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Jets vs. Bills: The rivalry that isn't

The one AFC East rivalry that hasn’t quite gotten there...yet

New York Jets v Buffalo Bills Photo by Timothy T Ludwig/Getty Images

The Jets have fierce rivalries with two of the other three teams in the AFC East. Over the last two decades, Bill Parcells, Bill Belichick, and Tom Brady have fueled a bitter rivalry with the New England Patriots. The Miami Dolphins have competed with the Jets for decades on and off the field. The two teams have fanbases that exist in much closer proximity than the respective geographies of New York and South Florida would suggest. The Jets and the Dolphins have played in classic games and had numerous mutual off-field storylines.

The Buffalo Bills are the Jets’ third AFC East rival. It just doesn’t feel like much of a rivalry, though. It is a tad odd on the surface. Both were charter franchises in the American Football League and have shared the same division for over six decades.

Of course, one major element of a rivalry is a history of big games. The Bills and the Jets have seldom been good at the same time, though. When the Bills won back-to-back AFL titles in 1964 and 1965, the Jets were under .500. By the time the Jets were contending with Joe Namath at the end of the decade, the Bills had regressed.

A strong run of Jets football in the mid-1980s ended just as the Bills were putting together the core of a team that went to four straight Super Bowls. Buffalo gracefully declined as the 1990s progressed and were still a consistent playoff team, but the Jets were going through a dark period. Just as the Jets began to emerge from that with a solid first decade of the 21st century, the Bills embarked upon a 17-year postseason drought.

Both teams traded up for quarterbacks in the top half of the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft. It seemed like this might be the fuse that would light a rivalry. Josh Allen and Sam Darnold would be compared for years to come. Debates would rage endlessly about these two signal callers picked in the same year. Of course, that did not happen. While Josh Allen developed into an MVP-caliber passer lifting the Bills into title contention, Darnold busted.

The teams have a handful of historic encounters. In the final game of the 1973 season, a now-notorious Buffalo running back, O.J. Simpson, became the first player in history to rush for 2,000 yards in a single year, reaching the mark against the Jets.

The two teams met in the playoffs for the one and only time in 1981. In a classic game, Buffalo jumped out to a 24-0 lead. A furious Jets comeback fell just short as Bill Simpson intercepted Richard Todd at the goal line in the waning seconds to preserve a 31-27 Bills victory.

Three years before the teams picked Allen and Darnold, the hiring of Rex Ryan as Bills head coach felt like it had the potential to take the rivalry to the next level. Ryan was as outspoken and controversial of a character as existed in the NFL at the time. Having just been fired by the Jets, the head coach presumably was looking to extract some measure of revenge from his former employer.

He did so by sweeping his former team in 2015, including a victory in final game of the season that denied the Jets a playoff berth. It never made that big of an impact in the Jets fan psyche, though. You’ll hear plenty of fans to this day talk about the pain of losing that game to the Bills that cost the Jets a spot in the postseason. Few mention Rex Ryan being the coach of the opponent.

Ryan, who always seemed like a bit of an awkward fit in Buffalo, only lasted two years. After 2016 he was gone.

I’m sure one day these teams will eventually play games that matter consistently, and a legitimate rivalry will grow. It might even come soon. The Bills are now the class of the NFL. The Jets are an improving team with a lot of budding talent.

For now, though, it just doesn’t feel like Jets-Bills has the intensity of other AFC East rivalries.