It could be a trying season for the New York Jets. But Sunday’s opener in Buffalo presents a most intriguing opportunity.
The return of NFL football will no doubt bring with it the resurrection of football cliches, decorating socially distanced Sunday watch parties like tinsel and swags at Christmas. Among the emerging tropes will be fans channeling their inner Admiral Akbar and warning of a trap.
It seems unusual to push a Week 1 contest into the trap game zone, but remember, it’s 2020…nothing’s unusual at this point.
But that’s the case for the Buffalo Bills and their Sunday opener against the New York Jets (1 p.m. ET, CBS). Buffalo is perhaps the proverbial “preseason champion”, the darlings of every preview magazine and prognosticator headed into 2020. The rare silver lining of a playoff drought that nearly became old enough to legally drink is that you’re free from the burden of expectations.
Over the past three seasons, the Bills took advantage. They’ve gone 25-23 (good for seventh-best in the AFC) and earned two playoff appearances to end a 17-year playoff absence. They’re still seeking their first postseason triumph since the 1995 wild card round, but it’s enough to hype fans and analysts alike about the new decade.
It starts with hyped talent on both sides of the ball. Quarterback Josh Allen has been shown to take over games with both his arms and feet. Cornerback Tre’Davious White is becoming the league’s new shutdown defender, his efforts rewarded with a $70 million contract extension this summer. They also welcome back developing stars Devin Singletary and Tremaine Edmunds, and the potential was enough to convince former NFC playoff hero Stefon Diggs to join the fold. The forward momentum has convinced many that the Bills are in the best position to usurp the AFC East throne from the New England Patriots. Topped with a fanbase that perhaps knows how to have fun better than anyone in the NFL, and the Bills are one of the most-talked-about teams in football.
It’s hype the Bills are trying to counter by focusing purely on themselves.
“I think the biggest thing is we just have to as a team focus on ourselves,” Edmunds said in a report from Mary Margaret Johnson of RochesterFirst.com. “That’s the biggest part. In this league, you put emphasis on the other team, but the majority of it just comes down to what you do as a team, how well you use your fundamentals. That’s the thing that we’ve been keying down on.”
“We literally live in the underdog mindset,” offensive lineman Dion Dawkins added in statements from Vic Carucci of Buffalo News. “That’s where we live, that’s where we breathe, that’s where we eat. We appreciate all of the love, but we worry about ourselves. People will talk good and people will talk bad, but as long as we just focus on the 2020 Buffalo Bills, the rest will be history.”
The Jets may be on the opposite end of the spectrum. A perpetual rebuild, one that hasn’t even produced a mere winning season since 2015, continues. There’s some legitimate hope in the form of two backfield saviors (Sam Darnold and Le’Veon Bell) and a revamped offensive line, but the potential for major growing pains looms on the horizon. But the 2020 season will require a few test runs to build chemistry, a process that was only lengthened by the elimination of preseason games. Finishing 8-8 would probably be the best-case scenario for this fledgling unit.
But this continuing procedure of rebuilding could be big if they’re able to top the Bills on Sunday.
Both the Jets and Bills are ensnared in interesting points on their respective franchise timelines. Tom Brady’s Florida project has offered a glimmer of hope to the team he and his New England buddies routinely bullied en route to a division monopoly.
Buffalo appears to be the team best in position to take advantage, but we’ve seen preseason darlings fall in ridiculous fashion far too many times in the past for Central New Yorkers to book Super Bowl tickets. This time last season, everyone was ogling the Cleveland Browns after the arrival of Odell Beckham Jr. Typical Cleveland antics ensued to the tune of a 6-10 record. We’ve heard enough about the 2011 Philadelphia Eagles, whose “dream team” aspirations became 8-8 anonymity.
The case for division supremacy is a little bit more personal from a Bills standpoint. It’s been a geographical fact that they’re the only team that plays its games in the state of New York, but when they opened last season with over both the Jets and New York Giants…each at MetLife Stadium…the Bills took full advantage of reminding the public of the “NY” attacked to their address.
We’re literally the only football team in New York… 🤦♂️ https://t.co/7Lk9XmGN8n
— Buffalo Bills (@BuffaloBills) October 25, 2019
Simply put, the Bills are riding high and mighty and the Jets need to stifle this before it truly gets out of hand. Planting even the tiniest seed of doubt would be a great way to do it.
The annual pair between the Jets and Bills has rarely, if ever, been must-see television. It’s certainly not among the priority games on Sunday, even among the 1 p.m. ET batch. But the potential to create one of the most intense rivalries in recent NFL memory is there. The common battlegrounds of the heart of New York State and the attempt to claim New England’s crown are common goals that will be worth watching. Add the battle of 2018 draftees Allen and Darnold (who spent this offseason working out together in California), and you have the perfect recipe for a spicy rivalry that can extend into the later parts of the decade.
History dictates the Jets owe the Bills a bit of a favor. The Buffalo hype train began to board when they made up a two-touchdown deficit at MetLife Stadium against the Jets. One year prior, Matt Barkley’s career day (which included a touchdown toss to Dawkins) led to a 41-10 shellacking in East Rutherford. It was, in fact, the Bills that put the Jets on this tailspin when they took the final game of the 2015 season, one that wiped out a green playoff spot and rendered a 10-win season meaningless.
New York’s green team, underdogs they may be, has to take advantage of this unique situation.
The Jets know that a good number of prognosticators are counting them out of the season already. A good start would make a trying process go by a little sooner. While many players are in make-or-break situations on an individual level, the New York Jets brand has little to lose.
Week 1, frankly, could be their Super Bowl.
Hyperbolic as a Big Game comparison may be, the opener does hold special meaning for a Jets squad eager to prove people wrong. This season presents 16 opportunities to give the rest of the league a preview of what’s to come. It really doesn’t matter who that preview comes against. Opportunities against the most Super Bowl participants, the aforementioned Patriots, and Jamal Adams’ new crew in Seattle await. But if it came against the high-rolling Bills, the taste of NFL success might be a little sweeter.
“We’ve got a bunch of great, hard-working men in that locker room,” Jets rusher and former Bill Frank Gore told Brian Costello of the New York Post. “This camp, every day we went out and worked hard. Nobody complained. We all want to play for each other. We’re going to do whatever it takes to win.”
Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags