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NFL Preview - N.Y. Jets (5-6) at Buffalo (4-7)
By Tony Moss, NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - Fans in Toronto may not get to see two eventual playoff teams square off when the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets take the field at the Rogers Centre on Thursday night, but they should come prepared to see the type of competitive, three-hour slugfest that has become the norm for the AFC East rivals.
The Bills, in the second year of a five-season agreement to play a series of eight games in Canada, proved in last week's 31-14 upset of the Miami Dolphins that they haven't thrown in the towel on 2009.
In their second contest under interim head coach Perry Fewell - appointed as such when the team fired Dick Jauron after Week 10 - the Bills exploded for 24 fourth-quarter points despite fielding an offensive lineup comprised largely of backups.
Fewell's decision to go with Ryan Fitzpatrick over opening-day starter Trent Edwards at quarterback paid off, as Fitzpatrick completed 17-of-26 passes for 246 yards, one touchdown, and one interception despite working behind a young, makeshift offensive line that surrendered six sacks.
Terrell Owens had his second straight big game with Fewell as his boss, catching five passes for 96 yards including a game-sealing 51-yard touchdown pass from Fitzpatrick in the fourth quarter.
Despite the state of the line, starting running back Fred Jackson was also effective, carrying 15 times for 73 yards and two touchdowns while also logging five catches for 43 yards in the passing game. Fewell had opted to start Jackson over Marshawn Lynch, who carried just three times for six yards to continue an awful year for the former first-round pick.
And the defense - still coordinated by Fewell - logged four interceptions in the win, never giving up a run longer than 13 yards or pass longer than 20.
The victory snapped a three-game losing streak for Buffalo, and also ranked as the team's first home win since Sept. 20.
The Jets also had a happy Week 12 result, with their 17-6 victory over the Carolina Panthers keeping the team's somewhat dim playoff hopes on the burner.
The playmaking defense that the team had seemed to misplace since its 3-0 start was located again, as cornerback Darrelle Revis and recently-demoted safety Kerry Rhodes posted two picks each in the triumph, with Revis' first going the other way for a 67-yard touchdown that had Gang Green off and running.
The Panthers managed just 176 total yards and 11 first-downs all day.
On the other side of the ball, mistake-prone rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez did throw one pick, but was otherwise an efficient 13-of-17 for 154 yards, also rushing for 27 yards on a day in which he was not beset by the turnovers that had plagued him over the previous six weeks. Sanchez did suffer a knee injury in the contest that forced him to leave briefly, but he finished the game and is not expected to miss any additional time.
The Jets will look to Sanchez for a continued steadying hand in the latest installment of a series that has seen six head-to-head matchups settled by five points or less since 2004, including Buffalo's 16-13 overtime win at the Meadowlands on Oct. 18th.
The Bills were 16-3 losers to the Dolphins in Toronto in Week 14 of last season, the first meaningful game of the team's Canadian series.
The Bills lead the all-time regular season series with the Jets by a 53-44 count, including the aforementioned 16-13 overtime victory when the teams met at the Meadowlands in Week 6. Buffalo was swept by its longtime division rival in a 2008 home-and-home, including a 26-17 loss at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Week 9 and a 31-27 heartbreaker in its visit to North Jersey in Week 15. The Bills swept the 2007 home-and-home, including a 17-14 home victory.
In addition to leading the regular season series, the Bills won the only postseason meeting between the franchises, a 31-27 triumph in a 1981 AFC First-Round playoff.
Jets head coach Rex Ryan is 0-1 against the Bills as a head man, while Buffalo's Fewell will be meeting both Ryan and New York for the first time as a head man.
WHEN THE JETS HAVE THE BALL
Though Sanchez (1945 passing yards, 10 TD, 17 INT) and his probable attempt to play on a balky knee will get much of the attention on Thursday, there is no question that the Jets will attempt to pound the rock against Buffalo and its soft run defense. Thomas Jones (959 rushing yards, 9 TD) gutted the Bills run defense back in Week 6, piling up 210 yards on 22 carries, including a 71-yard touchdown run in the second quarter. Shonn Greene (253 rushing yards, 2 TD), who has emerged as New York's change-of-pace option since Leon Washington was lost for the season due to injury, should get his opportunities as well. Otherwise, Sanchez will be seeking to avoid the major mistake and get the football to his main corps of receivers - wideouts Braylon Edwards (20 receptions, 2 TD) and Jerricho Cotchery (37 receptions, 3 TD) along with tight end Dustin Keller (36 receptions, 2 TD). Keller was the highest-impact pass- catcher against the Panthers last Sunday, hauling in four balls for a game-high 68 yards in the win. Edwards had three grabs for 40 yards, the identical stat line he posted against Buffalo back in Week 6. The Jets line has generally done a good job of protecting Sanchez, surrendering just 20 sacks on the year.
