8:15 PM EST, ESPN – Line: Bills -2.5, Over/Under: 46.5
The NFL’s opening weekend reaches its conclusion in the Meadowlands, where the Buffalo Bills look to make a statement tonight against the growing hype train that has become the new-look, New York Jets, under the bright lights of Monday Night Football from MetLife Stadium. As in all aspects of life, history has a way of repeating itself, with sports being no different, which is a notion that the Bills are nauseatingly familiar with. After all, this is a franchise that ascended to four consecutive Super Bowls only to be met with defeat each time, earning the distinction of being perpetual bridesmaids during the 1990s. Unfortunately, the past three years have looked eerily similar; Buffalo has dominated the AFC East with a 37-13 record (.740), only to fall oh, so short of reaching the Super Bowl, suffering three straight postseason defeats in disappointing fashion. First, they were victimized at Arrowhead by the reigning Lombardi holders in the 2020 AFC Championship Game (24-38), before falling on the wrong side of history a year later at that same venue in one of the wildest performances in recent memory (36-42), while eventually being thoroughly outplayed by the Bengals in last winter’s Division Round despite earning home field advantage (10-27). That repeated disappointment has created a sense of urgency for (Head Coach) Sean McDermott & Co, with many seeing this campaign as Super Bowl or bust, particularly given the improvement of the rest of the division. So, what can we expect from the Bills this fall, you ask? Make no mistake, this is a team that has the talent to reach their goal, with a high-powered offense led by an MVP candidate at QB buoyed by a defense that has performed at an elite level over the past three seasons. Most conversations regarding Buffalo start with (two-time Pro-Bowler) Josh Allen, who has become one of the true elite Quarterbacks in the NFL; the 27-year-old is a physical specimen (6′-5″, 237 lbs) that can beat you with his arm or his legs, throwing 138 touchdowns and rushing for another thirty-eight scores over the course of his five-year career. However, there has been a growing theory that the offense relies too much on his talents, which is why McDermott, (General Manager) Brandon Beane, and (Offensive Coordinator) Ken Dorsey have gone to great lengths over the past two seasons to infuse the attack with more balance in an attempt to not only diversify things, but also keep the signal-caller healthy. After all, Allen (pictured below) did suffer an elbow injury midway through the campaign that affected his play over the second half of the schedule; over the last nine games, he completed just 61.3% of his throws for an average of 231.7 yards on 6.7 net yards per attempt, with sixteen touchdowns opposed to eight interceptions, while racking up another 50.7 rushing yards per game and five scores. Bolstering the run game with options outside of subjecting their franchise QB to punishment was the mandate of the offseason, as the Bills drafted (Rookie Tight End) Dalton Kincaid twentieth overall with designs on running more two-TE formations, which oftentimes fosters more rushing success. Buffalo churned out 139.5 yards per game on the ground last year (7th Overall) on a healthy 5.2 yards per carry (2nd Overall), though Allen accounted for roughly 34% of that figure, while the team’s leading rusher, Devin Singletary left the club in free agency. Despite courting many offseason options in the Backfield, including the Colts’ Jonathon Taylor and the Jets’ Dalvin Cook, McDermott and Beane settled for adding (former Patriot) Damien Harris. With that being said, it is Cook’s younger brother, James, who is expected to flourish this fall; drafted in the second round of the 2022 NFL Draft, Cook logged 687 yards from scrimmage and five total touchdowns despite not starting a single game as a rookie, with his speed and versatility figuring to play a major role in the offense moving forward, particularly with (veteran Tailback) Nyheim Hines out of action all season with a torn ACL.
From a betting perspective, the Bills were 7-11-1 against the spread last season, covering just three of their final twelve games (including playoffs). Buffalo is a middling 5-5 against the spread in their last ten trips away from Orchard Park, while posting a 4-4 mark in that regard as a road favorite last year. That .500 trend continues with this particular matchup versus the Jets, who they have covered five of their last ten meetings against, though failed to do so in each of last season’s encounters in which they were favored by at least ten points on both occasions. However, there are some trends that are working in favor of McDermott’s troops; his team is 4-1-1 against the spread in their last six games as a favorite between 0.5-3.0 points, while covering five of their last seven outings in which they were laying points within that range on the road. Furthermore, they have covered the line in all but one of their last five affairs contested in the month of September. Over the course of his career, Allen is 19-9 versus the rest of the AFC East, including a 6-3 record against New York, in which he has completed 62.1% of his passes for an average of 226.8 yards on 6.41 net yards per attempt, with eight touchdowns opposed to seven interceptions, while rushing for another 456 yards and six scores. No single opponent has sacked him (19) or turned him over (13) more frequently than Gang Green. In fact, during those two meetings last season, his registered a completion percentage NINE points lower than any other opponent, averaged 100.0 fewer yards per game, with more interceptions (2) than touchdowns (1), giving further credence to the notion that the Jets serve as his proverbial kryptonite. On the injury front, the Bills will be without the (eight-time Pro-Bowler) Von Miller for the first four games of the campaign at the very least, as he continues to work himself back following a torn ACL suffered last November. However, (veteran Safety) Micah Hyde, (veteran Tight End) Dawson Knox, and (veteran Guard) Connor McGovern are all listed as probable to participate in tonight’s opener with minor ailments.
