By Abe Gutierrez
A pair of head coaches on the proverbial “hot seat” will collide in Week 17 of the 2016 NFL season when the Buffalo Bills visit the New York Jets. MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey will serve as the backdrop for this rather meaningless game. Opening kickoff is scheduled for Sunday at 1 p.m. ET and it will be broadcast live on CBS.
This will be the 113th time that the Jets and Bills have met on the gridiron. Due to the fact that they reside in the same division, the last time they met was earlier this season in Orchard Park, New York. Led by running back Matt Forte (100 yards on 30 rushes, 3 TDs) and quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick (24-34, 374 yards, TD and no INTs for a 116.5 QBR), the Jets defeated the Bills by a final score of 37-31 in the second game of the season.
Buffalo Bills record: 7-8-0
Prior to last week’s contest against the Dolphins, the Bills were a .500 ballclub with slim playoff hopes. However, at 7-8-0 on the year, those aspirations have evaporated and Buffalo has been eliminated from postseason contention. Heading into what could be Rex Ryan’s final game as the Bills head coach, Buffalo sports a 4-4 record at home, is 3-4 on the road, 1-4 against the AFC East, 4-7 versus the AFC Conference, 3-1 when facing non-conference foes and have lost three of their last five games.
Bills on offense
Offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn is in charge of a unit that ranks first in the league in rushing yards per game. Buffalo comes into the season finale averaging an eye-popping 170.8 rushing yards per contest, and they count on a trio of players to get that done.
Veteran running back LeSean McCoy is the Bills’ leading rusher and his 1,257 yards are good enough for fourth best in the National Football League. Quarterback Tyrod Taylor is the franchise’s second-leading rusher this season (580 yards) while backup halfback Mike Gillislee (537 yards) is also a key player in the Bills’ offensive scheme.
Through the air, the Bills’ attack is anchored by tight end Charles Clay, who leads the way in receiving yards (532 yards on 54 carries). The ex-Dolphin is coming off a two-touchdown effort against his former team in last week’s 34-31 loss. The aforementioned McCoy is also a key contributor in the aerial attack, as the halfback is second in the team with 350 receiving yards on 49 grabs this season.
Buffalo’s offense ranks seventh in points per game (25.9), 12th in yards (362.4) and 31st in passing yards per game (191.6).
Bills on defense
Even though Dennis Thurman is the Bills’ defensive coordinator, Rex’s twin brother, Rob Ryan (assistant head coach/defense), has his hands on everything related to this defense. They are in charge of a D-unit that ranks seventh in passing yards per game (225.3), 15th in points (23.2), 19th in total yards (358.9) and 28th in rushing yards per game (133.5).
As one can see by those numbers, this team has holes for the Jets to exploit, particularly on the ground. Last week against Miami, the Bills’ resistance allowed Fins running back Jay Ajayi to rush for more than 200 yards for the second time this season.
Thurman and Rob rely heavily on disguising their blitz packages in order to create havoc in the backfield and force turnovers. At the forefront of Buffalo’s defense is leading tackler Zach Brown (138 tackles: 93 total, 45 assist 4 sacks) at the inside linebacker position, as well as outside linebacker Lorenzo Alexander, who leads the way in sacks (11.5) to go along with his 72 tackles (52 total, 20 assist) and three forced fumbles.
Bills players to watch: Tyrod Taylor, Zach Brown
Offensively, there’s no question that the Bills player to watch is quarterback Tyrod Taylor. His ability to abandon the pocket and rack up yards on the ground makes him very difficult to contain. Aside from his passing numbers (436-269, 3023 yards, 17 TDs, 6 INTs, 89.7 QBR), the sixth-year man out Virginia Tech has rushed for 580 yards on 95 attempts and six touchdowns.
On defense, Todd Bowles and his staff must keep close tabs on the aforementioned sixth-year pro out of North Carolina. Brown heads into the finale ranked fourth in the league in tackles (138), 4 sacks, a pair of forced fumbles and a pick.
According to NFL oddsmakers, the New York Jets are expected to lose the finale to the Buffalo Bills. Point spreads for this contest classify list the Jets (+6½) as six-and-a-half-point underdogs, while the Bills (-6½) will have the same spread to satisfy despite being on the road.