Week Ten NFL Thursday Night Football has an interesting AFC East matchup, as Rex Ryan returns to Exit 16W for the first time since he was canned late last December, after losing eight straight games en route to a 4-12 record. The 4-4 Buffalo Bills travel to New Jersey to face the 5-3 New York Jets in a game with implications that go far beyond ego and bragging rights: the Jets currently hold the top wild card seed, fifth overall in the AFC, while Buffalo is just on the wrong side of the bubble, seventh overall in the conference. The game kicks off at 8:25 pm eastern time and is broadcast nationwide on NFLN. Jim Nantz will call the play-by-play along with commentary by Phil Simms, while Tracy Wolfson reports from the sidelines.
Odds: Early in the week the Jets were listed as three-point favorites, but as of Wednesday night most venues had brought the line down to NYJ -2½. The point total has inched down a bit, from 44½ to 42½; the typical money line has the Bills at +115 and the Jets -135.
The Jets have been playing better than the Bills this season, but Buffalo is a lot healthier. QB Ryan Fitzpatrick is not on the injury report, but rumors are being floated that on Friday he will undergo minor surgery, with the hope that in ten days he would be ready to start against Houston. Safeties Calvin Pryor and Dion Bailey are both out with ankle injuries, leaving Rontez Miles to get his first NFL start opposite Marcus Gilchrist. Corner Antonio Cromartie (quad) has not practiced and is doubtful to play, and slot corner Buster Skrine (shoulder, hand) is questionable, but will have to move to the outside to take Cro’s spot. CB Dee Milliner came off in-season IR, but word is that he is not yet ready to play. Marcus Williams will likely take Skrine’s place in nickel situations; he was awful two weeks ago in the loss at Oakland, but played much better last week against Jacksonville. On top of that RG Willie Colon (knee) has been placed on injured reserve, center Nick Mangold – though expected to play – is still recovering from a nasty neck injury, and third down back Bilal Powell (doubtful, ankle) has barely been able to get on the field since week three.
Despite all those injuries, the Jets do have some hope. Buffalo is the road team with one less day to prepare, and New York still has a very good defense. The Jet defense ranks 4th in yardage (323 ypg), 9th in scoring (20.3 ppg), and is great against the run (80.6 ypg, 1st; 3.8 ypc, 7th). Chris Ivory has struggled the last three weeks, but if Mangold is close to full strength then New York’s offensive lines is capable of opening up running lanes for Ivory like they did at the start of the season.
While Jet players are dropping like flies, Buffalo is getting healthier. Their only injury of note is to DT Kyle Williams, who is out with a knee injury. QB Tyrod Taylor is back; the Bills are 4-2 in his starts, 0-2 when EJ Manuel was under center. Taylor completed all but one pass last week (11-12, 181 yards, 1 TD, plus 44 yards rushing). Extrapolating to a full 16-game season, Taylor would project to throw for 3,408 yards with 71.8% completions, 27 touchdown passes, 11 interceptions, plus 616 yards rushing. RB LeSean McCoy had his best game of the season last week (112 yards rushing, 7.0 yards per carry); though he did suffer a shoulder injury late in the game, he is probable for Thursday. Backup RB Karlos Williams also had his best game of the year last week, averaging over 12 yards per carry while rushing for 110 yards and two touchdowns.
Early in the season things looked good for Buffalo. At the start of the season the Bills upset the Colts, lost by only eight to the Patriots, and then crushed the Dolphins 41-14. We soon found out that Indy and Miami were nowhere near as good as they were hyped to be in the off-season, and the Bills have yet to win consecutive games. This is the first of three straight (and five of the next six) games on the road for Buffalo; if they have any hope for the playoffs they really need to win this one. The Bills are catching a beat up Jet team at the right time, while at the same time their key players are getting healthier. Despite Buffalo’s penchant for undisciplined play under Ryan – the Bills lead the NFL in penalties (10.6 per game) and penalty yards (95.5 per game) – the Jets simply appear to be a bit too beat up right now.
Prediction: Bills 24, Jets 20
Picks: Bills +2½ (one unit) . . . . . over 42½ . . . . . Bills +115