Meanwhile, if there was one franchise that dominated the offseason headlines, it was certainly the Jets, who made seismic waves upon trading for (four-time MVP) Aaron Rodgers. It took months to get the deal done, but New York finally found their QB to lead them, hopefully bringing an end to their eternal search for a Franchise Quarterback. Keep in mind that (Head Coach) Robert Saleh and (General Manager) Joe Douglas spent the second overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft on Zach Wilson with the intention of the BYU product being that very figure for the club, though following a dismal sophomore campaign in which he suffered from injury and regression on the field (while also alienating many of his teammates through the media), it became clear that yet another change was needed, lest both leaders fear for their job. Indeed, Gang Green hasn’t had a player at this position reach 4,000 passing yards since Joe Namath did it back in 1978 and have had just one in their history eclipse thirty passing touchdowns (Ryan Fitzpatrick in 2015). For those wondering, Rodgers (pictured below) has totaled at least 4,000 passing yards on ten occasions, while throwing thirty or more scores eight times. Simply put, his CV blows away that of any Quarterback that has put on a Jets uniform; Rodgers has posted a record of 147-75-1 (.659), including eleven trips to the playoffs, eight division titles, an NFC Championship (2010) and Lombardi Trophy in Super Bowl XLV, while completing an average of 65.3% of his passes for 256.8 yards per game on 6.77 net yards per attempt with an insane 475 touchdowns in comparison to just 105 interceptions, compiling thirty-one game-winning drives, twenty-one of which were fourth quarter comebacks. He has also been selected to ten Pro-Bowls and four All-Pro teams, while taking home a quartet of MVP trophies as well as Super Bowl MVP honors in 2011. Easing his transition to the Big Apple, the Jets hired his former QB Coach and Offensive Coordinator from Green Bay, Nathaniel Hackett, to helm the attack, while also signing a pair of his former teammates, (Veteran Receivers) Allen Lazard and Randall Cobb, who have caught a combined 305 passes for 4,223 yards and thirty-eight touchdowns from him. While it may take some time for Rodgers and his supporting vast to get on the same page, they should get plenty of time do so thanks to the presence of an ascending defense that looks poised to be one of the league’s finest this fall. Despite an offense that twenty-ninth in points (17.4) and twenty-fifth in total yards (336.8) last season, Saleh’s defense was stellar nonetheless, rising to fourth overall in both of those categories, yielding 18.6 points per game on 311.0 total yards. Furthermore, they ranked eleventh on third down (38.1%) and fourth in the red zone (47.8%), despite being one of the most least-opportunistic units in the NFL; Gang Green forced just sixteen turnovers, including only TWO over their final eight games of the season. Wilson aside, credit Douglas for drafting very well of late, for this is a team that sported both the Offensive and Defensive Rookies of the Year, with (Receiver) Garrett Wilson and (Cornerback) Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner taking home those respective awards. After logging 1,103 yards four touchdowns with three different QBs throwing him the ball, Wilson figures to thrive working with Rodgers, while Gardner, who asserted himself as a shutdown Corner immediately, is expected to be even better with a year’s worth of experience under his belt. Add it all up, and these Jets are the team to watch this fall, evidenced by the NFL’s positioning of them on primetime; after starring on a thoroughly enjoyable season of HBO’s Hard Knocks, no team will be featured on primetime more than New York, beginning with tonight’s battle with Buffalo.
From a betting perspective, the Jets were a middling 8-9 against the spread last season, finishing the campaign with four consecutive losses in that regard. New York covered the line in just three of their eight home games in 2022, while posting a 2-3 mark in the contests in which they were branded underdogs by the oddsmakers. Gang Green is just 3-7 against the spread over their last ten outings, though marginally better at MetLife Stadium, where they have covered five of their last ten affairs. However, being an underdog against the Bills has been a reasonable position for those wagering on them, as Saleh’s troops have covered six of their last ten meetings with their instate rivals to the west, including each of last season’s encounters. With that being said, this is a team that has routinely underwhelmed in season openers, failing to cover the spread on four consecutive occasions, with their most recent being a 9-24 loss at home to the Ravens as a 6.5-point underdog last fall. Much has been made of the impact that Rodgers is expected to make on these Jets, who have been dying for elevated play at Quarterback, though it remains to be seen what that means for this particular matchup with the Bills. Over the course of his Hall of Fame career, Rodgers has split four meetings with Buffalo, completing just 54.6% of his passes for an average of 235.3 yards on 6.39 net yards per attempt, with six total touchdowns and five total turnovers. In their most recent encounter, a 27-17 Bills victory last October, the four-time MVP turned a lukewarm performance with 203 yards on 19-of-30 passing with a pair of touchdowns and an interception, though the bulk of that production happened with his former team trailing 7-24 at halftime. On the injury front, there is quite a bit to talk about with these Jets, who should see the debut of (Pro-Bowl Tailback) Dalvin Cook alongside the return of (Sophomore Tailback) Breece Hall, who missed the final ten games of his rookie campaign with a torn ACL. However, there are serious concerns over the Offensive Line, with (Tackles) Mekih Becton and Duane Brown both listed as questionable, with the former rehabbing from a torn ACL, while the latter has been dealing with a shoulder issue. This will likely be the key to tonight’s affair, as New York looks to protect their 39-year-old Quarterback against one of the league’s staunchest defenses.