Week 9 Bills vs. Jets: What to Watch For in Heated AFC East Battle

There’s a big feel in the air today, both around the NFL and in Western New York where the Buffalo Bills are set to host their division rival New York Jets in a critical AFC East clash.  We can expect there’s going to be a playoff type atmosphere inside Ralph Wilson Stadium on the first football Sunday in November.  Buffalo is tied with New England for first place in the division.  New York is attempting to keep pace and make it a three-horse race.  Something has to give.

Let’s take a quick look at the potential games within the game this afternoon:

1.  Home sweet home.  Buffalo is 4-0 in home games this season while averaging 31.5 points per game.  They’ve scored 38, 34, 31 and 23 points in order in four home contests in 2011.  The Bills have allowed their opposition to score an average of 22.5 points per home game this season, giving up 35, 31, 24 and 0 points in their respective home games.  The Bills are looking to extend their home winning streak to five games for the first time since 2004.

2.  Roadhouse Blues.  The New York Jets have done their best Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde impersonation.  At home, they’re a perfect 4-0.  On the road, however, they’re a different team away from MetLife Stadium.  The Jets are 0-3 on the road and remain one of seven NFL teams that are winless on the road.  New York as allowed at least 30 points in all three of their road games, with their opponents rolling up an average of 32.7 points a game while being outscored by an average of 12 points.  This isn’t a football team that’s suddenly forgotten how to generate a winning formula on the road.  As a playoff wildcard, the Jets have won four road playoff games the last two seasons.  If New York has any chance of making another playoff push, they must begin to overturn their losing ways on the road.

3.  Rex Ryan and New York have Buffalo’s number.   Since taking over as Jets head coach in 2009, Ryan is 3-1 against Buffalo.  The Jets have beaten the Bills three straight times and the Bills haven’t scored more than 16 points in a game versus the Jets in the past four meetings between the two clubs.   New York bullied, battered and blasted Buffalo in 2010, beating the Bills twice by a combined scored of 76-21.  Defensively, the Jets have the manpower in the secondary to match up against Buffalo’s spread-’em-out offensive style and in previous meetings, the Jets have been the superior physical team.

4.  Can the Bills duplicate their defensive effort from last week?  Coming off their bye week, Buffalo put on a total dominant performance against Washington shutting down and shutting out the Redskins 23-0.  Buffalo’s defense recorded 10 sacks and two interceptions.  The Bills held the Redskins’ running game to only 26 yards on 12 carries.  New York has already allowed 16 sacks on quarterback Mark Sanchez after surrendering only 27 sacks a season ago. 

5.  Ryan Fitzpatrick needs to figure out the Jets.  Harvard’s finest hasn’t faired too well against the New York Jets.  He’s 1-3 lifetime against the Jets while losing two straight.  Since 2009, Fitzpatrick has faced the Jets three times and hasn’t completed more than 12 passes and hasn’t thrown for more than 128 yards while completing only 41 percent of his passes.  Perhaps the past is just that, and this seems to be a totally different Ryan Fitzpatrick than the Jets have seen the past two seasons. 

6.  Which team runs the football better?  History suggests it’s the Jets.  New York has destroyed the Bills with the run the past four games, rushing for 318, 249, 273, and 276 yards.  The Jets have had four different running backs rush for over 100 yards the past four games (Thomas Jones, LaDainian Tomlinson, Shonn Greene and Joe McKnight).  Since 2009 Buffalo’s leading rusher in a game versus the Jets has been Ryan Fitzpatrick, who rushed for 74 yards in the first meeting in 2010.  No Bills running backs, however, have rushed for more than 61 yards in a game against New York’s defense.  This year, however, things are taken a turn in Buffalo’s direction.  The Bills rank sixth in the NFL in rushing offense averaging 140.6 yards per game on the ground while averaging 5.0 yards per carry.  The Jets have ranked in the top five in rushing in the league the past two years, but in 2011 the Jets are ranked 28th in rushing with 92.4 yards a game.  Buffalo is second in the AFC with eight rushing touchdowns while the Jets are tied for eighth in the conference with four rushing scores.  Fred Jackson has elevated the Bills’ running attack into the top tier in the NFL.  Jackson has the third most attempts in the AFC (132) and ranks fourth in the NFL in rushing with 721 yards along with six rushing touchdowns.

7.  Buffalo Bills:  feel good story or playoff threat?.  The Bills can make a statement this afternoon:  beat the New York Jets and you’ll be thought of a playoff contender.  The Bills are 5-2 with a huge over New England under their belt and against the NFL’s sixth toughest schedule.  They conquered one demon.  Now, another awaits them.  Aside from one dreadful Mark Sanchez rookie start in which he threw five picks that led to the Bills’ 16-13 overtime win, the Bills are only 1-5 against the Jets since 2008 including losing three in a row.  If the Bills can pull out a victory, they’ll be 6-2 for the first time since 1993.  A loss might not be the end of the world for the Bills, but it would certainly damage their playoff outlook.  After today, the Bills will finish the month of November on the road against Dallas, Miami and the Jets.  Tennessee and San Diego loom in December and a rematch on the final day of the season up at New England.  Buffalo started 2008 a hot 5-1 and then the bottom fell out and the wheels fell off.   The Bills lost eight of their final ten games, finished the season 7-9 and missed the playoffs.  With many teams around the NFL fighting for their lives and playing in playoff mode in November, the Bills are no execption.

Prediction:  Jets 24, Bills 16.  This one is tough to call.  It’s only probably the biggest game of the season for both teams.  We might as well call this playoff November.  The winner will rightfully establish itself in a chair at the AFC East table with New England for divsion supremacy.  The loser could be in for a difficult final eight games of the season.  The Bills have three straight road games after Sunday, plus trips to San Diego and New England later this season.  The Jets get New England next week, with two rough NFC East games left on the slate (at Philadelphia, home vs. New York Giants).  The Jets have been a huge problem for the Bills.  New York has averaged 279 yards rushing per game against Buffalo and have beaten the Bills three straight times since 2009.  This is a different Buffalo squad than in previous years.  The offense is far more dynamic, led by Fred Jackson who ranks fourth in the NFL in rushing.  But Rex Ryan has had the Bills’ number and the Bills have been horrible against the Jets.  Ryan has had two weeks to prepare for the Bills.  That could be a huge factor.  The Jets’ offense has struggled to run it, throw it and protect Mark Sanchez.  Buffalo is coming off a 10-sack day against Washington, but they’ve had issues getting after the quarterback.  I think the Jets find a way to slip by the Bills.

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