All that stands between the Buffalo Bills and victory today is, well, themselves.
Only another self-destructive performance such as the one they gave in last week's loss to Miami could keep the Bills from beating the hapless, hopeless New York Jets. And even that might not be enough.
At 0-7, the Jets are off to the worst start in franchise history. With only one losing team (Arizona) left on their schedule, an 0-16 season is well within the realm of possibility.
Besides playing far below expectations raised by the millions of dollars they spent on free agents and draft picks, the Jets also have been devastated by injuries. Their offense has been without QB Neil O'Donnell and WRs Keyshawn Johnson and Jeff Graham. Their defense has been missing its two best players, DE Hugh Douglas and MLB Marvin Jones. Johnson, the top overall pick of the draft, is the only one expected to return today.
After last Sunday's humiliation at Rich Stadium, the Bills should arrive at the Meadowlands a very angry and motivated team.
QB Jim Kelly is on a mission to redeem himself for last week's four-turnover outing that figured to put his starting job, if not his career, in jeopardy. Jets QB and ex-Bill Frank Reich is merely looking to keep his head against Buffalo's ferocious pass rush.
When the Bills have the ball
If ever there were a chance for the Bills' offense to finally explode, this is it.
The Jets have allowed big plays all season. They employ an aggressive, gambling scheme that commits to stopping one element of the offense while challenging the other to beat them.
In all likelihood, the Jets will stack their defensive front to give Thurman Thomas and Darick Holmes nowhere to run. Then they will attack Kelly with heavy blitzing from one or both of the OLBs, Mo Lewis and Bobby Houston, and/or SS Victor Green.
If the Bills' pass-protection can hold up -- something it has been unable to do for most of the season -- Kelly should have opportunities to hit long completions against one-on-one coverage. Rookie RCB Ray Mickens was burned four times for 129 yards and a TD by Jacksonville last week. LCB Aaron Glenn is good in coverage, but he and Mickens are both fairly small and should be at a disadvantage against the Bills' good-sized WRs. FS Gary Jones constantly bites on run fakes and invariably leaves someone open to make a big catch.
The simplicity of the Jets' defense should also be a plus for Kelly, who has struggled to make reads against the more complex zone blitzing he has faced.
Losing RE Douglas was a major blow because he is the Jets' only effective pass-rusher. LT John Fina won't have any problem against Douglas' replacement, Mike Chalenski, who is not an NFL-caliber starter.
Last week, LE Marvin Washington moved to LT to replace injured Marc Spindler. He played well, especially on passing downs. His replacement at LE, former World League player Bobby Hamilton, had two sacks against the Jaguars to take the Jets' lead with 2 1/2 . As much as RT Glenn Parker struggled last week, he should do better today against an inexperienced opponent.
RT Matt Brock, the only member of the Jets' front four to start every game, is primarily a run-stuffer.
Marvin Jones had been the glue of the defense, especially against the run. His replacement, Rick Hamilton, is another former World League player who doesn't approach Jones' level of play.
When the Jets have the ball
In his first start for the Jets last week, Reich looked good early in helping to build a 14-3 lead. But he made two bad throws that were intercepted and ultimately led to the 21-17 loss.
Reich's passing arm isn't any better than it was in 1994, his final season with Buffalo. His lack of mobility and slow release should also be serious problems against the Bills' front seven. Despite his great intelligence, Reich is likely to be forced into mistakes by overwhelming pressure from DE Bruce Smith and OLBs Bryce Paup and Gabe Northern.
The good news for Reich is that the Jets have allowed only three sacks in their last three games. The bad news is that most of their recent opponents have concentrated on stopping the run.
Like the Jets, the Bills likely will bunch their defense and dare Reich to try to beat them with his arm. The Jags did that last Sunday, snapping RB Adrian Murrell's two-game streak of 100-yard performances.
Offensive coordinator Ron Erhardt uses the same offense he ran in Pittsburgh last year, going with four and five WRs on passing downs. The problem, however, is that he doesn't have a good enough passer or enough healthy big-play WRs. Graham's absence hurts. Johnson's early return from a knee injury will help, although he probably will be limited. The team's pass-catching star is little Wayne Chrebet, who ranks second in the AFC with 40 receptions.
The Jets' line has been shuffled this week with Roger Duffy moving from LG to C to replace veteran Dave Alexander, who suffered a season-ending knee injury. Harry Galbreath has been promoted from reserve to starter at LG.
LT Jumbo Elliott has allowed only one sack since returning from a groin-muscle injury that sidelined him for the first two games, but he has yet to face a quality pass-rusher. Elliott has done well against Smith in the past, although Smith is on fire this year.
The Jets are likely to have TE Kyle Brady help RT David Williams, a major free-agent bust, against Paup.
Bills' 40 wins vs. Jets are their most vs. any team in the NFL. . . . Jets' 11 straight losses dating back to last year ties them with four teams for second-longest losing streak in the 1990s.
Kelly, Bills' offense serve critics an in-your-face victory, 21-0.