Buffalo Bills (0-0) at New York Jets (0-0)
I identified Buffalo as one of my underrated teams coming into the season. They were 5-2 last year before injuries struck and averaging 30.1 points per game. Then Fitzpatrick, who was 155 of 229 (67.7%) for 1739 yards (7.6 YPA), 14 touchdowns, and 7 interceptions through 7 games, broke some ribs which hampered his ability to play for the rest of the season, as he finished by completing 198 of 340 (58.2%) for 2093 yards (6.2 YPA), 10 touchdowns, and 16 interceptions, leading the offense to 18.1 points per game.
They also lost key members of their offensive line to injury shortly after that, which is important because up until that point, they were the league’s best offensive line, allowing just 8 sacks, 13 quarterback hits, and 28 quarterback pressures in their first 9 games. Fitzpatrick has proven he can make throws and move the chains when he has time, but he threw 8 interceptions to 2 touchdowns under pressure last year and his under pressure accuracy percentage (doesn’t count drops, throw aways, hit as throwns, spikes, or batted passes) was 53.3%, 3rd worst in the NFL. Eric Wood is back, but Demetress Bell is not, instead being replaced by 2nd round rookie Cordy Glenn. If he can hold up, Fitzpatrick should have a solid year. And I haven’t even mentioned Fred Jackson, who looked like an MVP candidate through 10 games before getting hurt.
Now, Fitzpatrick is obviously not a proven commodity. There’s a chance his 7 game stretch last year was just a fluke, but he probably isn’t as bad as he was in their final 9 games either and as long as he is solid, the Bills should be able to field a competitive team. They have two great running backs in Fred Jackson and CJ Spiller, a great offensive line, and a much improved defense. Only 2 teams had fewer than the 29 sacks they had last year and 9 of those 29 sacks came in one game against Washington’s terrible offensive line. No one had more than 6 sacks and only 3 players had more than 3 sacks.
Now they add Mario Williams, one of the best pass rushers in the league, Mark Anderson, who had had 15 sacks, 6 quarterback hits, and 36 quarterback pressures on 420 pass rush snaps last season, an incredible 13.6% rate. They also return Kyle Williams, ProFootballFocus’ #1 defensive tackle in 2010, to a line that already had Marcell Dareus, the 2nd pick in the 2011 NFL Draft. He should be even better in his 2nd year in the league and all of a sudden, the Bills have one of the best defensive lines in the league and a very solid defense.
That defense should continue to stifle a Jets offense that scored just 1 touchdown all preseason and that was with their 3rd team offense against a 3rd team defense (the guy who caught it was a final cut). You can argue that Tebow’s performance was a fluke and that he’ll be better in real games in a system he fits better, but you can’t argue that Sanchez’ was and he’s still the starting quarterback. Sanchez was a very overrated quarterback over the first 2 years of his career and was exposed last season. He’s completed 55.3% of his passes for 6.5 YPA and 55 touchdowns to 51 interceptions in his career and actually has a worse career QB rating than Tebow, who has the lower completion percentage, but the higher YPA and better TD/INT rate.
He might even be worse this season for two reasons. The former is his confidence. He was reportedly rattled and “floored” when the Jets traded for Tebow, according to receiver Santonio Holmes. That’s not what you want to see. The latter reason is his receiving corps. I know they were bad last season, but they look even worse this season. Santonio Holmes can’t stay healthy and 2nd round rookie Stephen Hill is incredibly raw. If there’s one area where the Bills’ defense is susceptible, it’s at cornerback with a rookie and a 2nd year player starting, but the Jets don’t have the receiving talent at all to take advantage.
The Bills should win the battle upfront defensively with their great defensive line, in addition to winning the battle in the secondary. Sanchez is really bad under pressure. He took a sack on 23.8% of pressured snaps last year, 4th worst in the league, and his under pressure accuracy percentage of 49.0% was dead last in the league. The Jets actually have a decent offensive line, except right tackle Austin Howard, but Sanchez makes them look worse than they are. The Bills’ defensive line will also to that to them.
The Jets best chance of winning this game is if they can establish the run. The Bills shouldn’t be nearly as susceptible to the run as they were last year, when they ranked 27th in YPC, because of their improved defensive line and generally strong front 7. Besides, it’s not like the Jets have the running back talent to effectively run a conservative, run heavy offense, at least not until Tebow becomes the starting quarterback, functions as a much needed 2nd running back, and opens things up on the ground for Shonn Greene the way he did for Willis McGahee last year.
The Jets have a very good defense that should be able to keep the Bills’ offense in check, but I like the Bills to make enough plays come out victorious here. The Jets don’t have the kind of pass rush to beat Buffalo’s great offensive line and a healthy Fitzpatrick should be able to move the chains with consistency, aided by a good running game. Besides, I’m basically going to be betting on my underrated teams blindly until the spreads catch up or the teams prove me wrong. This spread is not accurate saying these two teams are evenly matched (granted, with juice).
Buffalo Bills 17 New York Jets 10 Upset Pick +120
Pick against spread: Buffalo +3 (-135) 2 units