ORCHARD PARK — The Jets come to Buffalo on a full tank.
After months of the team shedding payroll and veterans, the Jets arrive Sunday for the first game of what promises to be an interesting season, if not a traditionally successful one, against the Bills. Many fans view success this season as tanking and finishing with the worst record in the NFL to land the No. 1 pick and a shot at a franchise quarterback.
As much as it appears ownership and the front office fully has embraced losing this season, the coaches and players insist they will give their all. No one in the locker room or the coaches’ offices enters this game thinking they will lose.
Amazingly, this game is a battle for first place in the AFC East after the Dolphins’ game was postponed and the Patriots lost Thursday night.
Jets coach Todd Bowles said this week there is nothing he can say to fans wondering about the direction of the Jets. The team’s actions will do all the talking.
“They have to watch the games, and we’re going to play the games,” Bowles said. “We’re going to play hard and true Jets fans are going to root for us and root like hell for us. And we’re going to fight and try to make them proud.”
It is going to be a very different looking team. On offense, they will have eight new starters. Just the two guards and running back Matt Forte began last year as starters. The offense looks like a unit that will struggle to score points this year.
Led by 38-year-old quarterback Josh McCown, the offense has little firepower. Forte and Bilal Powell are good running backs, but the team lacks much beyond that. McCown said the Jets are focusing on themselves this week and not the Buffalo defense.
“I think the main thing you do when you’re in these situations is you try [to not] get too caught up in guessing what they might do,” McCown said, “and what they can do, but let’s be good at what we do and let’s execute what we do at a high, high level, and if we can do that we’ll give ourselves a chance.”
Defensively, the Jets have more star power, led by defensive linemen Muhammad Wilkerson and Leonard Williams.
“We had a good camp,” Wilkerson said. “Everybody had a good camp. We were competing each and every day and getting better each and every day with the preseason games. Now, it’s real bullets. It’s time to get after it. Everything counts.”
LeSean McCoy vs. Jets defensive line
New Bills coach Sean McDermott said this week he will play McCoy as much as he needs to in order to win the game. That could be a lot. The Bills’ offense still has quarterback Tyrod Taylor, but they have a new receiving corps that is not that intimidating.
That leaves McCoy, who rushed for 1,267 yards and 13 touchdowns last year. Bowles was asked if he sees signs of decline in the 29-year-old McCoy.
“Not one bit,” Bowles said. “He’s as shifty as ever. He’s as tough as ever, great out of the backfield and good in the backfield as well.”
The Jets’ defensive line begins life without Sheldon Richardson, who was traded to the Seahawks last week. Muhammad Wilkerson, Leonard Williams and nose tackle Steve McLendon will be tasked with slowing McCoy down.
“He’s elusive,” Wilkerson said. “He still has the ability to take it the distance, take it to the house. We’ve got our hands full with that, make sure we set edges.”
Hold the line: The Jets are not the only one in this game with a strong defensive line. The Bills’ defensive strength is up front with tackles Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams and ends Shaq Lawson and Jerry Hughes.
It will be a good test for the new-look Jets offensive line.
“It’s a tough front,” Jets quarterback Josh McCown said. “Especially their front four. They’re just good players. They are really good players, and we know we’re going to have our work cut out for us because of that, but I’m excited about the group we have in front of me that can block those guys and get after them, so it’ll be a good challenge for us, but one we’re ready for.”
The Jets have two new starting tackles, Kelvin Beachum and Brandon Shell, as well as a new center, Wes Johnson. That could lead to communication issues in this game, which will spell trouble for McCown.
Who are these guys? The Jets could have two starting wide receivers Sunday who were not on the team 10 days ago. Jermaine Kearse arrived Sept. 2 after the trade with the Seahawks that sent Sheldon Richardson to the Northwest. Then, the Jets brought back Jeremy Kerley, who played for the team from 2011-15, on Tuesday. It is not unreasonable to expect both of them to start this game alongside Robby Anderson.
The Jets are extremely inexperienced at wide receiver after cutting Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker this offseason. It will be fascinating to see how much success this group has.
Safety dance: If Jets fans are looking for a positive to cling to, rookie safeties Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye could be it. Both players have looked the part during training camp. Now, they have to do it in games. Bills QB Tyrod Taylor surely will test the rookies with his big arm and try to go deep on them.
“Bring it on,” Adams said. “We’re not afraid.”
The Bills have new receivers in rookie Zay Jones and Jordan Matthews, raising the question of whether they have a deep threat. Adams and Maye should both get chances near the line and deep in coverage.
Who are these guys, too? The Bills underwent nearly as many changes as the Jets did this offseason. New coach Sean McDermott and general manager Brandon Beane tore apart the roster left behind by Rex Ryan and Doug Whaley.
Just take a look at the Bills’ secondary, which has four new players. Rookie Tre’Davious White, who played with Adams at LSU, and E.J. Gaines are the cornerbacks. Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer are the safeties. McCown should test this group.
These are two bad football teams. Buffalo is a little less bad than the Jets. I give the Bills the edge since they are playing at home and it is Sean McDermott’s first game as head coach, which should energize them.
Bills 28, Jets 10