It's come to this for the Buffalo Bill: a chance to play spoiler against the New York Jets. With a win, ex-Bill Ryan Fitzpatrick can punch his team's ticket to the postseason (with ex-Bill Chan Gailey calling the plays).
Down several starters across the board, it's a daunting match-up for the Bills at home.
To get the answers on the Jets, we check in with Darryl Slater of The Star-Ledger. Slater dishes on Fitz's motivation on returning to Buffalo, how Gailey helped turn the Jets' season around, where New York has injuries and if Sunday will, indeed, be a "bloodbath."
Q: How motivated is Ryan Fitzpatrick to win back in Buffalo, where he played four years?
Slater: Fitzpatrick mentioned this week that the game has some "extra meaning" to him. He still looks back fondly on his time in Buffalo. A bigger motivator for Fitzpatrick, though, is a chance to reach the playoffs for the first time in his 11-year career. He thought he might make it in 2011, when the Bills started 5-2, but wound up 6-10. Fitzpatrick said the start to that season is the highlight of his experience with the Bills. He realizes how rare these opportunities are, to seriously contend for a playoff spot. So this is the biggest game of his career for multiple reasons.
Q: The last time the Bills faced New York, the offense seemed to be taking a nosedive. How did former Bills OC Chan Gailey turn it all around?
Slater: Gailey simplified things. He cut back on all the moving parts in the offense and got back to doing what worked well during the 4-1 start — running the ball with Chris Ivory and throwing to Brandon Marshall in the red zone. After their fast start, the Jets hit a 1-4 slide during which their offense tried to "reinvent the wheel," according to Fitzpatrick. Todd Bowles came right out and said, after the loss in Houston, that the Jets got "too creative" with their offensive approach, and needed to get back to "algebra." Since the Jets lost to Houston (a week after that Bills loss), they are 5-0, and are averaging 27.2 points per game and 422.6 yards per game.
Q: Buffalo is really banged up on both sides of the ball. What's the state of the Jets' health? Any key injuries that could play a factor Sunday?
Slater: Three offensive starters are questionable: right tackle Breno Giacomini (ankle), No. 2 running back Bilal Powell (ankle), and tight end Kellen Davis (foot). Bowles expects them all to be game-time decisions. Powell has played well lately, and his emergence is one of the reasons for the Jets' recent offensive uptick. But even if he's out, the Jets still have Ivory and Stevan Ridley. The Jets can live without Davis, since they have Jeff Cumberland. But Giacomini would be a big loss. The Jets would have to start either Ben Ijalana or Brent Qvale in his place. Ijalana has been a healthy scratch every game this season. Qvale has played 33 snaps. Giacomini hasn't had a great year. He is rated 71st out of 75 tackles in the NFL by Pro Football Focus, and has allowed three sacks, seven quarterback hits, and 44 hurries (the most of any tackle). But he's a better option than Ijalana or Qvale, obviously.
Q: Calvin Pace said he expects a "bloodbath." What did he mean by that and do others feel the same way?
Slater: I think he meant that Rex Ryan will have his guys motivated to play hard. Listening to Ryan during his teleconference with Jets reporters this week, he sounded like a defeated and humbled guy. It's pretty clear this season has been tough for him, what with some Bills players openly questioning his approach. That stuff stung him. But Pace's perception, at least, is that Ryan's players will be just as fired up as their coach for this game — and the chance to play spoiler. Yes, other Jets veterans feel similarly to Pace. Darrelle Revis expects Ryan to "throw the kitchen sink at us," because he has nothing to lose. The Jets' older players know what they're getting into, with this game, even though the Jets are favored/expected to win against a banged-up Bills team that has been struggling.
Q: What's your prediction for Sunday, and why?
Slater: Jets 27, Bills 14. I don't see how the Bills' injury-depleted offense will be able to score a bunch against this Jets defense. The Jets' offense has played better lately, after Ryan's defense won that battle the first time around. But I do think there's a chance for a repeat of that performance by the Bills' defense, so maybe that 27 is too high for the Jets' score. But as long as the Jets get to 20 points, they should win this game, simply because Tyrod Taylor doesn't have a lot of healthy options, besides Sammy Watkins. If the Jets can shut down Watkins, the Bills probably have no chance.