It’s the day many in Buffalo have been waiting for: the start of the 2017 regular season for the Buffalo Bills — and now, a chance to end the day in first place in the AFC East. The Bills are up against the New York Jets, who by many accounts, are going to struggle to rack up victories during the upcoming season.
It’s Sean McDermott’s debut, it’s the first time the home crowd will get to see the regular season version of the Bills, and it could be a chance to kick off the season with a win.
However, while the New York Jets are void of talent in a lot of areas, there are still some reasons to think this could be closer than at first thought. Five things to watch for in the upcoming Bills - Jets matchup:
1) Will we see more from Tyrod Taylor?
- Through the preseason, Bills fans were fairly frustrated with the performance of starting quarterback Tyrod Taylor and the overall showing from the first-team offense. His two-interception performance in Philadelphia certainly didn’t ease any concerns, nor did his brief showing in Baltimore before having to exit with a concussion. However, Bills GM Brandon Beane told 7ABC ahead of the Detroit Lions that they were keeping Taylor in the pocket more by design because they know he can do all the other stuff, and to get him more experience with that part of the offense. The way it was said, it leads you to believe that the Bills will open the floodgates for Taylor and will utilize his mobility the way it likely should be. That much was hinted at by quarterbacks coach David Culley when he spoke with Matthew Fairburn of NYUpstate.com, saying “We can’t wait to unleash him.” Now, there are still a lot of questions regarding Taylor and his long-term outlook with the Bills organization, but the team seems to feel confident that he can be an impact player in this offense. I’d expect to see Taylor on the move a fair bit — maybe not with zone-read like in year’s past — but enough to get him a lot more comfortable than in the preseason. He’ll still need to prove he has the ability within the pocket to the GM, but in the race for a victory this weekend, it makes sense to detach the chains from the preseason.
2) The delicate balance with LeSean McCoy
- Going up against a defense that has a lot of unknown entities like the ones the New York Jets employ, star running back LeSean McCoy has a chance to explode on to the scene in Week One of the 2017 regular season. They want to use him as much as it's necessary, which could make for a much higher usage rate than McCoy has been used to since coming to Buffalo. The Bills want to use him both as a runner and as a receiver out of the backfield which begs the obvious question… how much is too much? There has to be a cognizant approach of not over-working McCoy to the point that he’s putting himself at risk for an injury. We know a couple of things about the situation: McCoy will try to push through whatever he’s going through to stay on the field (see: his hamstring injury in Miami in 2016), and if he does get injured, we know that the offensive attack is basically chopped down at the knees. So, what’s the right answer? Are they just going to use the ‘run him until the wheels fall off’ philosophy? Their plan for him, regardless of the results on Sunday, is one of the biggest Bills storylines in this game.
3) The re-emergence of Jerry Hughes?
- Throughout the summer, it seems like defensive end Jerry Hughes is at home once again. After two years in Rex Ryan’s 3-4 defense as an outside linebacker, Hughes is back in the defensive scheme that brought him back-to-back double-digit sack seasons — and it already looks like he’s back to his old self. Going up against the New York Jets, he’ll be working mainly against left tackle Kelvin Beachum — a player that performed well below expectations with the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2016. Hughes once again looks explosive off the edge in his efforts to rush the passer from a wide angle on the defensive line. With Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams right beside him, I think there is the potential for Hughes to have a dominant first game in Sean McDermott’s defense.
4) Don’t sleep on that Jets defensive line
- I haven’t highlighted too much of the New York Jets team in a positive light because, well, there isn’t that much to highlight. For much of their lineup, it’s a roster that’s in crying need of more starting caliber players. However, that does not include the defensive line — which still features three very good players that will be a challenge for the Bills. Heading into his third season, Leonard Williams has been outstanding and has all the makings to become a defensive star for the New York Jets. He will be a challenge for whoever he lines up against, and especially working against Cordy Glenn (who is still dealing with the ankle injury that defined his summer), Williams could be a nuisance to the Bills in their efforts to establish the running game. Steve McLendon is a solid player up the middle, and I’m not buying the decline of Muhammad Wilkerson as a dominant player just yet. Wilkerson had a down year in 2016, there’s no doubt about that, but at only 27 years old the defensive lineman still has plenty of game left in him. Especially considering the matchup he’ll have the majority of the game versus the struggling right side of the Bills offensive line (John Miller and Jordan Mills), he could have a major impact on Sunday.
5) Accounting for Jets RB Bilal Powell
- Offensively, the Jets don’t have a lot of firepower with the group led by quarterback Josh McCown. The strength of the offense likely resides in the backfield, and although Matt Forte is the player that most identifies the Jets with, the biggest mismatch for the Bills to me is Bilal Powell. A bonafide receiving threat out of the backfield, he still has the juice in his legs that Forte is losing at this point in his career. The reason why it’s a potential mismatch for the Bills is due to the struggles we’ve seen from starting weakside linebacker Ramon Humber in picking up the running back out of the backfield quickly enough. A lot of times, that will be his responsibility and he has to prove he can adequately do the job, or else Powell could become a nuisance for the Bills. Humber needs to be on top of his game on Sunday.
OUT: DL Jerel Worthy (concussion), LB Tanner Vallejo (knee)
New York Jets
OUT: TE Jordan Leggett (knee), S Rontez Miles (eye)
Prediction: Bills over Jets
- While I think this game could be closer than some do — after all, the Bills have a fair number of deficiencies on their roster which could help lessen the gap between the two teams — I think the Bills should be able to pull this game out to kick off the 2017 season with a victory. Really it all boils down to one man: LeSean McCoy. If he is as effective as I think he could be — and I wouldn’t even put 200 yards from the line of scrimmage out of the equation — he can help the Bills to their first victory of the Sean McDermott era.