The New York Jets open their 2023 campaign at home against the defending AFC East champion Buffalo Bills in a tough matchup to start the year. The Jets have high hopes for the season, largely due to the addition of future Hall of Fame quarterback Aaron Rodgers to the roster. Getting the season off to a winning start won’t be easy, as Josh Allen and the Bills are a formidable opponent. Previewing this season opening matchup, Matt Byham of Buffalo Rumblings was kind enough to answer a few questions regarding the 2023 Bills.
Check out the Q&A below, and be sure to check out DraftKings Sportsbook for all your betting needs this season.
1. The Bills have dominated the AFC East lately, but this year the competition for the AFC East title appears on paper to have ratcheted up a bit. Which AFC East rival do you see being the greatest threat to the current Bills’ dominance, and what do you predict the final AFC East standings will be?
Not just because we’re facing off this week, but I believe it has to be the Jets. I do think there are enough people who underestimate the Miami Dolphins, and I’m nowhere near as down on the New England Patriots as most others. However, the Jets have already shown an ability to affect Josh Allen into negative plays — and that defense is likely to be even better in 2023. When you go and add a certain Hall of Fame quarterback named Aaron Rodgers, suddenly that upstart team with a defense no one wants to face takes on the look of an equal contender in the ring. Rodgers had a down year last season, but it’s likely he sees a course correct more in line with his career averages. Despite his age, he’s still capable of doing everything he’s done since he took over for Brett Favre.
As far as AFC East final standings? I think the Bills and Jets make the playoffs this year if health is on the side of both. I like the Bills’ chances to once again repeat as AFC East Champions, but I don’t see it as clear-cut as it’s been in past seasons. In my preferred world, the Jets finish close behind at 2, followed by the Dolphins and then the Patriots. It’s entirely possible the Jets win the division — the early feeling is that it could come down to the Bills-Jets head-to-head matchup. Things might look better for New England if the quarterback room had a different look. Miami could be an elite team, but it all hinges on Tua Tagovailoa’s health. Will he make a run once again at the NFL MVP? Recall it was a real possibility for a good chunk of last season.
2. Josh Allen is one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. One of the things that makes him so dangerous is his outstanding running ability. He has well over 100 rushing attempts in each of the last four seasons, a number more akin to a RB2 than to most quarterbacks. Allen also takes a fair number of sacks. With the sacks and the rushing attempts, Allen is getting hit at a much higher rate than the average NFL quarterback. Are you concerned at how much Allen is putting himself in harm’s way, and how that will affect his longevity?
We talk about this often enough within the fan base — I’m not sure Josh Allen can be viewed the same as most quarterbacks. He’s as big as most edge rushers, faster than most linebackers, and as athletic as most cornerbacks. I’d say every Bills fan is concerned about Allen’s health, because he’s the franchise’s first QB to play consistently great since Jim Kelly. The Bills are considered among the NFL’s elite teams largely due to Allen. That’s not news to most who follow the league, but it’s a good starting point when considering what it means by asking him to stay out of “harm’s way.” Naturally, that’s the goal, to take less hits — and the NFL has done a lot to build in security blankets for the sports biggest stars. But to ask Allen not to do the things that make him who he is? It’s a difficult consideration. At least for now.
To this point, Allen’s run as much out of necessity as second nature. The Bills have failed to establish a true running threat, despite investing heavily (Round 2 and 3) in multiple drafts (Devin Singletary, Zach Moss, James Cook). Cook’s the only RB left out of that trio. That’s not ideal. The one constant has been Allen, and he’s the best threat because of his ability to ad lib; he keeps defenses honest because the threat of a “wow” pass is ever present.
Consider this for a moment: Rarely do fans worry about the health of a defender (or most any other player not assigned “QB”) as they make tackle after tackle, absorbing countless hits.
3. Could you let Jets fans know about any significant additions or subtractions to the team since last year and how are these changes working out? Also, how has the 2023 draft class for the Bills been performing?
A fair amount of Bills fans would probably disagree with me, but I believe losing defensive coordinator/assistant head coach Leslie Frazier is going to be more of a mountain to climb than what’s being considered. Whatever is or isn’t the case, he’s gone — and it’s now head coach/defensive coordinator Sean McDermott’s defense. That means McDermott has one more thing to acutely focus on during games, which concerns me. Buffalo continually fielded elite defenses with Frazier calling the shots. He will be missed.
