Buffalo hosts the New York Jets on Sunday in what could be one of the few 2017 games in which the Bills will be favored.
The Jets swept the Bills last season, however, and will be looking for an opening-day road win.
This will be the 113th regular-season meeting between the teams, with the Bills holding a 59-53 lead. What was once a bitter, nasty AFC East matchup has turned into a game played for the future. Both the Bills and the Jets are in rebuild mode and looking at the 2017 season to get their young players experience.
Both teams have traded away veteran players in the past month. Wide receiver Sammy Watkins was shipped by the Bills to the Los Angeles Rams. The Bills also moved their best cornerback, Ronald Darby, to the Philadelphia Eagles. Defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson was traded to the Seattle Seahawks from the Jets.
“It’s going to be a long year,” former Jets quarterback Boomer Esiason, whose 1995 team finished with the second-worst record (3-13) in franchise history, told Newsday on Aug. 30. “Unfortunately for them, the rebuild started two years too late, and they know that.”
That quote can be used for the Bills as well, except their rebuilding mode started when general manager Brandon Beane was hired this offseason. The team has moved on from almost all of former general manager Doug Whaley’s draft selections and signings. One of the only positives from the Whaley era was the acquisition of running back LeSean McCoy.
The Bills have led the NFL in rushing for the past two seasons. With questions at the quarterback and wide receiver position, McCoy is primed to have another monster year running behind an offensive line that specializes in moving the defenders off the line. Even in the obvious rebuild year, McCoy sounds confident in the team.
“We have the right pieces. It’s just a matter of going out there and getting it done,” he said. “I think it starts with Tyrod (Taylor, the starting quarterback). And (for) me to be a big contributor. I’m going to be a big part of it.”
Despite that confidence, McCoy has been stymied by the Jets in the past. McCoy only rushed for 69 yards on 20 carries in two games against New York last season.
The Jets do return defensive linemen Leonard Williams and Muhammad Wilkerson. When playing at the top of their game, they are two of the premier run-stuffers in the NFL. The Jets will need them to come out fired up if New York hopes to shut down the Buffalo rushing attack.
Taylor is on a short leash and may need to use his legs to open up the offense. Taylor did suffer a concussion in the preseason, but has been cleared to play against the Jets. New head coach Sean McDermott, who came from the Carolina Panthers, runs a conservative offense but one where the quarterback needs to be mobile. Taylor fits that mold.
That mold does not include the Jets’ starting quarterback, Josh McCown. The 38-year-old NFL veteran is simply extending his career in an offense with few playmakers. McCown has won only two games in the last 22 he has started, and going against the Bills’ solid front seven may make getting win No. 3 difficult.
If the Jets are to win, McCown needs to use his leadership and savvy to take advantage of the inexperienced secondary of the Bills. Rookie cornerback Tre’Davious White will be put to the test early and often. The Bills still haven’t decided which player will start at the opposite cornerback position, but former Ram E.J. Gaines looks to be the front-runner.
Neither team has much depth or playmaking ability at the wide-receiver position. The Bills trot out Zay Jones and former Eagle Jordan Matthews. Matthews got injured in his first practice with the Bills, but looks ready to play in Week 1. The unit lacks true deep speed and a dominant player.
The same can be said about the Jets receiving corps. Gone are Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker. Those playmakers have been replaced by Robby Anderson and former Seahawk Jermaine Kearse. They brought back Jeremy Kerley this week after he was cut by the 49ers.
Due to the lack of offensive weapons on both sides, this game looks to be a low-scoring affair.