Buffalo Bills Game Preview Week 6: Kansas City Chiefs

The Buffalo Bills’ Monday late afternoon football excursion sees them battle the defending champions in Orchard Park.

What: Kansas City Chiefs at Buffalo Bills
Where: Bills Stadium, Orchard Park, NY
When: Monday, 5 p.m. ET
Watch: Fox/NFL Network/Amazon Prime

Schedule shifts have canceled the battle of unbeatens, but the anticipated matchup between the Buffalo Bills and Kansas City Chiefs will finally get the national spotlight it deserves. 

Originally set as last week’s Thursday night football showing, the ongoing health crisis moved things between these division leaders to Monday late afternoon. It will be part of a Monday doubleheader, as the regularly scheduled meeting between the Dallas Cowboys and Arizona Cardinals will kick off shortly after (8:15 p.m. ET, ESPN).

Seen by some as an AFC Championship Game preview, Monday’s game features a pair of strong squads coming off tough losses. Buffalo (4-1) was already victimized by the rescheduling process, as they forced into a Tuesday night game in Tennessee last week. Josh Allen threw for 263 yards and two more touchdown passes, but the Bills fell by a 42-16 final to the Titans at Nissan Stadium. Ryan Tannehill was responsible for four Tennesee touchdowns (three passing), while Derrick Henry added two more on the ground. Stefon Diggs paced all receivers with 106 yards passing.

Meanwhile, the defending champion Chiefs (4-1) are coming off their first loss since November of last season, as they were dealt a 40-32 loss at home by the Las Vegas Raiders on Sunday. Super Bowl MVP Patrick Mahomes threw for 340 yards and two scores in defeat, with 108 yards of that tally going to Travis Kelce.

The Series

The Bills currently lead the all-time set by a 26-21-1 tally. Kansas City had won the prior three matchups, but Buffalo broke the streak in their last meeting in November 2017 at Arrowhead Stadium. The Chiefs have not visited Western New York since 2014, when they topped Buffalo in 17-13 fashion. Buffalo is currently 1-0 in their AFC West slate this season, having defeated Las Vegas in Week 4.

History Happens: 1994

Buffalo and Kansas City have seen each other in the postseason three times, with the most recent get-together being the 1993-94 AFC Championship Game. The Bills took the proceedings by a 30-13 final to advance to the list of their four consecutive Super Bowl appearances. They jumped out to an early 20-6 lead after a pair of Thurman Thomas touchdown runs, but the Chiefs narrowed the gap when Dave Kreig (subbing for an injured Joe Montana) led a 90-yard drive that was capped off by Marcus Allen’s one-yard score. In a hat trick that would make the Sabres proud, Thomas capped things off with one more short score, the finishing touches of a day that saw him earn 208 yards of offense.

They Said It

“He just makes stuff work. Throws back across his body which, a high school kid you’re watching it and the coach is telling you, ‘Do not do that.’ But he does it and they complete passes. When guys are covered 50 yards down the field, they have enough speed on that team. He still throws the football and those guys breakaway, and then come down with the football. (It’s) definitely jaw-dropping to see what he’s able to do…You got to know at any given play where the speed guys are. Mahomes is able to get it to them. If I’m back in the middle. If you don’t see me on the TV and I’m 60 yards back, you know why.”-Bills S Micah Hyde on Patrick Mahomes, per Matt Parrino

“He’s a guy I know that I’ll be facing a lot as our careers go on. It’ll be a great challenge and a great opportunity for me to go against that team and him at quarterback.”-Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes on Josh Allen, per Haley Lewis 

Matchup To Watch

Kansas City Speed vs. Buffalo Secondary

The Kansas City area (the Kansas edition, not Missouri) recently welcomed in the NASCAR circuit for playoff action. It might not be anything compared to what we see on the field on Monday night.

Buffalo will not reunite with injured former comrade Sammy Watkins on Monday, but the Chiefs are ready to enjoy the high-speed antics of Mecole Hardman in the meantime. Opponents have seen hints of Hardman’s potential, including an 81-yard performance in Kansas City’s Week 3 win in primetime over Baltimore. There’s already the established group of Tyreek Hill and Demarcus Robinson as well. If any of them get loose, it could be a long late afternoon. In their long-gestating preparation for Kansas City, the Bills have done their due diligence on their renowned tempo. Hyde brought up a play in last week’s tilt with Las Vegas where Hill beat out a well-positioned Erik Harris on a deep-ball that was later called back due to a holding penalty.

“Good ball beats great defense,” he noted, per Mark Gaughan of The Buffalo News. “I want to say Harris was in great position but at the end of the day they came down with the ball. He’s a special talent, the receivers are special talents. You’ve got to be the deepest of the deepest.”

“I’m prepared,” Hardman said of his opportunity, according to Fox 4. “I did it last year when Tyreek (Hill) went down and Sammy went down one time, too. I’m prepared for the challenge. It’s nothing I can’t handle. I’m practicing hard, doing what I can do. Just see what Coach Reid has in store for me, what they want me to do, and just do it the best I can.”

The Bills Will Win If…

They make Mahomes uncomfortable and control the ball.

Cliche as it sounds, making the quarterback uncomfortable is going to be the key to victory in Buffalo. That lesson applies perhaps thirtyfold when the quarterback on the side is Mahomes. There’s a prime opportunity to make him extra uneasy in the pocket on Monday. Kansas City will be missing two starters on the offensive line, which could lead to added pressure from the Buffalo rush.

The Bills’ offense can do their part in neutralizing Mahomes, if only by making sure he stays off the field. Each of Kansas City’s nine losses with Mahomes under center has come when the Chiefs lose the time of possession battle. That trend continued last week when Las Vegas held the ball for 35:18 last Sunday.

The Chiefs Will Win If…

They take advantage of Buffalo on a short week.

The Titans took advantage of their two weeks off last Tuesday in Nashville. Through no fault of their own, the Bills are in a position where they’re playing in a short week. If the powerful Chiefs can take advantage of that, it can get ugly pretty quickly. The key to using speed in victory comes through conditioning, and the Chiefs have the advantage of an eight-day prep period. It’s up to them to use that on Monday.

Prediction

If there’s one thing that’s for sure about this unpredictable season on both sides, it’s that we should probably see offensive explosions galore. While everyone knows that the Chiefs are a known commodity after their Super Bowl trek, the Bills are in a bit of an awkward spot in their 2020 timeline. This is the first time in their period of contention that they’re facing some true adversity after a one-sided loss in Nashville. They previously dealt with a small amount of it after a narrow loss to lowly Cleveland last season, but they quickly shook it off with four consecutive wins to solidify their playoff status.

The Bills have several chances to get back on the right track. Asking to do that against the defending Super Bowl champions on a short week is simply too much to ask for at this rate in time. A win may be a lot to ask for, but if the Bills can hang tough with an established contender that shows no signs of fading anytime soon, they can enter the future, one that hopefully contains more normalcy from a scheduling standpoint, feeling confident with their heads high.

Chiefs 34, Bills 28 

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets Game Preview Week 6: Miami Dolphins

The New York Jets begin the post-Le’Veon Bell era on Sunday in South Beach, engaging in a rescheduled match with the Dolphins.

What: New York Jets at Miami Dolphins
Where: Hard Rock Stadium, Miami, FL
When: Sunday, 4:05 p.m. ET
Watch: CBS

Back in September, the New York Jets expected to have Sam Darnold and Le’Veon Bell, among others, for an October 18 showdown with the Los Angeles Chargers. Now that the day has finally come, Darnold is hurt, Bell has been released, and even their opponent was shifted due to the ongoing health crisis’s impact on the NFL.

The Jets nonetheless press on, as Jets head coach Adam Gase returns to his former site of employment through a matchup against the Miami Dolphins. This matchup was originally scheduled for November 15, but that now serves as the Jets’ bye. The aforementioned visit to Los Angeles now comes on November 22.

“We’ve got to play somebody, so it doesn’t affect me,” linebacker Avery Williamson said of the switch, per Brian Costello of the New York Post. “It shouldn’t affect anybody.”

New York (0-5) is coming off a 30-10 defeat at the hands of the Arizona Cardinals last Sunday at MetLife Stadium. Joe Flacco threw for 195 yards and a touchdown in his first start in place of the injured Darnold, with the score and 116 yards of his tally going to Jamison Crowder. The slot receiver reached triple figures in receiving for the third time this season, currently pacing the Jets with 335 yards over his trio of games. Arizona relentlessly countered with 411 yards of offense from Kyler Murray, who was also responsible for two touchdowns.

Meanwhile, the Dolphins (2-3) are coming off a dominant upset win in San Francisco, drubbing the 49ers by a 43-17 final. Ryan Fitzpatrick threw for 350 yards and three scores, each of which went to a different receiver. Miami defenders also united for five sacks of San Francisco quarterbacks.