The Bills' playmaking secondary has been the most consistent part of the team this season, with Buffalo entering Week 13 ranked second in the league with 21 interceptions, behind only the Saints, and notably picked off Sanchez five times when the teams met back in Week 6. Rookie safety Jairus Byrd (37 tackles, 8 INT), who had two of the INTs in that game and is tied for the league lead in picks, is questionable for Thursday with a lingering groin problem. Safeties George Wilson (72 tackles, 3 INT, 2 sacks) and Donte Whitner (37 tackles, 2 INT) will have to help compensate if Byrd is unavailable. Whitner posted an INT in last week's game against the Dolphins, as did cornerback Drayton Florence (40 tackles, 1 INT). End Aaron Schobel (38 tackles, 6 sacks) continues to lead the Bills' pass rush. Buffalo will have to be light years better against the run than it was in Week 6 against the Jets, when Jones' effort was part of a 318-yard rushing day for New York. That job will be made harder if linebacker Chris Draft (28 tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT), who had an INT in last week's win, is unable to shake off a neck issue to be in the lineup. At the moment, Buffalo's depleted LB corps is being led by middle man Paul Posluzsny (69 tackles, 1 INT) and converted safety Bryan Scott (57 tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT), with tackles Marcus Stroud (43 tackles, 2 sacks) and Kyle Williams (43 tackles, 1 sack) trying to do their part from the trenches. The Bills are dead last in the league against the run (165.1 yards per game) and in yards allowed per carry (4.8).
WHEN THE BILLS HAVE THE BALL
The Bills have been battered along the offensive line all season, but in a rare twist, should be able to start all five of last week's o-line starters for a second straight week. That group includes ex-Steelers right guard Kendall Simmons, who started against the Dolphins last Sunday after being signed off the street earlier in the week. The line will have to do a better job of protecting Fitzpatrick (905 passing yards, 4 TD, 7 INT), whose athleticism showed as he rushed seven times for 50 yards and a touchdown in addition to his solid passing numbers. Fewell has placed an obvious emphasis on getting the ball to Owens (40 receptions, 4 TD) and Jackson (601 rushing yards, 32 receptions, 3 TD), at the expense of former top target Lee Evans (30 receptions, 5 TD) as well as Lynch (278 rushing yards, 1 TD, 22 receptions). Evans, who had four catches for 68 yards and a touchdown in the previous meeting with the Jets, has caught a total of three balls for 55 yards without a touchdown in the last two weeks. Tight end Shawn Nelson (11 receptions, 1 TD) could also be a factor for Buffalo in the passing game on Thursday night.
Given the Bills' renewed efforts to establish a vertical game, the Jets secondary will need to post another strong effort on Thursday night. Revis (39 tackles, 4 INT) and fellow cornerback Lito Sheppard (14 tackles, 1 INT) will likely have primary responsibility for defending Owens and Evans, with safeties Rhodes (48 tackles, 2 INT), Eric Smith (38 tackles, 1 INT), and Jim Leonhard (61 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 1 INT) among those helping out over the top. But it will also be critical for New York's inconsistent pass rush to get some work done against the Bills' patchwork o-line, meaning top pass rushers Calvin Pace (35 tackles, 5 sacks) and Shaun Ellis (41 tackles, 4.5 sacks) need to be active. Pace has five sacks in his last five games, including one last week, while Thomas has posted four sacks over his last four contests. A run-stopping group that seemingly took a hit when nose tackle Kris Jenkins was lost for the season a few weeks back did a terrific job against the Panthers running game last Sunday, limiting DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart to a combined 75 yards on 25 carries. Linebackers David Harris (94 tackles, 4.5 sacks, 1 INT) and Bart Scott (65 tackles, 1 sack) will be among those trying to limit Jackson in Toronto, while Jenkins fill-in Sione Pouha (35 tackles) will try to make his presence felt at the point of attack. The Jets' 3.9 yards allowed per rush attempt ranks in the NFL top 10.
Though you probably can't count on another 210-yard game out of Thomas Jones this time around, Jones should have little trouble reaching triple-digits in this game and is a worthy start. Anyone else on the Jets carries risk, but Keller, Edwards, and the New York defense are worth considering.
On the Bills side, Owens will be in most fantasy lineups this week, but remember that he'll likely be going up against the Pro Bowler Revis and could have trouble duplicating his production of the last couple of outings. A better play might be Jackson, who is going to get the touches you want out of a starting running back. The Buffalo defense is also a strong play, given its ability to make plays and the fact that it will be going up against the error- prone Sanchez.
The Bills have looked like a more relaxed football team in these past couple of weeks since Jauron's firing, and should continue to play fast and loose in their third game under Fewell. The trouble for Buffalo comes from a talent perspective, where there are backups playing everywhere, including at several key positions, and that's a situation that is going to catch up to the Bills more weeks than not. The Jets, meanwhile, finally played last week like the team that went 3-0 in September, and the confidence gained against the Panthers should carry over to this primetime tilt. If Sanchez can stay out of mistakes on Thursday night, look for Ryan's team to come away with the win that will put them back at .500.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Jets 23, Bills 16
12/02 16:10:16 ET
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