ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Three things crowding my thoughts as the Bills get ready to close out the regular season and win a second straight division title…
No Small Achievement
Seen through the lens of preseason expectations, Sunday’s season finale for the Bills is no big deal. This season is supposed to be about Super Bowls and championships. While winning the division is an important step on that road, it was just one step and something that most of the football world thought was fait accompli before the season started.
In addition, very little resistance is expected from the other sideline in the 4-12 Jets. Anything short of a comfortable win would be an eyebrow-raiser.
However, I think the Bills are very much excited about the chance to win the division at home and are looking forward to providing BillsMafia that thrill. Jordan Poyer talked this week about the 20-year season ticket holder who has never had a chance to see Buffalo win the AFC East at Highmark Stadium. Micah Hyde said it gave him chills to think about getting the clinching win at home because it’s something he didn’t even do during his four playoff seasons in Green Bay.
The playoff spot clinching win last week against Atlanta was celebrated with all the fanfare of winning two bucks on a scratch-off ticket and the Bills’ focus in the game did seem to wane in the second quarter when the Falcons rallied. I don’t expect either to repeat this Sunday.
Not A Total Crash And Burn
It’s no cause for concern, but the Jets are playing their best football of the season over the last few weeks. They’ve gone three weeks without a double-digit loss for the first time all year. They put 24 points on pretty good defenses in Miami and Tampa. Zach Wilson does not have an interception in his last four games.
The priority for the Bills should be to shut down the Jets ground game. New York has six games of 100 yards rushing or more all season, but half those have come in the last three weeks. Nothing makes it easier for a rookie quarterback to move the offense than NOT having to move the offense.
Stopping the run remains a bugaboo for a Bills D that now ranks 19th in rush yards allowed this season and Jets top back Micheal Carter is having a promising finish to his rookie season. If Buffalo can slow Carter and a solid run-blocking O-Line, it could be open season on Wilson. Sean McDermott defenses in Buffalo have allowed rookie quarterbacks four TD passes against 20 interceptions.
1, 2, 3, Cancun!
Picking winners for the last week of the NFL season is usually shooting fish in a barrel. Just figure out which team cares about the game more.
For teams that are out of the playoffs, this weekend is the last day of work before vacation. These guys may be highly paid to play a game, but this is still their job and they get excited about time off the same as you. In addition, no one wants to get an injury in the final game of the season because “vacation” gets replaced with “rehab”.
The Jets aren’t your typical bad team playing out the stretch. They are the NFL’s youngest team and have rookies that are still trying to impress on both sides of the ball. I expect Robert Saleh will have his team hungry to continue their decent stretch and finish the season on an ascending note.
This needs to be a game where the Bills don’t mess around and bury an opponent early. Not only might it drain the Jets’ will to fight, it will give the Bills a chance to remove key starters early. Nothing will punctuate a division title better than Josh Allen spending the whole fourth quarter in a cap and jacket waving at the fans.
The Jacksonville loss will continue providing pause to lackadaisical assumptions about the Bills winning any game. There’s good reason not to expect a repeat simply because this game is in Orchard Park, but also because Buffalo is playing its best football since the first month of the season.
This is also a good opportunity to build on the recent success of Devin Singletary. The Jets have allowed the NFL’s 4th most rushing yards and have held only three teams under 100 yards in a game. Even against a last place team, Brian Daboll can still help cement some confidence in the offense’s “off-speed pitch” heading into the playoffs.
It doesn’t hurt that the Jets injury situation on offense remains a total mess. Top free agent Corey Davis went on injured reserve weeks ago. Rookie breakout Elijah Moore had hopes of coming off injured reserve for this final game, but that hope has waned as the week went on. Do it all gadget wideout Braxton Berrios has struggled all week with a quad injury. The Jets are also down to their third-string left tackle in former Bill Conor McDermott.
The Bills, on the other hand, remain fairly healthy. Ryan Bates appears to have avoided significant injury and should be good to go. Buffalo might have finally discovered their best offensive line combo and will get to test that assumption for another 60 minutes.
It’s possible a bit of rain might dampen the evening, but this should be a three-hour celebration for BillsMafia. This season might not be the 15-2, AFC top seed claiming juggernaut that was hoped, but putting together a strong December/January finish to win the division is still an impressive accomplishment. I don’t see much reason to expect much of a speed bump Sunday. I’ll take the Bills 34-6.