The Jets didn’t seem to be rebuilding when they entered the 2016 season, but they quickly headed in that direction when things went south in a hurry. After splitting their first two games, they lost four straight. A brief two-game winning streak was followed by another four straight losses, before it all ended mercifully with a 5-11 record. The team shuffled quarterbacks to little avail, and key injuries and suspensions like the ones that sidelined veteran stars like Eric Decker and Sheldon Richardson didn’t help. Bright spots were few and far between.
The Rex Ryan era in Buffalo didn’t last very long, as he and his defensive coordinator brother Rob were both gone at the end of a disappointing 7-9 season. The team couldn’t sustain the momentum of a 4-2 start and ended up finishing ahead of only the Jets in the division. Nobody ran the ball better than the Bills, as LeSean McCoy chalked up 1,267 yards and 13 rushing scores to lead the way. Unfortunately, hardly anybody passed the ball worse, as injuries kept star receiver Sammy Watkins out most of the year. The defense was gashed by the run all year long.
Who’s rebuilding more? – Every move these two teams made in the offseason seemed dedicated to tearing things down and starting over. Even in the preseason the moves continued, as Watkins by traded by the Bills and Richardson was jettisoned by the Jets. What’s left? A lot of untested youngsters, stopgap veterans and question marks. This could game could either be unbearable sloppy or, in spite of itself, an entertaining contest of two teams with nothing to lose.
Bills quarterback uncertainty– The Bills still don’t seem to have decided on whether Tyrod Taylor is a legitimate starting quarterback in this league or whether they’re ready to move on from him. To make matters even cloudier, his status for game time on Sunday is up on the air due to a concussion suffered in preseason. While he has been cleared, there is still a chance that rookie Nathan Perryman, a fifth-round draft pick out of Pittsburgh, could find himself behind center on Opening Day, which doesn’t seem like a recipe for success.
Which run defense steps up? – Neither one of these teams is going to be confused with a legendary passing attack anytime soon. But both have legitimate threats in the backfield. McCoy may carry an even bigger part of the load with Mike Gillislee now in New England, while Taylor, if he plays, is one of the best running quarterbacks. The Jets counter with Bilal Powell and Matt Forte, who are threats both as runners and receivers.
Matchup to watch
Jets OT Ben Ijalana vs. Bills OLB Lorenzo Alexander – Alexander was one of the bright spots on the Bills last season, busting out with 12.5 sacks to lead the pass rush. Ijalana is a journeyman type who would likely be a reserve tackle on most teams but is instead in charge of protecting McCown’s blind side. The Jets will have a hard enough time moving it through the air. If Alexander has his way with Ijalana, it could be impossible.
Fantasy football tip
WR Zay Jones – It seems unusual to be recommending a rookie receiver in his first ever game, but Jones, a second-round pick out of East Carolina, has been impressive in camp for the Bills. He should get a large amount of targets, especially with new acquisition Jordan Matthews banged up, so watch out for him as a Fantasy sleeper on Sunday.
Prediction: Buffalo Bills 14-3 New York Jets
This has all the makings of a defensive struggle, one where turnovers and field position end up making the difference. The game is in Buffalo, so the Bills have that advantage, and they also are a little bit more settled than the Jets right now. Look for an ugly Buffalo win.
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