The Series

The Jets and Dolphins will continue a series that has been staged twice yearly since Miami’s inception in 1966. New York maintained their lead in the series, currently up 55-53-1, by snapping a four-game losing streak in the series through a 22-21 decision at MetLife Stadium last December. Miami had won six of the past seven entering that game, which was decided by a Sam Ficken field goal.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3yeTlz4TbnE&ab_channel=NFL

History Happens: 2015

The Jets’ last sweep of the Dolphins came in 2015, starting with a 27-14 triumph in London. Part of the NFL’s International Series, the Jets jumped out to an early lead thanks to Chris Ivory’s score on their opening drive. Ivory would go onto run for a career-best 166 yards, while the aforementioned Fitzpatrick would find Eric Decker from 10 yards just before the halftime gun to build a 20-7 lead at intermission. Stoppage time wasn’t required for the Jets to finish their British masterpiece. Zac Stacy scored another touchdown, while Darrelle Revis and Marcus Williams each earned an interception. Brandon Marshall paced the Jets with 128 receiving yards, while Muhammad Wilkerson had two sacks of Ryan Tannehill.

They Said It

“When you lose, the week is long. It’s long and it’s painful, because if you put the amount of time and effort that everybody in this building has, really since the offseason, doing everything virtually and then coming back and trying to figure out how training camp was going to go…It’s the constant talking to these guys, whether it be at practice or in a team meeting or offense and defense split up. Just keep the reminders of, ‘Hey, this is how we can get things flipped around. This is how we can improve. This is what we can do to help our team on this side of the ball.’ And that’s a conversation that’s definitely been had the last couple weeks.”-Adam Gase on the state of the 0-5 Jets, per Brian Costello

“Winning last week was a good start, but we’ve got to take care of business this week, then we’ve got a bye,” Dolphins center Ted Karras said. “I’m having a lot of fun. I love all the guys on this team. It’s been a great start to the year. Obviously, we left a few things out in a couple of the early games, but we’re going to continue to work our hardest and prepare and then go out there on Sundays. That’s the only way to turn any tide, is to go out there and perform your best on Sunday, so that’s what I’m focused on every day.”-Dolphins center Ted Karras, per Adam H. Beasley

Matchup to Watch

Jets Pass Defense vs. Ryan Fitzpatrick

Ah, Ryan Fitzpatrick…ruining your favorite team’s draft position since 2005.

That truly shouldn’t be held against Fitzpatrick, who has carved a respectable NFL career since his seventh-round drafting out of Harvard (did you know he went there?). It has become a bit of an NFL tradition for a team to bring in Fitzpatrick as a placeholder quarterback, only to see him post strong numbers that make it difficult to move on from him. The Jets certainly know what that’s like, having seen Fitzpatrick throw a team-record 31 touchdown passes during the aforementioned 2015 campaign after filling in for the incapacitated Geno Smith.

Fitzpatrick took over placeholder duties last season and performed respectably. This year, he was expected to keep Tua Tagovailoa’s seat warm, but, once again, he’s making it hard to pull off the transition. Fitzpatrick has completed a career-best 70 percent of his passes thus far and has earned triple digits in passer rating three times (including 154.5 in San Francisco last weekend). He has done so with his top receivers being DeVante Parker and Mike Gesicki…the former of whom was a pupil of Gase’s during their time in Miami together.

Like several others, Parker has seemed to improve since Gase moved on. It’ll be up to the Jets defense to not only attack Fitzpatrick but to harass his receivers. If the Jets can make Miami think of Tagovailoa for any stretch on Sunday, they’ll have done something right.

The Jets Will Win If…

Their defense takes care of the offense.

To say the Jets’ offense is in a period of transition would be the understatement of this topsy-turvy year. They could get Breshad Perriman back, but Darnold is still out and Bell isn’t coming back, giving way to Flacco, Frank Gore, and La’Mical Perine. Keeping Miami at bay is a duty that will fall to the defense…one that doesn’t sound too pleased by the way things around going.

“It’s not a very good number, and a lot of it’s not all defensively,” defensive coordinator Gregg Williams said on Friday, per ESPN’s Rich Cimini. “It’s points on the board and we’ve got to do a good job of that, and how you do that is make them kick more field goals, got to do a better job in field-position-type things. As you see, the scoring is up in the league, but it still makes me sick.”

Reeling and in the midst of a rebuilding purge brought upon by Bell’s release, the Jets need to put their differences aside if they’re going to band together for a much-needed victory.

The Dolphins Will Win If…

They take advantage of a trap game opponent down in the dumps.

Crazy things tend to happen in divisional matchups. Last season, the 0-7 Dolphins earned their first win against the Jets, kickstarting a strong finish to end the year and generating some buzz around head coach Brian Flores (Miami is 7-7 since that November meeting, with four of the defeats coming by 10 points or less). In the premature playoff picture, the Dolphins are one game out of the extra spot with their bye week coming next week. A perilous trek aways the Dolphins in the immediate aftermath (both LA teams sandwich Arizona).

No one could fault the Dolphins if they missed out on the playoffs this year, but it’d certainly be an inspiring sign if the team was ahead of schedule in year two under Flores. If Miami has any hopes of breaking into the postseason picture this year, Sunday is more or less a must-win.

Prediction

You’d be hard-pressed to find another game for the Jets to win on their current schedule, at least in the near future. But, once again, a win appears to be simply too much to ask for from this squad in squalor. The post-Bell era will start the way the rusher’s New York tenure began and ended…with a loss.

Dolphins 23, Jets 13

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

Buffalo Bills Game Preview Week 5: Tennessee Titans

Uncertainty has given way to anticipation, as the unbeaten Buffalo Bills and Tennessee Titans take on a rare Tuesday night endeavor.

What: Buffalo Bills at Tennessee Titans
Where: Nissan Stadium, Nashville, TN
When: Tuesday, 7 p.m ET
Watch: CBS

Countless tests and 54 hours later, one of the NFL’s most anticipated Week 5 matchups will finally be staged.

The league will have one less unbeaten team after Tuesday night, as the Buffalo Bills hit the road to take on the Tennessee Titans. This game, originally scheduled for Sunday afternoon’s early slot, will finally kickoff after numerous issues involving positive tests for COVID-19. Consecutive days of fully negative tests out of the Titans allow the Bills to descend upon Nashville for a battle of perfection.

Tennessee’s Week 4 game against Pittsburgh was previously postponed due to positive tests. The Titans last played on September 27, stealing a 31-30 decision from the Minnesota Vikings. Stephen Gostkowski booted a trio of field goals from at least 51 yards out, including the game-winner in the game’s penultimate minute. Some called for the Titans (3-0) to forfeit their contests against Pittsburgh and Buffalo in the wake of the delays, but the Bills have instead rolled with the punches.

“We knew adversity was going to hit. We’re just going to take it day by day and focus on this week only,” Bills offensive lineman Cody Ford said of the delay, per Marcel Louis-Jacques of ESPN. “I don’t know anybody who wants to lose money because of something that they couldn’t control. It’s one of those things where we can only control what we can control. It would hurt not to get paid, but I would rather be healthy than be rich.”

The Bills (4-0) topped the Las Vegas Raiders in their latest matchup, earning a 30-23 decision in their first-ever visit to Nevada. Josh Allen put in three touchdowns (two passing, one rushing) while Quinton Jefferson and Darryl Johnson earned a sack each.

This marks the NFL’s first Tuesday night game since December 2010, when the Minnesota Vikings’ visit to Philadelphia was delayed by threats of a blizzard. Tuesday’s game is one of eight affected by the NFL’s rescheduling process at it continues to play on in the wake of the ongoing health crisis.

The Series

Tennessee leads the all-time series 28-19 (including the matchups under their Oilers moniker), but the Bills have won each of the last three get-togethers, including a 14-7 final at Nissan Stadium last season. Current Cardinal Jordan Phillips had three sacks for the Bills, while Allen had two touchdown passes, including the game-winner to Duke Williams in the fourth quarter.

History Happened: 2000

Everyone knows how the teams’ January 2000 playoff meeting ended…the Music City Miracle that haunts Buffalo fans to this day…but few talk about the immediate follow-up.

After the Titans’ special teams madness against the Bills gave birth to a Super Bowl run, the teams met up for the first Sunday night football game of the 21st century exactly eight months later in Orchard Park. The game was mostly a defensive struggle, with the teams uniting for nine sacks. Eddie George had a touchdown that tied the game in the fourth quarter, but most otherwise neutralized with 37 yards on 17 carries.

Buffalo was already missing Doug Flutie and was forced to turn to third-stringer Alex Van Pelt when Rob Johnson suffered an ankle injury. Van Pelt threw for 67 yards in relief, a majority of it coming on a 36-yard hookup with Eric Moulds that set up Steve Christie’s game-winning field goal. Deja vu nearly struck in the most horrifying way, as Derrick Mason set the Titans up near midfield on the ensuing kickoff. But one last stand from the Bills defense forced Tennessee to try a 60-yard overtime enforcer. Craig Hentrich’s kick failed, and the Bills escaped with a 16-13 win…hardly a sign of things to come for the fruitless decade.

