I will be traveling this weekend so the game preview will go up a bit earlier than usual. The Jets return home this Sunday for a critical matchup against the reeling Buffalo Bills. The margin for error in the AFC East is gone. New York is now in a three way tie for first place but controls its own destiny. This team needs to get back on track against a Buffalo squad looking to end the season.
The Playoffs might not begin officially for three more weeks, but they start on Sunday for all intents and purposes for the Jets. Three wins, and Gang Green is AFC East Champion for the first time since 2002 and will host a Playoff game. With a loss, even a two game winning streak and a 10-6 record will probably not be enough to save the team. Into town comes a Buffalo team playing as poorly as any team in the NFL. Next to them, the Jets have looked like the 1985 Bears over the past two weeks. This game comes with peril, though, as do all division games. Two years ago, a lousy Bills team shocked the Jets in December, almost ruining an amazing Playoff run.
Things could not be going much worse for the Bills right now. A 5-1 start had their fans thinking of contending in the AFC. These wins, however, came against dregs of the league like Seattle, Oakland, and St. Louis. As the schedule got tougher, the Bills fell back to earth. New York's thumping of them in Orchard Park in early November was the beginning of the end.
After a hot start, Buffalo is in the bottom half of the league in just about every major offensive statistic. Trent Edwards, after showing promise in his rookie season and early in 2008, has come crashing back to earth. He could miss this game because of a groin injury, which would stick J.P. Losman in a starting role. Losman is the red haired step child of the 2004 Draft class. Of the first round quarterback picks from that year, Ben Roethliesberger and Eli Manning have already won the Super Bowl. Philip Rivers has put up a 14 win season and appeared in the AFC Championship Game. Losman has put up a passer rating of 76.9 in his career, not even the numbers of a quality backup. The Jets have made players just as undistinguished look like Pro Bowlers, however. Lee Evans and Josh Reed are talented receivers, and Marshawn Lynch is second on the team in receptions. We all know how the Jets fare against checkdown targets. Buffalo runs for only 108.2 yards per contest. Lynch in his second season from California is the featured back. He has 875 yards on the ground this year but only an even 4.0 per carry. Kris Jenkins dominated the interior of Buffalo's line in the first meeting, making Lynch a nonfactor.
The Bills are pretty average defensively across the board. They did just lose defensive end Aaron Schobel for the year. Schobel was placed on IR, further depleting a toothless pass rush that only has 22 sacks on the season. Buffalo's pass defense still rates 11th in the league. The Bills' solid secondary consists of Donte Whitner, Ko Simpson, Jabari Greer, and Terrence McGee. First round pick Leodis McKelvin will likely see the field when the Jets use their spread sets. A rush defense ranked right in the middle at 16th in the league is anchored by tackles Kyle Williams and Marcus Stroud and linebackers Paul Posluszny, Kawika Mitchell, and Keith Ellison.
Rian Lindell handles the placekicking for the Bills. He is only 25 for 32 this season, but this is the first time since 2003 he is under 85%. He is still an excellent kicker. Brian Moorman averages a pedestrian 43 yards per punt. Roscoe Parrish and Terrence McGee are adequate return men.
Key Matchup: Jets Linebackers vs. Buffalo's Short Passing Game
The Bills probably will not trust a mistake-prone Losman at this point with too many complicated throws. If the linebackers can not disappear like they have in the past two games and actually get into the passing lanes, the Jets are going to have a chance to actually slow down an opposing passing game.
Keys to Victory:
1. Use the Short Passing Game: The Jets had a lot of success in the first meeting getting the ball out of Brett Favre's hands quickly and finding open receivers running slants.
2. Blitz Losman: The Jets' blitzes have been largely picked up in the past few weeks, but Losman is a guy who folds with a pass rush in his face. The Jets need to be aggressive.
3. Get Leon Touches: Leon Washington went off in the first meeting. The Bills were afraid enough of him to try and kick it away from him on multiple occasions. When an offense is struggling, it needs to utilize its best playmaker more.
4. Jenkins Plays Hurt: Kris Jenkins was limited in practice this week, but he needs to go almost the whole way in a game this big. Buffalo could not handle him five weeks ago.
5. Start Quickly: The Jets need to come out and put a quick touchdown on the board. It will restore their confidence and perhaps get a demoralized Bills team thinking, "Here we go again."
*There will be no prediction this week since I believe the Jets will do well and will only jinx them by picking them.