1. Ryan Fitzpatrick getting it done with more weapons.
It’s amazing what throwing to Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker as opposed to Donald Jones and David Nelson can do for a guy. Jets quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick is having the best season of his 11-year career, having thrown for 3,724 yards, 29 touchdowns, 12 interceptions and a 91.2 passer rating — all of which are or likely will be career bests for a full season. The New York Daily News even had a column this week saying Fitzpatrick should be in the conversation for the league’s MVP award, calling him “the improbable engine of a team that nobody … wants to face in January.” In the past five games – all New York wins – Fitzpatrick has 1,525 passing yards, more than Cam Newton, Russell Wilson, Tom Brady and Carson Palmer. Only Wilson has more than Fitzpatrick’s 13 touchdown passes in the same time frame. In the same Daily News article, Fitzpatrick goes on to say he’s a “much smarter,” quarterback than when he was with Buffalo from 2009-12. “There’s been a tremendous amount of growth for me.” Clearly, Fitzpatrick is comfortable having been reunited with Jets offensive coordinator Chan Gailey. With the Bills, Fitzpatrick reached his greatest heights – until this season. If he throws for 284 yards and a touchdown Sunday against his former team, he’ll set the Jets’ single-season record for both passing yards and touchdowns.
2. New York’s size at receiver a huge liability for the Bills.
The Bills’ cornerback depth will be severely tested this week with both Stephon Gilmore and Ron Brooks having been placed on injured reserve. That will be even more true if rookie Ronald Darby is unable to play because of a groin injury that kept him out in Week 16. Without Darby, the Bills would likely start Leodis McKelvin and the little-used Mario Butler against the Jets, who will enjoy a size advantage with their receivers against whoever plays cornerback for the Bills. Marshall (6-foot-4) and Decker (6-3) have caught a touchdown pass in the same game eight times this season, the most times in NFL history that’s happened in a single season. During New York’s five-game winning streak, Gailey has simplified the offense, putting Marshall outside and Decker in the slot. According to research from ESPN.com, Marshall has run 170 of 204 routes the past five weeks on the outside, catching 39 passes for 576 yards and six touchdowns, while Decker has run 68 percent of his routes from the slot.
3. Something’s got to give.
Buffalo’s rushing attack against New York’s run defense will be a good battle. The Bills lead the NFL in rushing yards per game and per play, at 154.6 and 4.98, respectively. The lack of LeSean McCoy last week against Dallas didn’t slow them down, either, as the Bills piled up 236 yards on the ground. The challenge will be tougher Sunday against a Jets team that leads the NFL in rushing yards against, having give up just 1,222 through 15 games, an average of 81.5 per game. The middle of the Jets’ defensive line, with nose tackle Damon Harrison and defensive ends Muhammad Wilkerson and Leonard Williams, is particularly tough to run against. The Bills did it well in the first meeting between the teams, gaining 148 yards on 33 carries, but 112 of those came from McCoy, who isn’t likely to play in the rematch because of a knee injury.
4. Milestone in reach for Sammy Watkins.
Sammy Watkins will really have to earn it if he’s going to get to 1,000 receiving yards in a season for the first time in his career. Watkins needs 89 yards to hit that milestone, but will likely have to do it lined up against arguably one of the best cornerbacks of all time in Darrelle Revis. In their first meeting, Watkins was limited to just three catches for 14 yards, but those numbers are somewhat misleading. Watkins burned Revis deep on the Bills’ first play and could have had a long touchdown, but the throw from Tyrod Taylor was off. Later, with the Bills needing to convert a critical third and 2 in the fourth quarter, Watkins faked Revis out of his cleats at the line of scrimmage to get open, making a completion that allowed the Bills to nearly run out the clock. Their matchup will be one of the best to watch Sunday.
5. Start 2016 off on the right foot.
Look, we’re reaching here, but … the Bills technically could do that Sunday. A two-game winning streak won’t mean anything other that a slightly lower draft pick, but maybe for the players and coaching staff, it will provide some sort of confidence. More importantly, a good showing Sunday would show that guys haven’t checked out (cough, Mario Williams, cough) on Rex Ryan. There’s also the fact that some of them will be playing for jobs next season. All of that, along with the fact a win would possibly keep New York out of the playoffs, should give the Bills plenty of incentive.
The Bills could be without nine starters from opening day. Injuries aren’t an excuse, but they are a reality. The Jets are riding high, and as hard as it is to fathom, can secure a playoff spot with a win. While it’s tempting to say Fitzpatrick will come up small in a big spot, New York’s defense is legit. As hard as it might be for Bills fans to stomach, Fitzpatrick could be postseason bound.
Jets 27, Bills 20