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Lacking Identity and Wins, Sinking Bills Host Surging Jets

The calendar has flipped to October and following whatever outcome awaits for both teams, we’ll be at the quarter pole of the 2010 season.  Today, when the New York Jets invade Ralph Wilson Stadium to clash with the Bills, it’ll be a football tale of the haves versus the have nots.

New York entered 2010 with a boatload of swagger and a truckload of Super Bowl aspirations.  With an emerging quarterback, strong receiving unit, and a one of the league’s top defenses anything less than the Vince Lombardi Trophy will be a Rex Ryan t-shirt sized disappointment.

But after a Monday night season opening loss to Baltimore, the New York faithful reached Def Con 3.  Following up the loss to the Ravens, the Jets quickly got back on course.  With convincing wins over fellow AFC foes New England and Miami in consecutive weeks, the Jets’ Super Bowl train is firmly back on course and they’re looking to complete an early season AFC East hat trick by knocking off the worst team in the division.

While the Jets have gotten things back on track, the Bills still haven’t left the station.  At 0-3, not only are the Bills desperate for a victory for head coach Chan Gailey, they’re also struggling to find an identity.  When you don’t win, you can’t say winning is your identity.  Are the Bills going to be buoyed by the running game?  Is this truly Ryan Fitzpatrick’s team now following the subsequen benching and release of Trent Edwards? 

The last time the Jets started out 3-0 in the AFC East was in 2000.  The Bills are 2-12 against the AFC East in their last 14 games.  Something’s got to give, right?  Smells like the classic trap game for the Jets, considering the look-ahead factor to next week when they face off against their former quarterback Brett Favre and the Minnesota Vikings next Monday night. 

Earlier this week, the current came down and the Trent Edwards show officially closed in Buffalo, following his release this past Monday.  With Ryan Fitzpatrick being named the starter and Chan Gailey demoting Edwards, the Bills cut ties with the fourth-year signal caller. 

Now going forward it’s Fitzpatrick under center in Buffalo.  Last season, Fitzpatrick didn’t exactly torch the Jets’ defense, going just 19 of 48 with a touchdown and two interceptions.  Fitzpatrick’s counterpart, Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez, also experienced two forgettable performances last year against the Bills.  Sanchez had the worst game of his rookie season, throwing a career-worst five interceptions in the first meeting with the Bills and left the second game in Toronto with a quad injury.

But as the Bills quarterback situation remains a mediocre carousel, Sanchez has brought stability and progression in just his second year.  In consecutive weeks against the Patriots and Dolphins, Sanchez has thrown for 476 yards, six touchdowns and zero interceptions.  In his last 79 pass attempts, Sanchez hasn’t thrown an interception.  On Sunday, he’ll face the Bills defense which is still searching for their first interception of the season.

Two aspects killing the Bills on defense through three games in 2010: red zone defense and tight ends.  Opponents have scored seven touchdowns in nine trips into the Buffalo red zone.  That has Sanchez, along with his new favorite target, tight end Dustin Keller, salivating. 

Keller is coming off a career game, hauling in six catches for 98 yards and two touchdowns.  Keller is the Jets’ leading receiver this season with 15 catches for 226 yards and three touchdowns.  The Bills have been brutal against tight ends.  Green Bay’s Jermichael Finley went over 100 yards receiving and last week New England’s rookies Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez combined for nine catches, 107 yards and a touchdown.

The Bills offense ranks last in the NFL with 242 total yards per game, but two brightspots have been running backs C.J. Spiller and Marshawn Lynch.  Despite his limited snaps, Spiller scored twice last week on a 5-yard touchdown pass and a 95-yard kickoff return.  Lynch leads Buffalo in rushing, averaging just under 5 yards per carry (4.7)

But even though the dark clouds and bleek days have followed the Bills for the better part of a decade, the Bills have been a rash the Jets haven’t found a suitable iching cream for at times.  It’s definitely a rivalry, a pride factor.  Neither team likes the other, and no matter the records or personalities, in situations like today where Buffalo is the pauper and New York is the prince, the Bills find a way to steal a few of the prince’s jewels.

Despite holding a 10-8 advantage in the series since 2001, the Bills have dealt the Jets some bad losses.  Seven of New York’s losses to Buffalo were when the Bills were at least two games under the .500 mark.  In 2001, 2004, 2006, 2007, and 2009, all seasons in which the Bills pulled off victories, Buffalo entered with records of 2-12, 2-5, 5-7, 0-3 and 1-4 respectively. 

Surely the Jets must be concerned about the possibility of a letdown.  New York is fully conscious that despite defeating New England and Miami, a loss to Buffalo would nullify any progress made the last two weeks.   The Bills are also aware of what’s staring back at them:  an 0-4 record and an 0-3 record in the division.  They’ll be fueled by desperation, widely considered by the rest of their NFL peers and experts as one of the NFL’s worst franchises.

After contending with New England, guided by a shakeup at quarterback with Fitzpatrick taking over the reigns, the Bills may stand have a chance this afternoon.  They won’t have to contend with Darrelle Revis, Kris Jenkins or Calvin Pace, all will miss the game with injuries.  Marshawn Lynch has the best he’s looked in a year and a half.  C.J. Spiller showed he’s a home run threat and Lee Evans’ production is almost night and day with Fitzpatrick compared to Trent Edwards.

Will it be enough?

Prediction:  New York 26, Buffalo 16.  There’s going to be nothing flashy or complicated about the Jets’ gameplan.  They’re going to line up for 60 minutes, beat you up physically and punish the heck out of you.  Very few teams excel at beating the man across from you better than the Jets.  On paper, sure it appears to be a trap or a look-ahead for the Jets.  The Bills must hit or be hit and suffer the consequences.  It might be closer than the experts think, but with the a quarter of the season gone the Bills will still be without a win.

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