Here are my five takes on Sunday’s season-opener between the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets at New Era Field:
1. This has the potential to be among the worst games of the Week One NFL schedule. The Bills have the look of a team that figures to win a half-dozen games or so at the most. The Jets have the look of a team that will own the top pick of next year's NFL Draft, something their heavy roster-gutting makes likely.
With both clubs operating with greater focus on the future rather than the present, the present is largely in the hands of players who either lack the experience or talent (or both) to generate a whole lot of success. That, along with the fact that it's the first game of the season, opens the door to the distinct possibility of a whole lot of ugly football.
Most league observers see the Jets as being more committed to tanking, but the Bills won't be immune to harsh judgements that no doubt will emanate from how the teams perform and the outcome.
2. Although the Bills have turned over their roster considerably, they seem to have at least a slight talent edge. Nowhere will that likely be more apparent than in the matchup between their defensive front and the Jets' offensive line.
Now that they've gone from Rex Ryan's 3-4 base scheme to a 4-3 that better suits their skills, Jerry Hughes, Kyle Williams, Marcell Dareus, and Shaq Lawson have the capacity to make life fairly miserable for Josh McCown, the Jets' journeyman quarterback.
Tackles Kelvin Beachum and Brandon Shell can expect to be in for a long day. McCown could very well be in for an even longer one.
This assumes, of course, the Jets aren't able to get anything going against a run defense that ranked 28th in the league last season.
3. The Jets have a strong defensive front of their own, led by linemen Muhammad Wilkerson and Leonard Williams, and it was the primary reason the team ranked fourth in the NFL against the run. Still, it's reasonable to expect the Bills to have success with a heavy dose of LeSean McCoy's rushing on plenty of wide-zone stretch plays that will often cause the Jets' linemen to run laterally and eventually wear down.
Tyrod Taylor's scrambling to extend plays and chain-moving runs figure to add to the fatigue of the Jets' D-linemen and eventually soften the pass rush enough to allow him to make some plays even with the limitations of a receiving corps that doesn't have much in the way of game-breaking targets.
Rookie Zay Jones is probably the best candidate to stretch the Jets' secondary. Jordan Matthews and tight ends Charles Clay, Nick O'Leary and Logan Thomas should find room to operate over the middle, especially against the Jets' rookie safety duo of Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye.
4. The Bills have to look like the sort of team that Sean McDermott's hiring was supposed to deliver. For the sake of his credibility, as well as that of the owners and General Manager Brandon Beane, the Bills need to be disciplined.
Those double-digit penalty totals of the first two preseason games must become a distant memory, written off as the product of sloppiness typically found in the early portion of the exhibition schedule. McDermott's Bills have to look organized and intelligent. What happens from here on out simply can't bear any resemblance to last year's chaotic nightmare under Ryan.
Will it assure the Bills of victory? No. But it's vital that they at least show they won't be in the habit of beating themselves. It's one thing to struggle because of a lack of talent. It's another to do so because of something that might be lacking between the earholes.
5. The secondary that was blown up and reconstructed from scratch has to avoid unraveling out of the gate. McCown and the rest of the Jets' passing game probably won't pose the most difficult challenge this group faces, but it's a challenge nonetheless.
No member of the unit had ever played together or in the Bills' defensive scheme before arriving in Buffalo. The emphasis on zone coverage puts a greater onus on the cornerbacks, Tre'Davious White and E.J. Gaines, and the safeties, Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer, to communicate well and be on the same page at all times.
White's rookie status no doubt will make him a focal point of the Jets' offensive plan. But the Jets will be breaking in a pair of new receivers, Robby Anderson and Jermaine Kearse, to replace the two more accomplished targets with which they parted ways: Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker.