By Brad Carroll
Coming into the new NFL season, no one would have pegged the New York Jets to spend even one day in first place in the AFC East. The actual question on everyone’s mind has been if the Jets will win a game or not. But the Jets season opener against the Buffalo Bills presents an interesting scenario: If the Jets beat Buffalo, they will end the week in first place in the division.
That’s right, this Jets team, which is more linked to the top draft pick next year than winning even five games, could be in first place after Week 1. After the Patriots lost to the Chiefs in the Thursday opener, and the Dolphins being postponed because of the hurricane, the Jets will take over sole possession of first with a win over the Bills.
Nobody could have seen that coming, even if it’s just a one-week stint at the top.
Of course, it won’t be easy. The Jets are huge underdogs to a Bills team that could be as void of talent as they are. The spread currently is at +8, and it’s been as high as +10 in some places. The Jets may end up being bad, but no way are they that bad, especially considering the opponent. The Jets can change some minds come Sunday.
Here are three keys to victory for a Jets team seeking an upset and first place in the AFC East Sunday in Buffalo.
All About The Defense
If you haven’t noticed, not much is expected of a Jets offense that could be the worst in recent memory. The playmakers just aren’t there, the receiving group is beyond inexperienced and the starting quarterback is a journeyman who barely played in the preseason. All that means the Jets defense is going to have to carry the load. The Jets certainly have the personnel on defense to do that, led by linemen Leonard Williams and Mo Wilkerson, along with rookie safeties Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye, who both could turn into stars. The defensive line is superb, even without Sheldon Richardson, who was traded to the Seahawks. The linebacking core can be good, with Darron Lee and Demario Davis, and the secondary could be be better, too, with the two rookie safeties and new cornerback Mo Claiborne. That entire group will have to keep Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor and running back LeSean McCoy in check if they are to win the game. Holding McCoy to under 100 yards rushing could mean an upset win for the Jets. Much like every game this season, it’s going to be on the defense to keep the game close enough where the offense can score just enough to win.
It's On The Offensive Line
If the Jets are going to move the ball consistently on offense Sunday, they are going to have to get the running game going, and that means the offensive line needs to control the line of scrimmage. It won’t be easy considering the Bills are talented up front and the Jets’ offensive line is suspect at best, but they have to find a way to open some holes for Matt Forte and Bilal Powell. Forte starred early in the season last year and Powell could be the Jets only player with playmaking ability, so those two will be key against the Bills. If they both get going, the Jets can win this game. If the offensive line is dominated, it will be a long season opener for Jets fans.
McCown to Kearse
The running game is key, but if the Jets can’t at least threaten to complete some passes Sunday, it’s going to be a long afternoon for Forte and Powell. Josh McCown is the starter at quarterback, at least for the time being, and he has to be hoping newly-acquired wide receiver Jermaine Kearse, who came via the Richardson trade, can create separation on the outside and give the Jets a legitimate option in the passing game. Kearse could help Robby Anderson get open as well, as Kearse should draw the No. 1 corner, while Anderson can hopefully take advantage of the No. 2. The Jets won’t be expected to win games on the arm of McCown this season, but they have to do just enough to keep opposing defense from simply keying on the run. Same holds true for Sunday’s game in Buffalo.