NFL Preview - Buffalo (4-11) at N.Y. Jets (10-5)
By Lyle Fitzsimmons, Contributing NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - It may be a series, a quarter or a half.
But one thing seems certain heading into the New York Jets' regular-season finale against the Buffalo Bills on Sunday. Even if he starts it, there's no chance quarterback Mark Sanchez will finish it.
The second-year passer has spent much of the last two weeks nursing a right shoulder injury suffered in a Week 15 win at Pittsburgh, and his long-term health is at a premium heading into the playoffs, according to New York head coach Rex Ryan.
"I'm leaning to think that maybe he'll play some," Ryan said of Sanchez. "But we'll see. If we don't think he is 100 percent or right at it, then no, I'd have a tough time playing him. I don't think that would be appropriate."
Sanchez's injury was diagnosed as a cartilage tear in the shoulder, but while he's been limited in subsequent practice sessions, he was able to finish the game against the Steelers and went the distance in a 38-34 loss at Chicago last week.
"He kind of does have that hot hand and more than anything, I just want him to make sure that he's ready to go [for the playoffs]," Ryan said.
The Jets, now 10-5, clinched a second straight postseason berth when Jacksonville lost in overtime to Washington last Sunday. New York can finish as either the fifth or sixth seed in the AFC and could head to Kansas City, Indianapolis or Jacksonville when the conference tournament opens the weekend of Jan. 8-9.
Ryan and Co. qualified as a No. 5 seed last year and advanced to the AFC title game after road wins at Cincinnati and San Diego.
"I'm glad I'm not a head coach," Sanchez said. "I don't know [about what to do]. I always want to play. I like practicing. I like playing. That's all I think about. I love doing it, and I just want to be smart with my shoulder. It's going to be up to Rex. It's a tough decision, and I don't want to be in his shoes."
Any time Sanchez misses will be made up by backup quarterback Mark Brunell or No. 3 man Kellen Clemens.
"Until [Ryan] says anything, I'm preparing to play and I'm ready to go," Sanchez said. "And if I do indeed get pulled, then I'll be Brunell and Kellen�s biggest cheerleader."
As it turns out, the Jets aren't the only team with quarterback concerns.
Buffalo's Ryan Fitzpatrick was held out of practice Wednesday to rest a collection of bumps and bruises he's compiled in his first extended stint as an the Bills' starter.
Bills head coach Chan Gailey said Fitzpatrick is expected to play Sunday and will return to practice later in the week to complete preparation for the Jets.
Fitzpatrick was limping slightly as he made his way around the team's practice facility on Wednesday, favoring his right leg. He hasn't missed a snap since taking over as starter in Week 3, though a 34-3 loss to New England last week was his poorest game, as he had three interceptions and two fumbles.
On the season, the Harvard product has completed 57.8 percent of his 441 passes for 3,000 yards, 23 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. The most passes he'd thrown in a previous season was 372 in 2008, when he appeared in 13 games for the Cincinnati Bengals as a fill-in for an injured Carson Palmer.
Fitzpatrick inherited the Buffalo job early in 2010 when previous starter Trent Edwards was benched and subsequently released. The Bills eventually started the season 0-8, but have won four of seven games since. They lost to the Jets in Week 4 by a 38-14 count, however.
"The guys in the locker room, the way we've fought and played all season long, I think we deserve to win," said Fitzpatrick. "And that's what we're going to try to go out there and do."
The Bills lead the all-time regular season series with the Jets by a 53-46 count, but New York has won four of the last five bouts between the divisional foes and as previously mentioned, handed Buffalo a 38-14 loss when the teams faced off in upstate New York back in Week 4. The Bills' lone victory over that five-game stretch took place at the Meadowlands last year, a 16-13 overtime verdict in which Sanchez threw five interceptions. The Jets exacted a measure of revenge later in the season with a 19-13 win over Buffalo at Toronto's Rogers Centre. New York took both 2008 encounters with the Bills, completing the sweep with a 31-27 home decision in December of that year.
Buffalo won the only postseason matchup between the franchises, a 31-27 triumph at Shea Stadium in a 1981 AFC First-Round playoff.
Gailey is 0-2 against the Jets for his career, which includes a loss while in charge of the Dallas Cowboys in 1999. Ryan is 2-1 lifetime versus Buffalo and won his only head-to-head meeting with Gailey.
WHEN THE BILLS HAVE THE BALL
The Bills have struggled to make a dent offensively, averaging just 18.4 points per game (27th in the NFL), 314.4 total yards per game (24th) and 202.2 passing yards per game (24th). They move up to the middle range in rushing with a 112.2 yards per game average that's good for 15th. Contrarily, the Jets have been usually productive on defense, posting the 11th-best opposition scoring average (19.8 ppg) and leaping to the top 10 in total yards allowed (300.1 ypg), passing yards allowed (205.7 ypg) and rushing yards allowed (94.5 ypg).
Fitzpatrick needs two touchdown passes to become the third Bills quarterback to reach 25 in a season. He has a 95.4 rating in road games within the division in 2010. Running back Fred Jackson is 108 yards shy of become the seventh Buffalo runner to reach 1,000 in consecutive seasons. He's also just 95 scrimmage yards away from 4,000 for his career. Wideout Steve Johnson reached 1,000 yards in a season for the first time in his career last week and is two touchdown catches from a franchise record. He's scored in two of his last three games against the Jets.
On defense, Jets end Jason Taylor can add to his 20 career sacks against the Bills, his most against any opponent. Safety Dwight Lowery had a 20-yard interception return for a touchdown last week, his second of the season. End Shaun Ellis has three sacks in his last two games against Buffalo and linebacker Bryan Thomas looks for a fourth straight game with at least one.
WHEN THE JETS HAVE THE BALL
Running the ball effectively has been a late-season go-to for the Jets, who are sixth in the league with their average of 139.9 rushing yards per game. New York has slipped to 19th in scoring average (21.9 ppg) and is middle of the pack in terms of total yards per game (348.5, 13th) and passing yards per game (208.7, 20th). Ominously, the Bills have yielded the league's most ground to opposing runners (162.5 ypg), and their 25.8 points per game average is good for just 27th in the league. Foes have gained an average of 359.8 total yards (24th overall) and 197.3 pass yards (4th) per week as well.
Sanchez is 209 passing yards from becoming the first Jet with 3,500 in a season since Vinny Testaverde in 2000. In his last two games against Buffalo, he has three touchdown throws, no interceptions and a 100.9 passer rating. Running back LaDainian Tomlinson had 133 yards and two touchdowns in New York's win over the Bills earlier this season and averages 100.8 yards in six career games against them, along with six touchdowns. Wideout Santonio Holmes caught the 25th touchdown pass of his career last week and fellow receiver Braylon Edwards aims for a third straight game against Buffalo with a score. Elsewhere, Dustin Keller needs two catches to become the sixth tight end in Jets history with 150. He had a career-best two touchdown grabs in the last game against the Bills. The Jets have 14 kick return touchdowns since 2001, most in the league, and main return man Brad Smith is second in the NFL with a 28.6 yard average on kick runbacks in 2010.
Defensively, the Bills tied a franchise record with six interceptions in their last road trip to New York. Linebacker Paul Posluszny leads the team with 139 tackles and linebacker Akin Ayodele had a team-best 17 last week. Also, linebacker Chris Kelsay has five career sacks against the Jets, tied for his most against any foe.
No offensive players on either side seem like absolutes, though Fitzpatrick has put up credible numbers as Buffalo's quarterback and the Jets may lean on running back Shonn Greene a bit to get some momentum started as they head into the playoffs. The New York defense might be the best bet against a Buffalo team that turned the ball over seven times in its last game.
The Jets come in with two objectives -- try to create some positive energy for the playoffs after losing three of their last four games, but doing so while not risking the health of impact players. Contrast that with the plight of the Bills, who seek a successful end to the season and will go 100 percent with their starters to do so. Put the two together and it reeks of a preseason approach for Gang Green, which might be content with a lead at halftime and a stretcher-free exit.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Bills 24, Jets 20
12/30 14:56:30 ET