They Said It

“Everybody’s being understanding. This isn’t a one-team league, it’s 32 teams. Everybody’s doing the best they can, things are going to happen. This isn’t a league-wide disaster or anything, the world’s going through it as well. As far as handling it one day at a time, I’m being understanding more than anything because I feel for those guys too. As far as people being sick, you don’t want anybody sick.”Bills WR Stefon Diggs on the Titans’ situation, per Maddy Glab & Dante Lasting

“At the end of the day, we’re not going to make any excuses man,” Byard said. “We’re going to come in here and focus on what we need to focus on, and that’s winning the ballgame.”Titans CB Kevin Byard on Tennesee’s approach to Tuesday, per the Associated Press

Matchup To Watch

WR Stefon Diggs vs. CB Malcolm Butler

The Titans have greatly missed Adoree’ Jackson, who has been dealing with a knee injury and has yet to appear in a game this season. They’re 23rd in the AFC by allowing just over 256 passing yards a game and have let up an average of 472 total yards over the last two weeks, skating by thanks to strong offensive performances. The former Super Bowl hero Butler has been part of the struggles in the early going. Both he and fellow secondary defender Chris Jackson have also been working with injuries, but both are expected to play.

It sets up the potential for a perfect Buffalo storm, as Diggs has been one of their most explosive catalysts behind their undefeated start. If he’s allowed to get loose, especially in the early going, it well could be another long 60 minutes, ones that could cost the Titans their perfect record.

The Bills Will Win If…

They attack the Titans’ suspect secondary and get off to a fast start.

Buffalo is only second to Dallas in passing yards a game at over 316. The Titans come in struggling in the deeper parts of the field and haven’t suited up in over two weeks. Pouncing on your host is advisable under normal conditions, and it could become downright vital in such a crucial conference showdown. It’s perhaps very, very early to start thinking about the postseason, but Tuesday could well play a role in playoff seedings…perhaps even the all-too-valuable, single first-round bye.

The Titans Will Win If…

They used their time off well.

Eyes in all NFL, maybe in all sports, circles are on the Titans after they’ve been responsible for one of the bigger COVID outbreaks since the return to action. They’ve used the momentum they’ve earned from an AFC title game appearance well, but they’ll have a plethora of taunts and problems to deal with if Tuesday’s match doesn’t go well. Tennessee reserves may have to come up big as well. AJ Brown is nursing a knee injury, so don’t be surprised to see names like Kalif Raymond or Geoff Swaim rise to the occasion.

Prediction

It’s been a long, long time since the Titans suited up for a game. Beating a Buffalo squad that’s firing on all cylinders and eager for more seems like a lot to ask for at this point. If Buffalo is truly serious about contending, these are the types of games that need to come away with, especially with their divisional competition from New England sidelined by the health crisis as well. Expect the Bills to take advantage on Tuesday.

Bills 28, Titans 24

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

NASCAR Cup Series Preview: Bank of America Roval 400 (Charlotte)

The twists and turns of the NASCAR Playoffs descend upon…the twists and turns of Charlotte Motor Speedways’ famous “roval”.

What: Bank of America Roval 400
Where: Charlotte Motor Speedway Road Course, Concord, NC
When: Sunday, 2 p.m. ET
Watch: NBC

Precipitation has left its mark on sports’ playoff proceedings. Snow has regularly blanketed Green Bay Packers playoff games at Lambeau Field. New York Jets fans are still haunted by their loss in the “Mud Bowl”, where South Floridian rains decimated the Orange Bowl field prior to their 14-0 defeat at the hands of the Miami Dolphins in the 1983 AFC title game.

Now, rain in North Carolina could have a significant role in how the NASCAR Cup Series playoff picture shakes out.

Storms often force NASCAR events to be put on hold, but special rain tires and setups will be on-hand as the premier Cup Series prepares to hold an elimination race at Charlotte Motor Speedway’s “Roval”…a half-oval, half-road course behemoth featuring 17 turns that have made and broken playoff fortunes. After Sunday’s race, four races will remain on the 2020 Cup Series schedule. Four drivers from the remaining field of a dozen drivers will be eliminated from championship contention, giving way to the Round of 8 that gets underway at Kansas next weekend. Kurt Busch and Denny Hamlin have clinched their spots into the next round through prior Round of 12 wins at Las Vegas and Talladega respectively. But six other spots are up for grabs as the season hits its twilight stages.

The potential for rain in the forecast only raises the potential for postseason chaos. Saturday’s Xfinity Series event was run in a storm and featured numerous incidents that shaped their own cutdown from 12 to 8 playoff drivers. Former Cup regular AJ Allmendinger wound up taking the victory.

Aric Almirola is one of the drivers on the outside of the advancement picture. At 48 points out, Almirola more than likely needs to win to keep his championship hopes alive. But he welcomes any form of additional chaos to the Roval setting, feeling confident he can avoid the pandemonium to earn his first win of the season.

“I think for us at this point the more chaos the better. It creates more opportunities and more chances for other people to have bad races and for us to capitalize on that,” said the driver of the No. 10 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford in a conference call earlier this week. “Where we’re at in points, if we have a bad race, so what? We are currently not in a position to make it anyway so we have to win. If there is rain or something else that is going to create more chaos and potential for more wrecks and more attrition, then that could potentially work out in our favor.”

The Track

First Cup Series Race: 2018
Length: 2.28 miles (109 laps, 248 miles)
Most Wins: Ryan Blaney, Chase Elliott (1)

The Roval is contained within the infield of the de facto hub of NASCAR at Charlotte Motor Speedway, which sits a 20-minute drive away from the Hall of Fame. It contains portions of the traditional oval with the interior turns, its most treacherous being its chicane (a serpentine curve) in the backstretch. It has created an optimum spot for passing, but has also increased the potential for big wrecks.

They Said It

“We all care and I wouldn’t be continuing to go to the race track each and every week and pouring my heart and soul into this and taking time away from my family if I didn’t care. Obviously, there’s M&M’s and Interstate Batteries and Toyota and everybody else on my race car and at Joe Gibbs Racing that supports us that works as hard as they do and my team and my crew chief and all my guys, they don’t spend the time and effort that they do each and every week and all year long for the years that we’ve been together for one of us not to care. That’s tongue in cheek talk and should be known as that coming from me obviously, I say a lot of dumb s***. It is what it is and we’re going to go on into this week and fight like hell and try to make it through.”-Kyle Busch, 21 points from the cutoff, on his previous claim that he “didn’t care” about making the next round. 

“We had a really good season so far. To me, my focus won’t shift to the Round of 8. I’m still going to put in the same amount of work this week getting ready for the Roval as I would if I wasn’t locked in. But certainly, the stress level will be less. Certainly, we can be a little bit more aggressive with our strategy calls starting at the beginning of the race.”-Denny Hamlin on how he’s approaching the Roval 

Three To Watch

Chase Elliott (Starting 2nd)

If anyone was pleased about the inclusion of a record six road courses on the 2021 Cup Series schedule, it was Elliott. His No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet has been at the top of the leaderboard at the end of the last three road course events, including the most recent Roval event last fall. After a rollercoaster postrace session at Talladega last week…his fifth-place finish was rescinded then retained after possible rules violation…Elliott is relatively safe in the standings (44 points ahead of the cutoff), so he has some extra freedom in terms of strategies to protect his title. The No. 9 has had a strong season as is, but a strong display of power could well come at the Roval. 

Alex Bowman (Starting 5th)

Elliott’s Hendrick Motorsports teammate received some big news this week, as he’ll be the lucky driver taking over the iconic No. 48 Chevrolet upon Jimmie Johnson’s retirement at the end of the year. Bowman still has a chance to end his time in his current No. 88 incarnation on a most victorious note. He’s 22 points ahead of elimination and has finished in the top five in each of the first two Roval events (including a runner-up finish behind Elliott last season).

Clint Bowyer (Starting 11th)

Bowyer’s situation is almost a Bizzaro version of Bowman. Earlier this week, Bowyer announced that he be retiring from the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford at the end of the season to join Fox Sports’ NASCAR coverage. He’s 38 points from the next round after a tough prior two races, but he likewise is riding a streak of good luck at the Roval, having finished in the top five in each of the first two events (he and Bowman are the only two to do so). Bowyer’s also had considerable success on road courses, having finished no worse than 11th in all but one of the past nine events held on such tracks.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags 

New York Jets Game Preview Week 5: Arizona Cardinals

New York Giants, Lorenzo Carter

The New York Jets have been cleared for Sunday action at MetLife Stadium, but a dangerous, angry opponent awaits.

What: Arizona Cardinals @ New York Jets
Where: MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, NJ
When: Sunday, 1 p.m.
Watch: CBS

After the ongoing health crisis invaded the NFL realm in Florham Park, the New York Jets have been cleared for Sunday action barring any unforeseen developments. They’re set to take on an avian invasion at home, one seeking revenge after a strong start has given way to distress.

