105.5 The Team – Amidst all the craziness at One Bills Dr. this week there is in fact, a game to play as Buffalo (7-8) travels to the Big Apple for their second meeting of the season with the New York Jets (4-11). A lot has changed since these teams last met back in Week 2; Greg Roman was the offensive coordinator, Rex Ryan was the head coach and Ryan Fitzpatrick was the Jets clear cut starter at QB. Fast forward 15 weeks later and the Bills have an interim head coach in Anthony Lynn, EJ Manuel will be their starting quarterback over Tyrod Taylor and Fitzpatrick, after numerous benchings, backed his way into the starting role thanks to injuries to Geno Smith and Bryce Petty. For a meaningless game, this one should be quite interesting.
Here are three things the Bills must do to finish the season .500.
1) Get EJ Manuel comfortable early
It’s not really groundbreaking to point out that Manuel is a different quarterback than usual starter Tyrod Taylor. Manuel is more of a stand in the pocket guy, while Taylor dazzles with his escapability. Now, the Bills O-line has been stout when it comes to giving a quarterback time in the pocket anyway, but Taylor’s unique dual threat ability often bails them out when mistakes are made. That won’t be the case with Manuel, who wants to be a pocket passer, making the blocking up front even more important. Hopefully with Manuel the ball also comes out a little faster. Either way, the former first-round pick hasn’t started a game since Week 7 of last season – maybe you remember that dreadful 34-31 loss to the Jaguars in London? So getting him comfortable early is a must for the Bills.
2) Win the turnover battle
The Jets enter Week 17 with NFL’s worst turnover differential (-23) and no one else is really even close. The next closest team is Jacksonville at -16, a whole 7 giveaways less than New York. The Jets have lost the turnover battle in a whopping nine games this season. Nine! They’re unsurprisingly 0-9 in such contests. Additionally, in games where they’ve committed two or more turnovers, they’re 1-8. When these two teams squared off in Week 2 the turnover margin was even at one apiece. The overall numbers, however, are telling – the Jets are a turnover machine. Buffalo must take advantage.
3) Just play football
This week has surely felt like an eternity for the Bills following an assortment of changes and controverseys. For players, getting out there accross from an opponent and simply playing ball is the best medecine. The last few weeks have come with the added pressure of needing to win to save Rex Ryan’s job. All that stress is gone this week, so Buffalo should be able to play loose and try to end the season on a positive note.
It’s been discussed excessively all week long; Anthony Lynn is the Bills ninth head coach since Marv Levy retired following the 1997 season. Got it. But how have the previous eight faired in their first game on the sidelines? It’s not pretty. Wade Phillips – the last coach to compile a winning record as Bills head coach – began his three-year stint in 1998 with a 16-14 loss to the San Diego Chargers. Three years with Greg Williams at the helm began in 2001, featuring a 24-6 loss to the New Orleans Saints. Mike Mularkey took over in 2004 and began his brief, two seasons as head coach with a loss as well, 13-10 against the Jaguars. The Dick Jauron era that followed for nearly four seasons, started in 2006 with a 19-17 loss to New England. When Jauron was dismissed nine games into the 2009 campaign, Perry Fewell took over and was also handed a loss in his first game in charge, 18-15 to the Jaguars. For those keeping score at home, that’s 0-5 so far. Of course, Chan Gailey took over for the start of the 2010 season and the Miami Dolphins handed him a loss in his first contest, 15-10. He actually got off to an 0-8 start as a head coach, the worst of any during this span of time. Anyway, then came Doug Marrone in 2013 and what do you know, his tenure began with a 23-21 loss to New England. That leaves the recently fired Rex Ryan, as the only coach since Levy retired to earn a win in his first game, 27-14 over the Indianapolis Colts. That’s a combined record of 1-7 for new Bills head coaches in their first games since 1998. Can Anthony Lynn make it 2-7 against the Jets on Sunday?
As the NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported earlier this week, the Bills apparently view this game as a tryout for Manuel for 2017. If that’s indeed true, boy does this story have a lot of layers. Will they actually bring back Manuel next season as the starter if he performs well, or is he only starting because of Taylor’s groin injury and complex contract situation? Has the Bills front office already decided to pass on picking up Taylor’s option? What does that mean for Tyrod Taylor’s future in Western New York? The decision to start Manuel sparks so many questions, questions we won’t know the answer to until Doug Whaley speaks to the media on Monday.
Only two Bills have been ruled out entirely at this point: T Cordy Glenn (back) and CB Stephon Gilmore (concussion). The latter is particularly interesting given Gilmore’s pending free agency. He may have played in his last game as a Bill. Tyrod Taylor doesn’t have any designation next to his name, but on Friday Anthony Lynn made it known that he’s unlikely to play. That means Cardale Jones will dress for the first time in his career.
Outside of those, six players are questionable including LB Preston Brown (foot), LB Zach Brown (illness), TE Charles Clay (knee), G John Miller (hip), WR Sammy Watkins (foot) and DT Kyle Williams (back).
The biggest injury note for the Jets is veteran running back Matt Forte, who has already been ruled out with a knee injury. The leaves Bilal Powell as the only real threat out of the backfiled and he’s no where near as good of a pass catcher as Forte. Defensively the Jets will be without DT Steve McClendon (hamstring), which could help open things up for the Bills running game. Staying along the defensive line Sheldon Richardson (back) and Muhammed Wilkerson (ankle/knee) are ailing themsevles and both enter Week 17 as questionable.
There’s been a lot of distractions at One Bills Dr. this week with Rex Ryan’s firing, Tyrod Taylor’s benching and the mishandling of both situations by the organization’s front office. And even considering my own criticsms of the franchise and the lack of accountability from within the locker room all the way up to the top, I do think this is a game the Bills win. For starters the game is meaningless and that fact combined with these sweeping changes should allow the Bills to play free and easy. There’s no more worrying about saving your coach’s job. Also, the last time these two teams met it took an unheard of 374-yard passing outing from Ryan Fitzpatrick, which I have a hard time believing will happen again. That effort was an anomly and even with the often unreliable EJ Manuel starting at QB for the Bills, Buffalo should win this game over the inferior Jets. I’ll go Bills 24-17.
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