- Rich Cimini, ESPN Staff Writer
- 0 Shares
It would be so typical of the New York Jets to lose this game, wouldn't it?
They're well-rested after the bye week and healthier than they've been in more than a month, facing the struggling Buffalo Bills (3-7), losers of three straight. Under Rex Ryan, the Jets have owned the Bills, having won seven of nine meetings.
With so much in their favor, the Jets should improve to 6-4 with a workmanlike victory, but we all know that's not in this team's DNA -- not yet, anyway. After upsetting the New Orleans Saints, they became only the second team in NFL history to alternate wins and losses through their first nine games, joining the 2005 New England Patriots. If they lose in Orchard Park, they'd be the first to do it through 10 games, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
This is their best chance to break the trend, winning two in a row.
"I think it’s time for us to start doing that," quarterback Geno Smith said.
This game will tell us a lot about the Jets. Kickoff is 1 p.m. ET at Ralph Wilson Stadium. Here are the top storylines:
1. Raising the bar: The perception of the Jets has changed since the win against New Orleans. For two weeks they've been listening to playoff talk, people telling them how they're one of the biggest surprises of the season. On Thursday, they signed future Hall-of-Fame safety Ed Reed, a message from management that the future is now. This is heady stuff for the young Jets, who have 10 first- and second-year players in the starting lineup. They've proven they can handle failure, rebounding from some tough losses, but the mark of a good team is the ability to handle success. Can the Jets do it?
2. Fireman Ed: Despite only two days of practice, Reed is expected to make his Jets' debut. The coaches have been cagey about his role, but if the Bills play their usual spread offense, there should be plenty of opportunities for Reed to be on the field. They signed him, in large part, to solve the problems against the long ball. Thing is, the Bills operate a dink-and-dunk passing attack, especially with rookie EJ Manuel at quarterback. He relies too much on his checkdowns, meaning there might not be a lot of ball-hawking chances for Reed in the deep middle. The Bills will have problems throwing the ball, especially with their starting receivers -- Stevie Johnson and Robert Woods -- out with injuries.
3. The Reinforcements: Unless WR Santonio Holmes aggravates his hamstring injury walking off the team plane -- hey, you never know with him -- he'll be in the lineup for the first time in six games. TE Kellen Winslow will be back, too, having served his four-game suspension. TE Jeff Cumberland also is expected to return from a concussion. WR Jeremy Kerley (elbow) is out, but all things considered, the Jets' offense is in pretty good shape. In theory, that should mean a balanced attack. The problem could be chemistry -- or lack thereof, as Smith hasn't had much practice time with Holmes and Winslow.
The Bills are healthier, too, especially in the secondary. In the Week 3 meeting, they played without ballhawking S Jairus Byrd and CB Stephon Gilmore. They're both back, as is CB Leodis McKelvin, who was injured early in the first game. It was "a little chaotic" on the back end, according to S Jim Leonhard. Sticking with man-to-man coverage despite a secondary filled with second- and third-stringers, the Bills were torched by Smith, who passed for a season-high 331 yards.
4. The Rookies: Some day, Smith versus Manuel might be a marquee quarterback matchup. But not now. The two rookies, the highest-drafted passers last spring, have experienced a serious case of NFL growing pains.
Smith is 1-3 on the road and he has only one touchdown pass and five interceptions in his last four games. The Jets have been trending toward the running game in recent weeks. In fact, Smith attempted only five passes longer than 10 yards in the last two games; he averaged 12 such passes per game over the first seven, per ESPN Stats & Information. Don't expect them to veer too far from the recent approach even though Smith's supporting cast is almost whole. When he throws, it could be off play-action, as the Jets hope to exploit Mike Pettine's aggressive defense. Manuel, who returned last week from a knee injury, was a rusty mess against the Pittsburgh Steelers. He was rattled by the Jets' pass rush in Week 3, resulting in eight sacks.
5. The key to victory: Without their starting receivers, the Bills have to rely on their running game, Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller. That plays to the Jets' strength, as they're allowing only 3.1 yards per attempt -- best in the league. Only one team has rushed for more than 100 yards against them -- the Bills, who ran for 120, including 59 on a fluke run by Jackson. The Jets thought he was down and let up, allowing him to escape a pile-up. The front seven takes a lot of pride in the run defense and it's looking for some payback.