The Jets (0-4) will take to the field for the first time in 10 days, as they battle the Arizona Cardinals at MetLife Stadium. They’ll go into battle with a quarterback who previously earned plenty of success with a bird on his helmet, as backup Joe Flacco takes over for the injured Sam Darnold.

New York last took the field on October 1, opening the Week 4 slate in a Thursday night tilt against the Denver Broncos. In what became their closest game of the season, the Jets fell in a 37-28 decision. Darnold earned 314 yards of offense, including a career-best 84 on the ground. A majority of that tally came on a 46-yard scoring rush that gave the Jets their first lead of the season. Jamison Crowder broke the century mark in receiving yardage (104) while Pierre Desir had two interceptions on defense.

Meanwhile, the Cardinals (2-2) have suffered consecutive defeats after a strong start. They by a 31-21 final to the Carolina Panthers last weekend in Charlotte after dropping a home tilt with the Detroit Lions. Kyler Murray threw a trio of touchdown passes in the Carolina defeat, while Jordan Hicks had four tackles for a loss.

The Series

The Cardinals are on the Jets’ opposite coast in more ways than one. Not only do they play three time zones away from New Jersey, but they play in a different conference. In other words, meetings between the Jets and Cardinals are not very common, even with the latter franchise lingering around in some way, shape, or form since 1898.

In either case, the Jets lead the all-time series 6-3, earning each win in succession between 1978 and 2012 (the first one coming under the Cardinals’ St. Louis moniker). Arizona broke the streak in their last meeting in 2016, when they took home a 28-3 decision in Glendale.

History Happens: 2008

Brett Favre’s brief yet eventful time as a New York Jet got off to a tough start. The Jets sat at 1-2 and were reeling from a one-sided Sunday night loss in San Diego in a return to Giants Stadium. An ensuing matchup with future NFC champions Kurt Warner, Larry Fitzgerald, and Anquan Boldin was perhaps one of the earliest signs that the 2008 was going to be quite out of the ordinary.

The Jets scoring 34 points seems like a pipe dream to some modern fans, but they acquired that tally in a single quarter on a late September afternoon against the Cardinals. Dressed in their New York Titans-inspired throwbacks, Favre and Laveranues Coles united for three scores while Darrelle Revis took back a Warner interception back for a touchdown. Arizona slowly worked their way back with three unanswered rushing scores (two from Edgerrin James) in the third quarter, but Favre kept the Cardinals down with three more touchdown passes. Jerricho Cotchery was the recipient of two, while Dustin Keller had the last. New York took the game by a 56-35 final. The six touchdown passes were a career-best for Favre, who united with Warner to throw for 761 passing yards.

They Said It

“I’m not looking at it in terms of bringing a spark,” Flacco said. “Of course, we want to get things rolling as a team and kind of get our morale up and get us headed in the right direction. But not one guy, including myself, can try to do too much. We just have to go out there, take it play-by-play and let things fall in place.”Jets QB Joe Flacco on starting Sunday, per Eric Allen 

“I think this week particularly, all of us want to get back on the field. There was frustration with how we played last week, so we’ve been chomping at the bit to get back after it. So when you hear that initially, you’re like, ‘Oh no, we really want to get back out there.’ And then you settle in and realize, hey, you can control what you can control.”-Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury on dealing with the Cardinals’ current situation, per Katherine Fitzgerald 

Matchup To Watch

RB Le’Veon Bell vs. Arizona’s Run Defense

Even when we were having the “Is Joe Flacco elite?” debate every week, it was never wise to put the game solely in his hands. The Jets have averaged 35 pass attempts a game over the first four games of the 2020 season. Flacco-led are 31-48 in the regular season when he throws the ball at least 35 times.

New York enjoys a bit of a boost this week with Le’Veon Bell making his return from injury, but the reunion comes in a game where Mekhi Becton, one of the Jets’ rare silver linings, list listed as doubtful on the injury report. With the franchise quarterback down and the receiving corps still missing links (Breshad Perriman is likewise doubtful and Denzel Mims is still inactive), Bell may be called upon to take on an increased workload to alleviate the pressure on Flacco.

Head coach Adam Gase was pleased with the way Bell kept himself in game shape during his injury absence. Bell hasn’t played since the Week 1 defeat in Buffalo.

“I think he can be pretty effective,” Gase said his top rusher in a report from ESPN’s Rich Cimini. “He did a good job of getting healthy and then staying in good shape. (He) did a good job making sure that he maintained where his weight was. I think he feels even better now than he did when we kind of hit that first game.”

Arizona’s run defense ins’t anything to truly write home about, stagnant in around the middle of the pack in the statistical rankings. If Bell can get his legs back quickly and overcome the losses of some starting big men on the line, he can earn a long-awaited return to form and shoulder some of the load a desperate offense needs to properly distribute.

The Jets Will Win If…

They contain Kyler Murray.

Over the past two weeks, the Jets’ defense failed to contain an aging Phillip Rivers and a third-stringer in Denver making his first career start…and they had trouble with Nick Mullens and the 49ers’ reserves the week before that. That was all before they ran into a showdown with Murray, a dual-threat who was working on MVP candidacy over the first two weeks before running into trouble against Detroit and Carolina. Murray has no doubt seen the struggles of the Jets’ defense and has to be licking his chops going into this matchup. The Jets have earned only six sacks so far and was already torched by one dual-threat, Josh Allen, in aforementioned opener against Buffalo. Murray’s prescience has loomed over Jets practice all week.

“To keep him in the pocket, try to make him one-dimensional because he can throw and use his feet as well once he gets outside the pocket,” safety Marcus Maye said on Thursday, per Kristian Dyer of Sports Illustrated. “If we can pressure him, make him one-dimensional, I think we can be OK.”

The Cardinals Will Win If…

They embrace their sense of desperation.

Arizona was seen by some as a team able to play consequence-free football in 2020. Murray excelled in his rookie year, and the outlook was mostly positive moving forward. Expectations rose slightly when DeAndre Hopkins was gifted to them from Houston, but there still would’ve been no shame from a Cardinal standpoint if they didn’t beat out the Seahawks or 49ers in the competitive NFC West.

However, after topping the Niners in Week 1, the Cardinals were seen as surprise contenders. The past two weeks have been disappointed, and Arizona now sits at .500 while the Seahawks remain dominant, the 49ers thrive despite several big injuries, and the Rams start to reintroduce themselves to the NFL scene. A terrifying trap game scenario awaits in New York. It’s a game that’s starting at 10 a.m. local time. It’s a game that the eternal Cardinal Fitzgerald has labeled a “must-win”.

Seattle is the leader in our division, 4-0 right now, and they are rolling,” Fitzgerald said, per team writer Darren Urban. “We have to be able to find a way to get back on the right track. Another road game, going across three time zones to play, you have to find a way to put together four good quarters in all three phases. It’s as simple as that.”

“We need to be able to keep pace with the Rams and the other teams playing well in the division. It’s definitely a must-win.”

Prediction

Even with Arizona’s struggles, it’s far too much to ask this Jets team to pull off what would nonetheless be a miracle. The loss against Denver provided a small hint of momentum, but topping an interconference foe bent on division domination is too far out of the Jets’ realm of possibilities.

Cardinals 23, Jets 10

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

Buffalo Bills Game Preview Week 4: Las Vegas Raiders

The Buffalo Bills look to hit a 4-0 jackpot in Sin City, as they battle the Raiders in a Sunday late afternoon showdown.

What: Buffalo Bills at Las Vegas Raiders
Where: Allegiant Stadium, Las Vegas NV
When: Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET
Watch: CBS

Las Vegas has a way of ending streaks of good luck. The Buffalo Bills certainly hope that isn’t the case when they make a visit on Sunday.

The Bills (3-0) look to keep the good times rolling in America’s Playground, as they prepare to do battle with the Las Vegas Raiders. Buffalo is one of seven undefeated teams left in the NFL.

That streak was kept alive by a gutsy 35-32 win over the Los Angeles Rams last Sunday. The Bills earned a 28-3 lead by the middle stages of the third quarter, but Los Angeles fought back to take the lead in the fourth. Buffalo would avert disaster by embarking on an 11-play, 75-yard drive that ended with Josh Allen’s three-yard game-winner to Tyler Kroft. It was the last of Allen’s 311 yards and four touchdowns, while Kroft earned his second score of the day.

On the other side, Las Vegas (2-1) battles its second consecutive AFC East opponent after falling 36-20 to the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium last weekend. Derek Carr threw for 261 yards and two touchdowns in defeat. The Raiders return to Allegiant Stadium for the first time since their nationally televised win over New Orleans in Week 2 that opened the 65,000-seat facility.

The Series

This will mark the first time that the Bills will face the “Las Vegas” Raiders. They were 14-17 against the Oakland incarnation, and the Raiders lead the all-time set 21-20. Buffalo fell in their most recent visit to the Raiders’ organization in 2016 but won the last overall meeting when the then-Oakland Raiders visited Orchard Park a year later. LeSean McCoy picked up 151 yards and a score as the Bills earned a 34-14 decision.

