draft, but the young guys with increased roles will be hungry to prove that they deserve future playing time and will play passionately. The Bills' running game worries me, especially because Spiller carved up the Jets in week 1 and has been doing damage all season long. I never bet against against the Jets, but this is a game that could get away from Gang Green in a hurry. A Powell touchdown, a Sanchez slant to Edwards and a return touchdown by Joe McKnight will make up the Jets' scoring.