Following last night’s shocking home defeat of the New England Patriots (0-1) to the Kansas City Chiefs, it leaves both the New York Jets (0-0) and Buffalo Bills (0-0) atop the American Football Conference East division, as the two also-rans prepare for their Sunday afternoon matchup.
Gang Green travels to New Era Field to see if they can steal a road win, as a fast start is needed, considering the opening five games may be the softest part of their brutal schedule.
The Bills are under a new regime, as first-year head coach Sean McDermott, 43, is a football lifer who has been involved with the National Football League since the 1999-2000 season. He’s determined to show Bills’ management that giving him his first shot after almost 20 years of either being an assistant or defensive coordinator is a gamble that will pay off in Buffalo.
Salute Magazine previews some of the bigger storylines to follow, as these two perennial doormats battle it out to see who gets to be in first place…for a week, at least.
#1 Two-headed monster … The running game in the NFL has evolved over the years to where there are very few workhorse backs. Except for a few teams – like the Bills with LeSean McCoy — it’s a running back-by-committee approach. The Jets are one of those teams, as they’ll lean on two versatile backs in Matt Forte and Bilal Powell. The former is listed as the No. 1 back, while the latter, who is forever underutilized, will finally get a larger role in the offense. Forte, 31, is in the back-nine of his career, but the Jets still think he has some juice left. Powell, 28, will be used to provide a spell, but new offensive coordinator John Morton has also reasoned the duo will also be on the field together at times because they both are so versatile. Both are very good runners, are capable receiving options, and good at picking up blitzes. That last talent will be needed because, according to Pro Football Focus (PFF), a site devoted to grading players and teams, the Jets’ offensive line enters the season ranked 20th overall. Both Forte and Powell will be needed if and when pass protection breaks down. Powell has earned the trust of Morton and head coach Todd Bowles after what he did, last season, down the stretch. When Forte missed time late in the season, it was Powell who picked up the slack. Other than the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Le’Veon Bell and the Chicago Bears’ Jordan Howard, no other back totaled more yards in the final four games of the regular season than Powell, who accrued 411 rushing yards on 5.1 yards per carry. And during his ascending 2016 campaign, Powell carried the ball 131 times for 722 yards and added 58 catches for 388 yards and two touchdowns as a receiver out of the backfield. That production made him the fifth-highest rated back, according to PFF. He also nearly bested Forte in explosive plays last season, in registering 14 plays of at least 15 yards or more. Forte had 16 such plays, but Powell did that on 59 fewer touches than Forte. Look for the Jets to give the Bills a healthy dose of the duo.
#2 The Josh McCown factor … Which version of McCown will the Jets get on Sunday? Will it be the guy who seemingly resurrected his career with the Chicago Bears four years ago? That’s when he went 3-2 as a starter, completed 66.5 percent of his passes for 1,829 yards, 13 touchdowns, just one interception, and a 109.0 passer rating – which was the third highest behind the Denver Broncos’ Peyton Manning and the Philadelphia Eagles’ Nick Foles. It was also the best single-season rating in Bears’ history, as he led the NFL in interception percentage with a 0.4 percentage. That was in relief of an injured Jay Cutler and seemingly a lifetime ago. Or will it be the guy who’s entering this season with a 2-20 record as a starter in his last three seasons? McCown is really a more recent version of Ryan Fitzpatrick, last season’s Jets’ starter. He can get on a roll and stay hot for stretches, but then crashes down to earth soon after with the debilitating turnover. The Bills have a good pass rush, led by pass rusher Jerry Hughes, and the talented yet troubled defensive tackle Marcel Dareus. And New Era Field is always a madhouse — in the parking lot and in the stands — so Bills’ fans must be frothing at the prospect of having their defense face this journeyman quarterback.
#3 Being Shady is a good thing … LeSean “Shady” McCoy is the obvious motor for Buffalo’s offense, especially with quarterback issues of its own. Tyrod Taylor is a dynamic run-pass quarterback, but has been dealing with a concussion since suffering one in the third preseason game, at Baltimore. Taylor has cleared the concussion protocol and will start, but all it takes is one hit – and athletes are more susceptible to another concussion after suffering one so soon prior. If Taylor goes down, his backup, Nathan Peterman, is a rookie. So, look for the Bills to try and run early and often. McDermott has already said they’re going to run Shady ragged and that the electric running back could “play every snap,” this season. But as bad as the Jets are on offense, they’re that good on defense, so it’ll be a great test for Buffalo and McCoy. It’ll be strength on strength, as the Bills will be a run-based/play-action offense, going against a defense that has a front-seven as good as any team in the league.