History Happens: 1994

The last time the Bills played a Raiders team that wasn’t in Oakland came in the 1993-94 AFC playoffs. Down 17-6 to the Los Angeles Raiders in the late stages of the divisional round’s first half, the Bills enjoyed a touchdown from Thurman Thomas in the final minute. Despite a Bill Brooks touchdown from Jim Kelly and Steve Christie field goal in the third, the Raider took a lead into the final frame on an 86-yard connection between Jeff Hostetler and Tim Brown.

Brooks, however, came up big once more, earning another scoring grab from Kelly in the early stanzas of the fourth. Buffalo ran out the final six minutes on a lengthy final drive mostly sustained through runs from Kenneth Davis. Bruce Smith also became the all-time sack leader in NFL playoff history, passing Richard Dent. The Bills used the momentum from the triumph over Los Angeles to top Kansas City a week later before falling to Dallas in Super Bowl XXVIII.

They Said It

“Offensively, I think (Josh Allen) has a good grasp of what we do. We try to tailor things to his strengths as best we can, as a coaching staff. But he’s got other pieces that are helping. It’s a group effort.”-Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll on the offense, per Chris Brown

“The quarterback is eye-opening. He is a fun guy to watch, man. He can really throw the ball. He’s got a great playing style. He’s got a lot of John Elway playing style. He can scramble, he’s strong, he’s tough. He’s a big-time player. And they’ve got an arsenal around him.”-Raiders head Jon Gruden on Josh Allen, per Josh Dubow

Matchup to Watch

WR Stefon Diggs vs. CB Trayvon Mullen 

Stefon Diggs was brought in to give Allen a big-play target. For all intents and purposes, the trade and taking on of Diggs’ big contract has been well worth it.

Through three weeks, Diggs ranks fourth in the league in receiving yardage (288), becoming the gamechanger the Buffalo offense was missing. Allen has an experienced, reliable catcher with a knack for coming through in big situations. It’s admirable what Allen and company have down with homegrown talent and journeymen, but Diggs is proving himself to be the missing piece that was keeping Buffalo from true contention amongst the NFL elite.

Meanwhile, Las Vegas will be without first-round rookie Damon Arnette for the foreseeable future, having undergone thumb surgery, Trayvon Mullen will take over a good share of secondary responsibility. The sophomore corner has been impressing in the Raiders’ resurgence, topping Pro Football Focus’ grades in pass coverage. He’ll likely be matched up against Diggs on Sunday, as each team faces a major opportunity to establish position in the AFC playoff chase at the quarter-mark.

“It’s going to be a challenge this week,” Mullen said of the showdown with Diggs in a report from Case Keefer of the Las Vegas Sun. “I know he’s top five in receiving yards right now, which makes me more excited to go against him. It’s going to be a competitive matchup. I’m excited and ready for it.”

The Bills Will Win If…

They don’t try to get too fancy.

The Bills are in rare territory where they have a chance to be 4-0 for only the ninth time in franchise history. Their strategy has been working. There’s no need to change for a game that has taken on increased importance. With the game between New England and Kansas City postponed at the very least, a brighter spotlight will be cast upon a game of two teams seeking football redemption. Las Vegas, after all, is known as the “Capital of Second Chances” by some.

Doubt still follows the Bills, but winning against an equally hungry team two time zones away would certainly send a strong message to the rest of the league, one that would eliminate more doubters. Buffalo also needs to acquire as many wins as they can, as a scary stretch of the schedule awaits. An October 25 reprieve against the Jets notwithstanding and depending on how the COVID testing processes work out, the Bills’ next games come against the Titans, Chiefs, Patriots, Seahawks, and Cardinals. As long as they don’t get caught looking ahead, that desperation should fuel them against the Raiders.

The Raiders Will Win If…

They shut down the Bills’ weapons.

Diggs has been making his catches. A 4-0 start is on the line. If he earns another 300-yard, two-touchdown game, he’ll forever go down in the same sentence as Steve Young and Peyton Manning as the only quarterbacks to earn four consecutive such games. They did so against New Orleans, limiting an aging Drew Brees to short throws underneath and only one touchdown. The Week 1 matchup against Carolina even saw them limit to Christian McCaffrey to 97 yards on 23 carries, his longest carry going only 15 yards.

Buffalo has struck the next level in their development thanks to the arrival of Diggs and Allen reaching the next level of his development ahead of schedule. If Las Vegas can put even the briefest pause in those steps, they’ll be able to earn a big win of their own.

Prediction

The Bills are in a good place to reach the rare air of 4-0. A visit to Las Vegas provides several trap opportunities, but the sense of desperation with elite competition on the way could fuel them further as they work their way to the dangerous middle portion of their schedule. Additionally, the Raiders are still in a position where topping an undefeated squad is just a little too much to ask for at this point.

This matchup should be one of the more intriguing sights on Sunday with several other high-profile tilts postponed. A win here could be the difference between a division title and a wild-card berth. Right now, the marginal experience the Bills have in the big game department and their modern desperation could well serve as a vital difference in a game filled with implications beyond October.

Bills 27, Raiders 21

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets Game Preview Week 4: Denver Broncos

The New York Jets have an opportunity in primetime to earn their first win against the likewise-reeling Denver Broncos.

What: Denver Broncos @ New York Jets
Where: MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, NJ
When: Thursday, 8:20 p.m. ET
Watch: NFL Network

Thursday night will show just how badly the American public missed football, as two winless squads prepare to do battle in primetime.

The embattled New York Jets (0-3) return to MetLife Stadium on Thursday, seeking to end a streak of brutality against an equally woebegone Denver Broncos squad. New York and Denver (0-3) account for a quarter of the eight winless teams left in the NFL after three weeks.

Back at home, the Jets have been crushed by a combined 47-point margin over the last two weeks. The latest defeat was a 36-7 shellacking at the hands of the Indianapolis Colts last Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium. Their lone score was a 16-yard touchdown pass from Sam Darnold to Braxton Berrios in the first quarter, shortly before the Colts opened up a barrage on 29 unanswered points. Darnold threw three interceptions during the afternoon, two of which were returned for touchdowns.

Meanwhile, Denver has failed to live up to preseason expectations as an AFC darkhorse, partially due to injuries that have decimated the top of the depth chart. The Broncos likewise fell to 0-3 on the road last weekend, dropping a 28-10 decision in Tampa Bay. Missing franchise quarterback Drew Lock, the Broncos made a change at quarterback in the late stages of the defeat, sitting Jeff Driskel for Brett Rypien, the nephew of former Super Bowl MVP Mark. Rypien is expected to make the first start of his NFL career on Thursday night.

Thursday’s game will serve as a reunion for former bearers of orange Connor McGovern and Joe Flacco. McGovern played his first four seasons with the Broncos after joining them as a fifth-round pick in 2016, while Flacco started eight games in Denver last season.

The Series

This will be the 38th meeting between the Jets and Broncos, a series that dates back to the days of the American Football League. Denver leads the get-togethers by a 20-16-1 tally, but the Jets won the last one 34-16, also at MetLife Stadium. Isaiah Crowell ran for a Jets single-game record 219 yards on a mere 15 carries, the biggest chunk of that coming from a 77-yard touchdown sprint that opened New York scoring. Denver had won the prior three meetings, including a 31-17 win in East Rutherford in 2014.

History Happens: 1999

Ironically, the Jets and Broncos have squared off with matching 0-3 records before. Seven months after their meeting in the AFC Championship Game (a 23-10 Denver win), the loss of starting quarterbacks from that showdown brought about hard times in each locale. John Elway retired after riding off into the victorious sunset in Super Bowl XXXIII, while the Jets lost Vinny Testaverde in a Week 1 loss to New England at Giants Stadium. The rematch at Mile High Stadium matched Rick Mirer and Brian Griese.

Girdiron ugliness ensued, with Mirer, Griese, and another Denver thrower, Bubby Brister, uniting for seven interceptions. Victor Green and Marcus Coleman had two each for the Jets, who erased a 13-7 deficit in the fourth quarter on a two-yard scoring rush by Curtis Martin. Mirer provided insurance on a 16-yard touchdown pass to Dedric Ward, while Coleman’s turnovers against Brister, each coming within the final four minutes, sealed the deal in a 21-13 Jets victory.

They Said It

“It’s wasted energy for me. It’s not going to help me at all. All I can do is make sure I get our guys in the right headspace to go out there on Thursday and play well.”Jets head coach Adam Gase on rumors his job could be in jeopardy, per the Associated Press

“I think no matter who we’re playing right now, we definitely need a win…that’s the main focus. The focus for me is just to try to get better these next two days. We’re not going to get a lot of reps full speed with the guys. It’s about the mental reps and making sure I’m dialed in on protections and things like that.”Broncos QB Brett Rypien on Thursday’s game, per Field Level Media

Matchup To Watch

Brett Rypien vs. Gregg Williams’ Defense

On paper, going up against Rypien, an undrafted college hero from Boise State making his first career NFL start seems simple enough. But, as they probably should’ve figured out by now, the Jets are in no position to take any opponent lightly, no matter his experience and resume.

