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Week 17 Finale: Bills Playing for Jobs, Respect While Jets Try to Gain Momentum for Playoffs

And so, the 2010 season for the Buffalo Bills comes to a close this afternoon and they’ll carry over a couple of dubious streaks into the 2011 season.  For the 11th consecutive time, the Bills will have their noses pressed firmly up against the window looking into the playoffs while enduring their six straight losing season.  Buffalo also has wrapped up their third consecutive last place finish in the division.

So on the surface, it appears the Bills’ season finale doesn’t mean a whole lot in the grand scheme of things.  But, this time a year ago the Bills were ready to waive goodbye to Terrell Owens, Josh Reed and others.  They were in need of a new general manager and a new head coach. 

Fast forward to present day and while there won’t seem to be as hefty of an overhaul this offseason as last year, there’s still plenty of uncertainty at One Bills Drive as the season comes to a close.  While the likes of WR Stevie Johnson, RB Fred Jackson, lineman Eric Wood and Andy Levitre probably don’t have to worry about their job security, the same cannot be said for some other names on the roster.

Today’s finale could be the swan song for a handful of players on defense.  Donte Whitner and Paul Posluszny are set to become free agents, as well as Drayton Florence.  While it’s plausible all three could return, chances are just as good all three might not be back with the team.  Despite having his best statistical season in Buffalo, Whitner and the Bills haven’t generated much progress on coming to terms on a potential contratction extension.  Posluszny has stated he wants to remain in Buffalo, but time will tell if the Bills feel the same way.  Florence has been arguably the Bills’ best corner this season, and it’s likely his play in 2010 will draw the attention from teams other than the Bills.  It also doesn’t help to wonder whether or not fellow corner back, Terrence McGee will be the same player he was a year ago instead of the injury riddle version the Bills got this season.

And then there’s two more prominent veterans who could face the prospects of playing elsewhere in 2011:  Marcus Stroud and Lee Evans.  Stroud’s play this season has been average at best.  He hasn’t been spectacular nor has he been a liability on defense either.  But in life, it always comes down to the money and Stroud carries two more lucrative years on his contract and it’s very questionable right now whether or not his play this season merits the Bills hanging onto him.  One final game may not make or break the Bills’ decision to retain Stroud, but he’ll need a really strong finish in today’s game to give GM Buddy Nix and head coach Chan Gailey something to think long and hard about.

Which brings us to Evans.  Yes, he’s been on injured reserve so his numbers took a major hit from year’s past.  But even before he got hurt, Evans had a very minimal impact on the offense and you can make a strong case that Johnson may have overtaken Evans as the No.1 receiving option in Buffalo.  Set. to make north of $8 million next season, the Bills could entertain the idea of trading Evans.

Now let’s move away from all the offseason speculation and focus on the game. 

The Bills could be in a bit of trouble.  Ryan Fitzpatrick has missed practice for three straight days this week and is officially listed as questionable.  Buffalo is hanging on to the hope that Fitzpatrick can make it onto the field for the finale.  He’s thrown for 3,000 yards and 23 touchdowns but more importantly he’s rallied the troops and the troops have rallied around him as the team’s starting quarterback.  The timing of Fitzpatrick’s injury couldn’t have come at a worse time.  Despite his inspired play that will warrant Buffalo to think long and hard about keeping him as the starter, there’s no ironclad gurantee he’ll be the starter next year given the Bills’ troubling need to groom their quarterback of the future.  If Fitzpatrick does play, will this be his last as the team’s starting quarterback?

If Fitzpatrick cannot play, backup Brian Brohm will take his place.  Brohm has just 29 attempts this season, mostly in relief duty.  Rookie wide receivers David Nelson and Donald Jones have been officially ruled out for today’s game leaving the Bills with just three healthy receivers available for the game:  Steve Johnson, Naaman Roosevelt and Paul Hubbard. 

In the first meeting this season, the Jets trampled the Bills 38-14 in Buffalo.  Jets running back LaDainian Tomlinson rushed for a season-high 133 yards in the romp.  Tomlinson needs 86 yards to reach 1,000 yards rushing for the ninth time in his career.  Facing the NFL’s worst-ranked run defense which gives up 162.5 rushing yards per game, Tomlinson has a good chance to elipse that mark.  In last week’s 34-3 drubbing at the hands of New England, the Bills gave up 217 yards rushing, the seventh time this season Buffalo has allowed at least 200 yards rushing to their opponent.  The Bills are 0-7 in those games. 

The New York Jets will make it two years in a row they’re going to the playoffs, but the Jets are hitting some major road blocks heading into the playoffs.  Losers of three of their past four games, the Jets’ backbone has been their defense but of late it’s been their achilles heel.  They’ve allowed an average of 309.0 yards per game over the past four games while allowing 110 points in those games.  Last week in Chicago, the Jets’ defense gave up 38 points and 322 yards of total offense to the Bears.  Running back Matt Forte rushed for 113 yards becoming the first back since Week 10 of last season to top the 100-mark against the Jets.

New York is currently in the sixth spot in the AFC playoff picture, while having a chance to move up to the fifth spot.  Depending on how everything shakes out today, the Jets could face possible trips to Kansas City or Indianapolis next weekend. 

PredictionJets 23, Bills 9.  A lot is riding on this game for the Bills.  They could be either bringing back or waiving good bye to some key veteran pieces.  Unless it hasn’t been happening already, the entire team will be under strict and stern evaluation as to who does and doesn’t belong in a Bills uniform next season.  The single most important storyline in this game is Ryan Fitzpatrick.  His health is in question as he’s missed practice Wednesday, Thursday and Friday with a knee injury.  What really matters is that he plays well enough to force the Bills to bring him back as the team’s starter in 2011.  I don’t know how much or how little he’ll be able to play.  My gut says a competitor like Fitzpatrick will be out on the field for his teammates.  I just don’t know how effective he’ll be.  All that being said, I believe Fitz has deserves a chance to be the team’s starter next season.

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