We are now 48 hours away from what is easily the most anticipated Bills season in decades. On paper, this is a very favorable matchup for the Bills to start their 2020 campaign. But is this Jets game as easy as some fans are thinking? Let’s take a look at some key components of this opening week AFC East battle.
The Last Five
The last five times the Bills and Jets have played each other, an interesting pattern has developed:
Jets 13 – Bills 6
Bills 17 – Jets 16
Jets 27 – Bills 23
Bills 41 – Jets 10
Jets 34 – Bills 21
As you can see, the Bills and Jets have been alternating wins since the 2017 season, the entirety of Sean McDermott’s tenure. McDermott is exactly 3-3 against their division rival to the southeast. If the pattern holds, this is the Bills’ turn to win.
What To Watch For: Bills
Stefon Diggs – One of the most anticipated Bills in recent memory will make his debut at Bills Stadium this Sunday. So far through the offseason workouts and training camp, Stefon Diggs is looking worth every ounce of the 22nd pick that the Bills traded for him. He is as good as advertised, and it has been a long time since a wide receiver with his talent and dedication (looking at you Sammy) has worn a Bills uniform. I would expect the Bills to take multiple shots with Diggs in this one. Daboll loves to show off his shiny new toys in creative ways.
Missing Mafia – In what seems like a crime against humanity (and the internet), Bills Mafia will not be permitted into the stadium for the first time in franchise history. Sean McDermott has been very vocal in his support and appreciation of this fan base as well as talking up the importance of home-field advantage. Without fans in the seats, what will the atmosphere be like? Do fans really impact the game? Look for those questions to be answered on Sunday.
Expectations – Something not new: there is a consensus pick among media for the AFC East champion. Something new: it’s the Bills. The Bills have earned every bit of the credit that they have been given this off-season. After surprising the media and league last year, there is no sneaking up on anyone this year. When a quarter of your games are in prime time you are expected to be good. The Bills have insisted that the outside pressure means nothing to them, that they will keep doing what they have been doing and focus on getting better every day. Pressure is a real thing, and I am interested to see how the team responds in their first test. Despite not having preseason games to get the rust out, the Bills should be ready in this one. They should beat the Jets by a couple of touchdowns, as they are the far superior team. Replicating last year and eking out a last-second victory will start to sound some alarms, even if they are warranted or not.
What To Watch For: Jets
Offensive Line – Aside from Adam Gase, what Jets fans are losing the most sleep over is the offensive line. The unit that will trot onto the field at Bills Stadium this Sunday will be completely different than the unit that started against the Bills last year. GM Joe Douglass dedicated the 2020 offseason to rebuilding the offensive line. The shiniest new toy on the offensive line is LT Mekhi Becton, the 11th overall pick in this year’s draft. As is typically the case, a lot of this game will be determined “in the trenches.” If the Jets’ new offensive line can neutralize the Bills pass rush, create space for Le’Veon Bell and time for Sam Darnold, this game might be closer than most are anticipating.
Wide Receiver – Aside from the aforementioned Offensive Line, the Jets WR group is also an area of concern for them. The injury bug hit the wide receivers harder than any other in training camp. The Jets did receive some positive news on the injury front this week with all three WR’s practicing on both Wednesday and Thursday. I don’t think the crew of Jamison Crowder, Breshad Perriman, and Denzel Mims, have gotten enough credit this offseason, and if the Bills secondary takes them lightly, an upset could be in the works this Sunday in Orchard Park.
Darnold vs. Allen – The Jets have been irrelevant for both seasons of Sam Darnold’s career, and it seems that the matchup between these two young quarterbacks is often overlooked. Sam Darnold was the player that a large chunk of Bills fans wanted them to draft back in 2018, and if you trust sources, the quarterback that Brandon Beane considered to be the top of the class. While Josh Allen has found more success than Sam Darnold so far in their young careers, most can agree that can be attributed to the job that Sean McDermott and Brandon Beane have done in building a roster around Allen. Nevertheless, it is always interesting to see how these quarterbacks play when they suit up against each other. After the QB heavy 2018 Draft, the idea was that we would be seeing a Mayfield/Darnold/Allen/Jackson battle for years to come in the AFC. Maybe this year the battle will really take off.
Bills 31, Jets 17 If the Bills are serious about finally ousting the Patriots and winning the AFC East, starting the season with a division win at home is essential. I doubt the usually disciplined Bills will overlook the Jets, but a slow start could cost them in this one. Greg Williams will do his best to confuse Josh Allen, but I think we will see Allen’s offseason growth on full display on Sunday. I expect Diggs to be in on the action early and often. I think the Jets could be a sleeper Wild Card team, but I don’t see them beating the Bills this Sunday. The Bills have a better coaching staff and a better roster, and we will see that on display this Sunday culminating in a win.