The pass rush is coming off a tough weekend in Indianapolis, struggling to attack Phillip Rivers while dealing with the Colts’ experienced blocking unit. Facing the far younger, far more agile Rypien will be a change of pace, one the Jets must make as uncomfortable as possible for the debuting thrower.

However, this challenge could yet present a positive opportunity. Over the past couple of dreary defeats, it’s clear that the defense is also part of the Jets’ endless list of issues. Opening weekend’s lapses were understandable…the unit spent over 40 minutes in the field during Week 1 against Buffalo…but no one has been immune from football shortcomings in New York.

There have been plenty of individual silver linings. Marcus Maye had a strong debut as the leader of the secondary against the Bills. Quinnen Williams had his first multi-sack showing in the first game at MetLife. But it’s time to build some consistency. Going up against an inexperienced offensive leader…one who won’t have weapons like Courtland Sutton at his disposal…would be a strong way to do so. Williams can do his part in making Rypien miss his days as a collegiate Bronco by turning up the blitz.

The Jets Will Win If…

They take advantage of a team in more dire straights than they are.

Unlike the Jets, Denver had preseason accolades thrust upon them, energized by a strong conclusion to 2019 (7-5 after an 0-4 start, including a 4-1 stretch to end it). Injuries to several crucial starters (Lock, Sutton, Von Miller, A.J. Bouye, Jurrell Casey) and general inconsistencies have give way to a brutal start.

The playoffs are an afterthought, even after only three games, but the early de facto elimination grants them a macabre gift: the ability to play with little consequence and generally little to lose. They have to play like that, though. Barring a long to-go situation, there’s probably no reason to punt once the Jets get past their 40. Kicking field goals down 24-3 isn’t the way to do it either. There’s a rare opportunity here through the most morbid of must-wins, one that could potentially save the job of Adam Gase or several others. It’s a dire situation, but the Jets can feel a little bit better about the way things of gone if they take advantage.

The Broncos Will Win If…

They treat the Jets as they would any other opponent.

Each of the NFL’s 31 other teams can probably look at their situation and, no matter how dire it is, remark “at least we’re not the Jets”. But Denver is winless as well and are in no position to underestimate or disregard any opponents. It’s easy, perhaps, to let your guard down when one watches the New York film and sees lost efforts against San Francisco’s de facto second unit and a Colts team whose ceiling likely looms on wild card weekend.

One way to do that is not rely entirely on Rypien to win the game. Their matchup against Tampa Bay saw he and Driskel unite for 39 passes while Melvin Gordon received only eight carries. If Gordon is joined by Phillip Lindsay, the Broncos can rely on veteran rushing to help them get through a difficult primetime situation.

Prediction

Thursday’s game is perhaps the perfect storm for many in the Jets organization. While things are disappointing from a statistical standpoint in Denver, the Jets are in a position where a loss could lead to a sweeping change, one only exacerbated by the facts that they’re facing an equally desperate squad, haven’t played with anything resembling competitiveness over the first trio, and have ten days to prepare under a potential interim boss.

Desperation will be the name of the game on Thursday night, which will likely see strong ratings if only through nihilistic curiosity and internet meme potential (comparisons have already been drawn to the erratic presidential debate seen on Tuesday). At this moment, the Jets fit the description better. Denver, even with a plethora of medical woes, can still hang their helmets on the fact they’re relatively satisfied with their core. Time will tell how that desperation fuels New York in the future, but it well could be the key to temporary solace on Thursday.

Any given Sunday comes three days early. The Jets may be in dire straight, but dooming them to 0-16 is just a little too harsh.

Jets 17, Broncos 13

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets Game Preview Week 3: Indianapolis Colts

The depleted New York Jets hit the road to take on an Indianapolis Colts squad looking to start a winning streak.

What: New York Jets at Indianapolis Colts
Where: Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis, IN
When: Sunday, 4:05 p.m. ET
Watch: CBS

“Next man up” has routinely been a mantra for NFL squads when a major contributor is lost to an injury. The New York Jets, however, may need a next team up entirely if current events keep pace.

The Jets (0-2) will be missing at least five representatives as they hit the road to battle the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday late afternoon (4:05 p.m. ET, CBS). That manifest includes two of their top receivers (Breshad Perriman, Jamison Crowder) and two members of the secondary (Quincy Wilson, Ashtyn Davis), as well as a starting offensive lineman (George Fant). Not counted are the numerous players on injured reserve, such as running back Le’Veon Bell.

Head coach Adam Gase remarked this week that “whoever’s got a pulse right now” should be ready for action in Circle City.

“I look at it as if we’re the only team going through this it would be one thing,” Gase said in an attempt to find a silver lining, through Al Iannazzone of Newsday. “You’re seeing guys going down left and right whether it be in practice or games. We’re having soft-tissue things happen to us. It seems a lot of these other teams are going through major, major season-ending type injuries.”

The Jets are coming off a one-sided loss to the San Francisco, falling 31-13 in their 2020 debut at MetLife Stadium. Strong points were hard to come by in the ugly defeat, but Quinnen Williams earned the first multi-sack game of his career. Pierre Desir also had the first interception of his New York tenure, while Sam Darnold found Braxton Berrios for a 30-yard score late in the game. Desir will make his

On the AFC South side of things, Indianapolis (1-1) earned their first win of the season with a 28-11 advantage over the Minnesota Vikings last weekend. The Colts took three interceptions from Kirk Cousins while rookie Jonathan Taylor earned the first triple-digit yardage game of his career, picking up 101 and a touchdown. Mo Allie-Cox led all receivers with 111 yards on five receptions.

The Series

This will be the 75th meeting between the Jets and Colts, former AFC East rivals prior to divisional realignment in 2002. Indianapolis leads the series 42-32, but the Jets have won five of the last seven get-togethers. The most recent meeting came in 2018 in East Rutherford, a matchup the Jets took by a 42-32 final. Andrew Luck threw for 301 yards and four touchdowns but it wasn’t enough to counter three interceptions, including one by Avery Williamson. Then-rookie Sam Darnold has a strong game as well, throwing for 280 yards and two scores.

History Happens: 2011

The Jets will return to Lucas Oil Stadium on Sunday, the site of one of their most recent playoff victories. They topped the Colts 17-16 in the 2011 AFC Wild Card playoffs en route to the latter of back-to-back trips to the conference title game. Indianapolis took the lead on a 50-yard field goal with 53 seconds remaining, but Antonio Cromartie set the Jets up with a strong return to the New York 46. Three Mark Sanchez throws later (two caught by Braylon Edwards), Nick Folk booted a 32-yard field goal that punched the Jets’ ticket to New England. LaDainian Tomlinson scored two one-yard touchdowns for the Jets in their victory.

They Said It

“We don’t do 3/4ths. We don’t do half-speed…That’s how we practice on defense…Those guys, whether it was misunderstood, they are taking ownership. Especially after a game, like we all do. Me first, then them. We practice very hard. It’s shocking when other people come into wherever this staff is, when they’ve been allowed to do certain things a certain way other places, that’s not what we do here.”Jets defensive coordinator Gregg Williams on the Jets’ practices after several players spoke out against them this week, per SNY

“He’s a tough runner. He doesn’t quit, he’s not an out-of-bounds guy, he’s going to lower his shoulder. He reminds me a lot of Adrian Peterson and how they’re 17 years into the league, that’s when football was football where you’re going to run between the tackles, man on man, is my man stronger than you, is my will better than yours? And he still has that mentality. I think that’s what makes him who he is, because when he gets between those tackles he’s going to lower his shoulder, he’s going to try to run you over, and that’s what type of mentality you need playing at running back and not a lot of this other stuff you see at running back.”-Colts LB Darius Leonard on Frank Gore, per Andrew Walker

Matchup to Watch

Quinnen Williams vs. Colts offensive line

Williams put up his best New York performance to date during last Sunday’s loss, picking up seven tackles and two sacks while forcing a fumble against the Niners. It’s up to him to prove that won’t be a fluke. That challenge won’t be easy against a Colts line anchored by Quinton Nelson.

Nelson has an indirect, yet eternal, part in Jets history. In the 2018 draft proceedings, the Jets were originally slated to choose sixth. That pick was later shipped to Indianapolis for the right to select in the third slot, where Sam Darnold’s name was called. Nelson went in the rebranded sixth slot and has gone on to become one of the NFL’s top offensive linemen.

“You don’t really hear a ton of things about offensive linemen especially interior guys when you’re coming out of college,” Gase said of Nelson in a report from team writer Ethan Greenberg. “This guy was the talk of the combine. Everyone was talking about him leading up to the draft. Not only is he extremely smart, but he plays really physical. He’s mean. He sets the attitude of the entire room, but his technique and fundamentals are phenomenal. You can tell this guy takes a lot of pride in what he does.”

