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Will the Jets rally 'round Rick Mirer? Can Quinn Early compensate for the loss of Wayne Chrebet? What will they do without Leon Johnson? Did the Tuna play Russian roulette with his quarterbacks?

Those are New York obsessions. For a week the New York sports sections have read like Woody Allen scripts. Angst in the boroughs. Vinny Testaverde's torn Achilles tendon has been treated like a celebrity lost at sea.

Here we do regional theater with the Bills and have our own obsessions. Now playing: "Opening Tragedy." It's been a week of Upstate angst.

What we are likely to get this evening when the teams kick off are versions of "Making the Best of It." At stake is a deadly negative, an 0-2 record for the loser. It's not just any ordinary 0-2. The loser would be in AFC-East jail, virtually comatose in the NFL's most competitive division. It's usually comical to use the word "crucial" on Sept. 19, but for this game it's tempting.

Without Vinny, the Jets' major antidote to Doug Flutie is Bill Belichick, their defensive Svengali. Belichick presumably locked himself in a film room all week to concoct something as mystifying as last year's game plans for the Bills' diminutive quarterback.

The Jets, with Belichick devising the strategy, shut down Flutie twice, double what most other defenses did. Any team with Buffalo on its schedule this season was sure to get a copy of those films in order to analyze them frame by frame.

The question today is whether Belichick will choose to ignore Buffalo's running game. The Bills' own offensive strategists did that in Indianapolis last week. Eleven carries by the running backs? It was a vote of no confidence.

Even facing as canny a strategist as Belichick, the Bills can almost guess what the Jet defensive game plan will be: blitz until Buffalo proves it can handle it. The Jets have better defensive tools than Indianapolis. The Indy plotter, Vic Fangio, concentrated his blitzing on Flutie's right side, flooding the area where he prefers to run and pass on the run. Expect the same.

It didn't help that Flutie did not have a good day against the Colts, aside from his shoddy protection. He couldn't hit the big passes, or enough of them, to force the Colts out of their zone blitz.

There has to be enough balance if the Bills hope to do anything on offense. Pounding away with Antowain Smith and Jonathan Linton, as slow and at times frustrating as that may be, is one of the few avenues open to them. It won't be easy. The Jets added inside linebacker Marvin Jones and ex-Denver all-star safety Steve Atwater since last year. Both are run crunchers and they had a tough anti-run defense to begin with.

In order to make New York react to its running attack, the Buffalo offensive line would have to do a 180-degree turn. The linemen didn't exactly have sparks flying out of the ear holes in their helmets and it showed in their work.

Mirer may be one of the larger disappointments of the '90s, but the Bills lost to him before, in 1996, when he was a Seattle Seahawk. In fact it was the last victory Mirer supervised. Buffalo needs as effective a pass rush as Wade Phillips claims his guys gave him against Indy.

As it has been dating back to 1990, the key line matchup will be Bruce Smith vs. Jumbo Elliott. It's not like it began, in Super Bowl XXV, when Bruce was at the top of his game and Jumbo didn't need to corner his opponents in the ladies' room.

Beyond matchups, it's a matter of tactics. The Bills were far too passive in defensing Peyton Manning. They have to go after Mirer with some heavy blitzing of their own. What's to lose? The chances of the new guy stinging the blitz are far lower than the risk of blitzing Testaverde.

On the other hand, the Jets' game plan is likely to change with Mirer at quarterback. Even with Chrebet out of the lineup, it may seem like a shame to waste the receiving talents of Keyshawn Johnson and Dedric Ward but the prudent course may be to give the ball to running back Curtis Martin 30 times, even though Buffalo stuffed him in both games a year ago. In the first he averaged just 2.6 yards in 21 carries and in the second 1.9 in 20.

Nevertheless, Martin had big games in the past against Buffalo but not behind such inexperienced guards as the Jets are starting. It could turn out that this game will revolve around Buffalo's strength in the middle with inside backers John Holocek and Sam Cowart behind Ted Washington.

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