(A head’s up — there’s much to discuss about this next player.) To me, losing linebacker Tremaine Edmunds is a massive blow to the Bills. Edmunds clicked from day one, earning the green dot and operating as one half of a formidable linebacker tandem with Matt Milano. Certainly, Buffalo wasn’t going to be able to afford Edmunds considering what the Chicago Bears gave him in free agency. But it’s peculiar that general manager Brandon Beane didn’t manage to get something done ahead of Edmunds fifth year. For several drafts now, the Bills have brought in smaller linebackers to back up Edmunds. While there’s no one who truly projects the same as Edmunds, there appears to have been an effort made to focus on a specific type. The potential danger there is that Terrel Bernard, the linebacker set to start next to Milano, has four NFL tackles — and he missed most of training camp and every preseason game with a hamstring injury. Those in competition with Bernard were borderline terrible. It would appear the Bills were prepared for Edmunds to leave, but were ill-prepared to replace him, yet still chose to do so with in-house options that now appear to be poor fits. There’s hope that 2023 third-round pick Dorian Williams could take over the MIKE role, but he’s been stuck at SAM behind Milano. Williams is the most athletic, and has shown the best in preseason, but for some reason seems unable to convince Sean McDermott that he should be given a chance at MIKE. A huge reason I’m worried about the MIKE situation revolves around what it might mean for Milano. Edmunds and Milano allowed one another to shine, freeing them up to do those things they do best well. With teams less concerned about the MIKE now, will it negatively impact Milano’s game? But there’s one other option that has fans optimistic: late in the preseason, the Bills brought in linebacker Christian Kirksey. He’s over 30, but he has a resume of solid linebacker, both inside and outside. For now, he’s on the practice squad as he gets up to speed. It seems a foregone conclusion that he’ll be elevated soon, taking on the role of staring MIKE next to Milano.
I’ve mentioned Dorian Williams already, but there seems to be a lot of promise and tons of enthusiasm for Buffalo’s first- and second-round picks this past April. The move to draft tight end Dalton Kincaid sent shockwaves through NFL media circles, with plenty of analysts calling it the pick of Round 1. But why would a team that utilized the least amount of “12” personnel draft another tight end when Dawson Knox is a key starter? Because Dalton Kincaid isn’t a typical tight end. With incredible hands, plenty of speed, and an advanced understanding of very complex routes (both inside and outside), Kincaid could help further re-define the role of tight end in the NFL. The Bills were at a loss to replace Cole Beasley last season. Whatever they tried just didn’t work, and there was little reason to do anything other than double Stefon Diggs while putting the best CB on Gabe Davis. A popular first-round pick for the Bills ahead of the draft was a slot receiver type. Well, not long before Buffalo was set to pick, there was a run on the best receivers. General manager Brandon Beane managed to trade up ahead of the Dallas Cowboys and select Kincaid. While everyone continues to call it “12” personnel with Kincaid and Knox on the field at the same time, it’s very likely Kincaid operates more as a much bigger slot receiver, in the mold of Cole Beasley.
My response it already too lengthy (and it’s possible I haven’t properly addressed how those changes are working out), but I’d be remiss forgetting to mention by name rookie second-round offensive guard O’Cyrus Torrence. There’s widespread belief that rookies rarely earn starting jobs from McDermott. Torrence has managed just that. He’s a mauler and hopefully a true handful for NFL defensive linemen.
Other players added, which Jets fans should consider paying attention to: Receivers Deonte Harty and Trent Sherfield. The Bills overhauled the inside receiver group through free agency, and with it came a ton of speed and physicality.
4. How would you go about trying to beat this Bills team? What aspect(s) of the Jets present a matchup problem for the Bills in this game?
When the Jets are on offense, target linebacker Terrel Bernard. Hammer him with pass plays and run in his direction. See if he’s up to the task. He’s about as inexperienced as it gets without being a rookie. When the Jets’ defense takes the field, contain Allen and confuse the offensive line with creative blitzes. The Jets’ game plan in both meetings last season was essentially the perfect blueprint. Keep the clock moving, keep Josh Allen and Stefon Diggs off the field, and win the turnover battle.
Interestingly enough, the Green Bay Packers tried a similar approach last season for three quarters against Buffalo. However, they appeared content running out the clock while failing to keep the Bills off the scoreboard. Suddenly, they allowed Rodgers to air it out, and he nearly pulled out a W, a real concern for Bills fans if Rodgers had more time.
About potential problems for the Bills? Again, that Jets defense, plus Buffalo’s own questions at MIKE linebacker and along the offensive line.
5. If you were a betting man, which team would you pick to win this game, and what’s your prediction for the final score?
I’m notorious for avoiding score predictions. Maybe it’s superstition, but I just try to avoid attaching numbers to my game thoughts. As a bettor? How do you pick against the Jets right now? Well, perhaps the hype surrounding them gives you pause, even though that defense is still going to be nasty. By no means is this meant as bravado, but the near-sure thing has been the Bills in recent years. Since 2018, Buffalo is 7-3 against the Jets.
While Rodgers and Hackett got the band back together for a reunion tour, we don’t know when they’ll take the stage and how long the set list will feature their greatest hits. Meanwhile, the Bills have a veteran team loaded with All-Pro and Pro Bowl talent... before even mentioning Josh Allen and Stefon Diggs. I guess I’m headed for Moe’s to have a beer with Homer. Bills win, in a fairly low-scoring game where Buffalo’s kicker plays a key role — something like 16-14 or 23-20.