The Colts’ offensive line has done a solid job of protecting aging quarterback Phillip Rivers in the early going, allowing only two sacks over the first couple of weeks.

The Jets Will Win If…

Williams and the front seven can win the battle in the trenches.

With so many offensive contributors sidelined, the Jets will have to win the “ugly” way…low scoring, may multiple turnovers, and making the wary Rivers uncomfortable. The defense is missing key components as well, some of whom aren’t coming back (noted opt-out C.J. Mosley). If the defensive substitutes can rise to the occasion, they may stand a fighting chance in a low-scoring game, to the tune of a 16-13 or 13-10 final.

The Colts Will Win If…

Like many Jets games for the remainder of the season, the battle will be won if they take care of business.

The Colts are in an interesting spot in the AFC South. For example, the Houston Texans, division champions in four of the past five seasons, could well be winless in three games by the end of the weekend. The rebuilding Jacksonville Jaguars have been no slouches, as the Colts found out the hard way in Week 1. At the top, the Tennessee Titans are proving that their conference title game appearance was no fluke, at least so far. Simply put, this game very well may be a must-win for the 1-1 Colts.

Indianapolis will need substitutions of their own to step up on Sunday. Cornerback Rock Ya-Sin will be missing his second consecutive game, leading to the rise of T.J. Carrie. Several Colts are also looking to atone for slow starts, like former receiving yardage leader T.Y. Hilton (7 receptions, 81 yards). They could certainly benefit from a derailed Jets squad dealing with countless departures.

Prediction

The Jets have endured a brutal week, and it seems only right to end this with yet another tough defeat. If a depleted 49ers squad at home was too much to handle, it stands to reason that a slightly banged-up Colts squad that has everything to lose in front of their fans (Lucas Oil Stadium will admit 7,500 to Sunday’s game) would produce a similar result.

New York can keep things more respectable this time around. Wins, however, are far too tough to come by right now. A meeting with the equally famished Broncos on Thursday? That could be another story…

Colts 23, Jets 6

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets Game Preview Week 2: San Francisco 49ers

New York Jets, Jimmy G

The September road gets no easier for the New York Jets, who welcome in the defending NFC champions on Sunday afternoon.

What: San Francisco 49ers at New York Jets
Where: MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, NJ
When: Sunday, 1 p.m. ET
Watch: Fox

Whoever formed the 2020 NFL schedule was probably not a New York Jets fan.

A week after opening their season with a tilt against an up-and-coming divisional foe, the Jets open their 2020 MetLife Stadium slate against the defending NFC champion San Francisco 49ers on Sunday afternoon (1 p.m. ET, Fox). Each is looking to avenge opening week losses against familiar competition.

The Jets (0-1) experienced the worst kind of deja vu last weekend, opening their season with a loss to the Buffalo Bills for the second straight year. In their 27-17 defeat, the Jets allowed 404 yards of offense, 369 coming from the arms and legs of Buffalo quarterback Josh Allen. It allowed the Bills to build a 21-0 lead before the Jets earned second half touchdowns from Jamison Crowder and Josh Adams. Defensively, safety Marcus Maye impressed on the statsheet with a game-best 10 tackles and two sacks while also forcing an Allen fumble.

“It was about as bad of a start offensively as we could have had,” head coach Adam Gase said of the loss, per transcripts from the Jets. “We didn’t do anything when the defense did a good job getting a turnover. Complimentary football was non-existent throughout most of the game. We just really did not play well. The disappointing aspect is just watching the guys work all week and the excitement level coming into this game. We have a lot to work on and a lot of things to get fixed.”

San Francisco’s follow-up to their Super Bowl LIV appearance didn’t go as intended, as they fell 24-20 to the Arizona Cardinals at Levi’s Stadium. Raheem Mostert tallied 151 total yards of offense and a receiving touchdown in defeat.

The Series

This will be the 14th all-time meeting between the Jets and 49ers, with the latter leading the all-time series 10-3. With the scheduling formula, the teams meet only once every four years. The Jets took home the last meeting in overtime by a 23-17 final in 2016. It was a career day for Bilal Powell, who had a career-best 145 yards and the game-winning score in the extra period. San Francisco dominated the most recent meeting at MetLife Stadium, a 34-0 shellacking in 2012.

History Happens: 1983

Historically, the Jets and 49ers have been at the opposite end of the football success spectrum. The Jets had their share of success in the 1980s, but it was nothing compared to San Francisco’s quartet of Super Bowls. New York, however, was on the right side of things in a 1983 matchup at Candlestick Park. In a victorious 27-13 final, Jerry Holmes stifled the potential tying drive by taking a Joe Montana interception back 43 yards for the sealing score. Richard Todd threw for 201 yards and a score, while Scott Dierking added a rushing touchdown.

They Said It

“He has a short memory no matter what goes on good or bad. He’s always positive no matter what the situation is. On both sides of the ball, we look up to him. We look for him to get everybody going on that side. He’s the leader on that side of the ball and on this team. We will all rally behind him and I’m sure the offense will too. He always finds a way to bounce back,” Maye said. “I don’t expect him to come out with any doubt at all. He’s a great competitor and he knows how to get those guys going. I’m excited to see them come out fast, come out hot this week and he’ll be alright.”Jets safety Marcus Maye on Sam Darnold, per Eric Allen

“Obviously, hindsight is 20-20 but Nick at number two is a no-brainer. And Quinnen was a no brainer. At that point, it was just kind of what you prefer as a team, as a coaching staff, and as an organization. Obviously, I don’t think you could have gone wrong with either player. I do feel Nick has turned into one of the best at his position. Quinnen has that same ability. So we expect him to be disruptive on Sunday and we expect to try to contain him. Both of those guys are saturated with talent and I don’t think you could have went wrong either way.”-49ers tackle Trent Williams comparing Quinnen Williams and Nick Bosa, per Chris Biderman

Matchup To Watch

T Mekhi Becton vs. DE Nick Bosa

Becton has been thrown into the NFL fire in his professional debut. He dealt with the likes of Jerry Hughes last week that powered San Francisco into the most recent Big Game. Bosa exploded onto the NFL scene in his rookie year and, as evidenced by Williams’ comments, he might have a little extra something to prove as the 49ers battle Quinnen Williams, who went one pick later in the 2019 draft at third overall.

The Jets’ blocking was one of the rare consistent silver linings of Sunday’s opener. Becton’s performance was particularly inspiring, turning in a performance good enough for Pro Football Focus’ top-rated offensive rookie in Week 1 games. The second presents on opportunity or reckoning for the offensive line. If they truly want to show the NFL that their offensive line has taken a step in the right direction…and perhaps provide a stronger sense of security for Sam Darnold…pacifying the 49ers’ relentless rush would be an inspiring step in the right direction on both a local and national level.

The Jets Will Win If…

Sam Darnold responds to perhaps the biggest challenge his NFL career has faced yet.

A good portion of the Jets’ fanbase has to realize that criticism can be levied toward Adam Gase while also holding Darnold accountable. Opening weekend was not a strong showing for Darnold, who put himself in situations and issues that third-year franchise quarterbacks frankly shouldn’t be facing in their third year at the helm. In today’s world of instant gratification and response through hot football takes, that can be deadly for a quarterback’s social status in this league. Some mock drafts have gone as far as to pencil Trevor Lawrence into the Jets’ 2021 draft slot. A good game would do a lot to stifle those concerns.

The window of opportunity opens even wider upon the injury-induced absence of starting cornerback Jason Verrett. Darnold has risen to the occasion before when the odds are stacked against him…remember his return from illness against the Cowboys last season? He might need another one to create some peace of mind.

The 49ers Will Win If…

They take care of business. Until further notice, the Jets are prime trap game fodder, that possibility only increasing with each opponent’s prestige.

San Francisco is going to a popular pick in knockout pools over the next two weeks, as they return to the metropolitan area next Sunday to take on the Giants. The trap game case is only increased with their constant travel to the other side of the country. But the 49ers can not get caught looking ahead. The Week 1 scores, ones that left San Francisco as the only fruitless squad in their group, proved that the NFC West is going to be one of the most, if not the most, division in football season. Arizona’s road win in Santa Clara shows they may be ahead of schedule. The already dangerous Seahawks looked to be on another level with Jamal Adams in tow. In Los Angeles, the Rams christened both SoFi Stadium and their redemption tour with a nationally televised win over Dallas. Simply put, the 49ers can’t afford to go 0-2. Desperation only rises with both Verrett and star tight end George Kittle out due to injury.

The Super Bowl runner-up has missed the ensuing postseason in three of the past six seasons. San Francisco must take care of business to avoid that same fate.

Prediction

Even with the time zones on their side, it was already enough of a tall task to ask the Jets to take down the defending Super Bowl finalists. The fact they’ll be missing several major contributors (Jamison Crowder, Le’Veon Bell, Denzel Mims) and the idea that San Francisco will still be stewing from the misstep against Arizona only makes the task even more daunting. Thus, it’s probably not wise to expect any miracles on the New York end.

