Last chance for Bills and Jets
November, 9, 2012
By James Walker | ESPN.com
Icon SMI, AP imagesConsistency from Ryan Fitzpatrick, left, and Mark Sanchez is key for the Bills' and Jets' playoff chances.
The 3-5 New York Jets say they are going to the playoffs. The 3-5 Buffalo Bills probably feel similar, although they’re smart enough not to say it in public.
But is this the reality for either of these struggling franchises?
The realistic second-half outlook for Buffalo and New York is much more gloomy. But if either team has anything left in the tank, now is the time to show it.
Both entered with high expectations and will face potentially season-ending tests Sunday. The Jets travel to the Pacific Northwest to play the 5-4 Seattle Seahawks, who are 4-0 at home this season. The Bills travel to Gillette Stadium to play the New England Patriots (5-3). Buffalo has lost 17 of 18 against the Patriots, including 11 straight in New England.
Do the Bills and Jets have any chance of turning their seasons around? Let’s examine.
New York Jets
Reasons for hope: New York is coming off the bye week. This is as healthy as the Jets have been in a while, and they’ve had two weeks to prepare for Seattle. All the Jets have to do is win Sunday then beat the St. Louis Rams (3-5) to get back to .500. After that, anything is possible.
Even without Pro Bowl cornerback Darrelle Revis, New York’s pass defense is No. 6 in the NFL. The defense overall appeared to be improving before the bye week. The best way for New York to have success is for the defense to carry the team.
The Jets have a fairly easy schedule remaining. Five of New York’s eight games are against teams with losing records -- the Rams, Jaguars, Cardinals, Titans and Bills. If the Jets take care of business against these mediocre teams and pull off a couple upsets, they could find themselves in contention in January.
Reasons for concern: There is nothing to suggest the Jets have what it takes to become the hottest team in the NFL. New York must go 6-2 or 7-1 the rest of the way to get to nine or 10 wins. Asking the Jets to play near-perfect football is asking a lot. It also doesn’t help that five of New York’s eight games are on the road.
New York’s offense and quarterback play have been mostly subpar. To think the Jets will suddenly click in the second half of the season and figure everything out offensively would be a pipe dream.
Quarterback Mark Sanchez doesn’t have much to work with, but he’s not raising the level of his team, either. Sanchez has thrown for 1,736 yards, 10 touchdowns and 8 interceptions. He has a 52.9 completion percentage, the lowest of his career. The sputtering running game isn’t helping. Starting tailback Shonn Greene has just one 100-yard game this season and averages 3.7 yards per carry. Tim Tebow has been a non-factor.
The Jets, like most AFC East teams, lack depth -- and New York has been unlucky with injuries. The Jets lost their best player (Revis) and No. 1 receiver (Santonio Holmes) for the season, most likely sounding the death knell for both the defense and offense.
Playoff chances: 30 percent
Reasons for hope: The Bills have talent. They have a dynamic defensive end in Mario Williams, who is capable of taking over games if healthy and motivated. The Bills also have a potential game-changer in tailback C.J. Spiller, who leads the NFL at 7.2 yards per carry. The Bills are sixth in the NFL in rushing. Buffalo’s defensive line is stout, and the offensive line is versatile. It’s up to the coaching staff to get the most out of this group, which hasn’t happened.
The Bills did most of their traveling in the first half of the season. Therefore, Buffalo has five home games remaining. If the Bills protect their home field the rest of the way, including the game in Toronto, the worst they can finish is 8-8.
A lot of people are auditioning for their jobs. That includes Buffalo's coaching staff, the quarterback and just about everyone else, for that matter. That’s enough motivation for the Bills not to fold.
Reasons for concern: I’ve seen the Bills lay down in the second half of the season over and over. Just last year, Buffalo had a hot start and lost eight of its final nine games. The Bills are an organization that doesn’t know how to win consistently or handle adversity. It’s one of the reasons this team hasn’t been to the playoffs since 1999.
The Bills also lack physical and mental toughness. That is a huge problem. Physical toughness is needed when the weather gets bad in Buffalo and the defense needs to stop the run. The Bills are ranked 31st in run defense. Mental toughness is needed to win in the second half and fourth quarters. That hasn’t been there all season.
Buffalo head coach Chan Gailey is just 2-12 against AFC East opponents, including 0-2 this season. The Bills have no shot of turning their season around if they can’t win in the division. They still have two meetings against Miami and one each against the Patriots and Jets.
Buffalo’s quarterback situation also is an issue. Ryan Fitzpatrick isn’t the long-term solution. Buffalo could be looking for a replacement in the next year or two. But the team is stuck with his up-and-down play for at least 2012. Fitzpatrick needs to play mistake-free football the rest of the season for the Bills to make a run. That’s something he hasn’t been able to do for long stretches in his career.
Playoff chances: 25 percent
Neither the Bills nor Jets are going to the Super Bowl. Both probably will be sitting at home during the playoffs.
However, that doesn’t mean New York and Buffalo must shut it down in the second half of the season. The Jets and Bills both have enough talent to play spoilers. They are capable of upsetting and making life miserable for good teams. Their first opportunity is this weekend.