There are a lot of interesting angles to the Thursday Night Football game between the New York Jets and Buffalo Bills, but the most important of them is how these two teams take it from here to somehow disrupt the New England Patriots, if it’s possible at all.
There have been only two instances since 2001 that someone other than the New England Patriots has won the AFC East. In 2002, with three teams finishing at 9-7 and the Jets finishing first and in 2008. The Patriots, rebounding from their Super Bowl loss after a perfect regular season, lost Tom Brady on the opening day. They still finished 11-5 with Matt Cassel at quarterback, but surprisingly, it wasn’t enough to make the postseason. The Dolphins were also 11-5 that year, and got the top spot and playoff seeding.
But overall, this has been a one-sided division, more than any other in football, although the Patriots are pretty much better than everyone else as well, winning four Super Bowls in the last 15 years and making two others, losing to the New York Giants. In the meantime, the Bills have the longest playoff drought in the NFL, the Dolphins haven’t been to the postseason since 2008 and the Jets arrive there from time to time, but haven’t gotten past the AFC championship game.
The preseason hype was strong with the Bills due to the arrival of Rex Ryan to the head coaching position. The quarterback position was an issue, but Ryan going with Tyrod Taylor of all players seemed to be the right, fitting choice. However, defensively there has been a problem because Ryan seems to be playing a defense that doesn’t fit the talent of his current players, and the team is suffering from the usual inconsistencies of a Rex Ryan team.
Todd Bowles has done a very good job with the 5-3 Jets so far, with Ryan Fitzpatrick stepping up for the injured Geno Smith and showing that he actually might be good enough to finally lead a team into the playoffs. A good running game, an excellent defense and playing a simple, maybe ultra conservative offense that’s about not making mistakes, tailored around the limitations of his players. The Jets gave the Patriots their most difficult game of the season.
The meeting between the Bills and the Jets focuses on Ryan and the team he coached for six seasons, starting out as the hottest thing around (two consecutive AFC championship games) but finishing his tenure with a 4-12 season, missing the playoffs four consecutive years. It’s about Ryan using I.K. Enemkpali as his captain for the game in order to rub it into the Jets and Smith. Enemkpali broke Smith’s jaw before the season began in an argument about money. But where these teams can go from here might be the more important issue.
Right now, the 4-4 Bills and the 5-3 Jets make it into the playoffs, which for both teams would count as a big success. But even if it does seem like the Bill Belichick – Tom Brady regime will keep this division subdued until the end of time, the bigger goal here has to be winning a Super Bowl for any franchise in this league. That won’t be done until the Patriots are finally toppled, or at least beaten, something both teams rarely get to do in recent years.