Moral victories will be the name of the game for the Jets in the foreseeable future. If they play well against an elite team, they can hang their heads high. Victories on the scoreboard, simply put, may still be at a premium.

49ers 27, Jets 14

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets Game Preview Week 1: Buffalo Bills

New York Jets, Sam Darnold, Josh Allen, Buffalo Bills

A familiar foe awaits the New York Jets in their return to action, as they’ll face the Buffalo Bills for the second straight kickoff weekend.

What: New York Jets at Buffalo Bills
Where: Bills Stadium, Orchard Park, NY
When: Sunday, 1 p.m. ET
Watch: CBS

It will be deja vu all over again on Sunday afternoon for the New York Jets. For the third time in four seasons, the Jets will open their regular season proceedings against the Buffalo Bills.

Special, unusual circumstances hover over this particular meeting, however. Not only will fans be barred from entering Bills Stadium, in conjunction with COVID-19 protocols, but this will be the first time the teams are facing off against a squad in different-colored equipment. Training camp scrimmages and preseason games were put on hold as the NFL navigated its offseason through the ongoing health crisis.

“In preseason games you kind of have that feeling of, okay, this is live. I can get sacked here and things can happen and I can escape the pocket without the whistle being blown so now that it is the real deal, kind of another feeling out process,” Jets quarterback Sam Darnold remarked in transcripts from the Jets. “In the offseason, you try to simulate live reps and all that with coaches with noodles or with different things to throw out you. You try to simulate things like that, but there’s nothing like a guy who’s trying to tackle you. It’s just going to be going out there on Sunday and I think the first couple series, we’ll start to get back into a groove, especially just speaking for myself, if I get hit a couple of times, I feel like I’ll start to get back into it a little bit.”

The Jets (7-9) are coming off their best win tally since 2015, but matching that output might be a tall task with several key contributors from last season having either moved on (Jamal Adams) or opting out of the 2020 proceedings entirely (C.J. Mosley). Players from both sides of the ball are set to make their debuts, including a completely revamped blocking unit headlined by the arrival of Mekhi Becton, the 11th overall pick of April’s draft. Darnold’s top targets have likewise been adjusted, with second-round choice Denzel Mims on pace to man the receiving corps alongside veteran arrival Breshad Perriman. Adam Gase will also enter his second season as head coach of the Jets.

Meanwhile, the Bills (10-6) have been pegged by many as AFC contenders after reaching 10 wins for the first time since 1999. The Bills reached the playoffs for the second time in three seasons back in January, falling in overtime to the Houston Texans in the wild-card round. Buffalo’s offense is headlined by young talents Josh Allen and Devin Singletary, while All-Pro cornerback Tre’Davious White returns after inking a $70 million contract extension. Buffalo is coached by Sean McDermott, who has earned a 25-23 record over three seasons with the team.

The Series

This will be the 120th meeting between the Jets and Bills, a showdown that dates back to 1960. Buffalo leads the all-time set by a 63-56 tally. Sunday also marks the third time over the last four seasons that the Jets and Bills have met on opening weekend.

The Bills won last year’s debut in a 17-16 final at MetLife Stadium. Buffalo made up a 16-0 deficit in the second half, their comeback completed with a 38-yard touchdown pass from Allen to John Brown. The Jets built their lead through Mosley’s interception return for a touchdown and a nine-yard Darnold hook-up with Le’Veon Bell. New York would close the year with a 13-6 win in Orchard Park during the final week of the regular season, taking advantage of resting Bills starters. Darnold and Jamison Crowder united for the only touchdown of the day on a one-yard pass.

The Jets and Bills have split their yearly pair in each of the past three seasons.

History Happens: 2002

Overall, the Jets and Bills have met in Week 1 a dozen times, with Jets leading 8-4 in the subset. The 2002 get-together was one for the literal record books as the Jets’ 37-31 victory was earned through what was then the fastest overtime in NFL history.

Buffalo tied the game with 26 seconds left in regulation on a Drew Bledsoe touchdown pass to Eric Moulds but the Jets immediately put the concept of momentum aside. Chad Morton took the ensuing overtime kickoff back 96 yards, ending the extra period only 14 seconds in. It was the second kickoff return of the game for Morton, who currently serves as the running backs coach in Seattle.

They Said It

“We try to put our players in the best position possible. So, when guys do go down, when we do have some kind of change, we can’t flinch as coaches, we just adjust what we’re doing. We do everything we can to put those guys in the best position possible. Sometimes it’s through trial and error, sometimes it’s, ‘Hey prove to us that you either can do something or you can’t.’ That comes through the entire time of training camp.”Adam Gase on the “next man up” philosophy, per Jack Bell

“We went through the (scouting) process with Sam. I have a lot of respect for Sam and his work and who he is. As you look at him, he’s mobile, he does a good job in the pocket (and) he does a good job getting them in and out of checks at the line of scrimmage based on the looks he’s presented with. So, he looks like a young quarterback with a lot of upside.”Bills head coach Sean McDermott on Sam Darnold, per Eric Allen

Matchup To Watch

T Mekhi Becton vs. DE Jerry Hughes

The Jets were likely among the teams most affected by a lack of preseason games. Four consequence-free opportunities would’ve been a good chance for a completely rebooted offensive line to build some chemistry. Individually, Becton could’ve gotten used to the pace and surroundings of an NFL environment.

Becton has yet to play a single down in green, but he already holds an unerasable place in team history. If he succeeds, and the Jets’ offense enjoys a much-needed wake-up call, Becton will go down in the same sentence as D’Brickshaw Ferguson and Nick Mangold. If his NFL career doesn’t pan out the way the Jets are hoping, the ever-prevalent hindsight of football fans and draft enthusiasts everywhere will question why the Jets didn’t go for one of the talented receivers available to them at No. 11. A quartet of game-paced scrimmages would’ve been a good way to start his professional career.

The Louisville alum will immediately be thrown into the NFL fire. Attacking Darnold’s blind side will be Hughes, the talented pass rusher out of TCU. In his last outing, Hughes sacked Deshaun Watson three times in a playoff game. He’s earned 51.5 sacks over an NFL career that’s about to hit a decade. He owns a career-best 43 tackles, including 10 for a loss, against the Jets. Thus, Becton has no opportunity for a “training day” afforded to countless rookies before him.

The lack of preseason games has also appeared to affect Hughes as well, as he’s had no opportunity to see Becton work in the New York offense.

“It kind of feels a little bit like college-esque in the sense of there’s no preseason games to go off of,” Hughes explained to Maddy Glab of BuffaloBills.com. “Some guys don’t even have NFL tape, so you’re pulling up things from the archives of what they did a year or two ago in college. It’s kind of eerie being in this position just because we’ve always had the preseason games to kind of catch our bearings, catch our breath and get into the whole game flow.”

The Jets Will Win If…

The lack of preseason game preparation doesn’t come back to haunt them.

Shortening or eliminating preseason games has been proposed even in “normal” times, but Gase has been a rare voice against the concept. The Jets are a team with many newcomers, both rookies and veterans alike, and they could’ve used an opportunity to build chemistry in what could well be a trying season. Teams like Buffalo are relatively set due to their sense of continuity and relatively little turnover at the top of the depth chart. Even with expanded playoff capital in the AFC, it’s going to be a tall task to ask the Jets to reach the playoffs. Getting some good wins, especially against divisional opponents filled with hope and expectations, would help a tricky season go by a lot smoother.

The Bills Will Win If…

They avoid the trap.

Almost everyone’s preseason darling has emerged from Buffalo. But how many preseason Super Bowl champion have we seen fall into oblivion once the real games get going? The “Dream Team” edition of the Philadelphia Eagles certainly comes to everyone’s mind. The Bills are so eager to be known as the Empire State’s team and they would be wise to take advice bestowed to one of the state’s most famous fictional residents: with great power, comes great responsibility. Buffalo is in a spot where they’re the team that’s in the best spot to pick up where New England left off. Thus, they’re already in a position to play trap games. The Patriots built their sterling reputation by dominating subpar divisional competition. If the Bills truly want to take over, they need to handle affairs in winnable games.

Prediction

Sunday could be the start of something extraordinary. Jets-Bills has never truly been must-see, prime time television, but there’s a prime opportunity for the yearly pair to become one of the NFL’s strongest rivalries. Both teams need to take care of their business and win games for the rivalry to truly flourish, but the New York factor and the battle of 2018 draftees under center could make a premiere matchup in the coming years.

The Jets could take advantage of Buffalo’s most unusual trap game scenario. To bring up the lack of August football factor again, we could see some sloppy football in the early stages of the year. Such surroundings tend to favor the underdog. But asking the Jets to win their first game with mostly new personnel is going to be a tall task without the proper game-pace preparation. The time the favored Bills spend getting their game legs back could allow the Jets to keep pace, but asking for a win is simply too tall a task at this point in time.

Bills 19, Jets 13

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags