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Weekend Look Ahead

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5 things to watch for in Bills vs. Jets | Week 18


1. Division title rarity

Last season, the Bills broke a quarter century division title drought with their first AFC East title since 1995. That title in 2020 however, was clinched on the road in Denver. Sean McDermott's team will have the opportunity to clinch their second straight division title at home in front of their fans at Highmark Stadium.

If Buffalo can pull off the win over the Jets on Sunday it would be the first time the Bills clinch the AFC East crown in front of their fans since 1995. Back then, Marv Levy's Bills overcame key player injuries to clinch the division over the rival Dolphins in a Week 16 game at then Rich Stadium.

LB David White intercepted a Dan Marino pass at the Miami 20 and returned it to the Dolphins 11-yard line with seven minutes left in regulation of a 20-20 game. Four plays later Steve Christie put what proved to be a game-winning 25-yard field goal up and through for a 23-20 victory and the AFC East title.

Winning the division Sunday would also make McDermott's Bills the first back-to-back AFC East Champions not named the New England Patriots since 1991, when Levy's Bills won four straight division titles from 1988-1991.

2. Will Bills run it back?

Back in Week 10, the Bills made good use of their ground game to help them build a 17-3 first half lead en route to a 45-17 victory. Buffalo used all three of their backs as Devin Singletary, Zack Moss and Matt Breida combined for 98 yards on 17 carries for a 5.76 average and three rushing touchdowns.

Offensive coordinator Brian Daboll also pressed the edges of the Jets defense with Isaiah McKenzie and Emmanuel Sanders with jet sweeps and end arounds and outflanked New York on an eight-yard touchdown run.

Buffalo finished the game with their largest yards per carry average of the season in games in which they had at least 20 carries (5.8). Their second highest this season with at least 20 rushes came just last week against the Falcons (5.3).

"It was a lot of yards, and we made a lot of critical plays at critical times," said Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll of the team's season high 233 yards rushing. "It's team football regardless, it's quarterback decision-making on a few of those plays with the design of them, whether it's an RPO or read, or whatever it may be. But in order to run the ball, you've got to be physical up front. Just see the hole and hit the hole, and you've got to run with the ball in your hand and you need blocks from the perimeter guys to finish. That's the run game. They did a good job with it (last Sunday)."

Might the Bills attempt to find similar success on the ground in their second meeting with New York?

Daboll typically changes up the approach for a second meeting with a division opponent. But with the improved consistency of Buffalo's rushing attack and Devin Singletary establishing himself as the Bills' primary back, it would be hard not to think there will be a healthy mix of run calls.

The Jets defense ranks 29th in the league against the run as they're surrendering an average of more than 136 yards on the ground per game. Buffalo was slightly over that total in the first meeting with 139.

3. Jets rookie QB making progress

In their first meeting with the Jets back in Week 10, the Bills did not face Jets rookie QB Zach Wilson. He was out of the lineup with a knee injury. Instead, they faced backup Mike White and he threw four interceptions. Coming down the stretch of his first NFL season as a starter, Wilson has been showing signs of improvement.

"In the beginning of the year he didn't really trust the pocket and would leave the pocket too early and rely on his athleticism and his big arm. But now he's starting to play within the framework of the offense," said Jets color analyst Leger Douzable in an appearance on ‘One Bills Live’ this week. "This past game against Tampa Bay was undoubtedly his best game of the season. He was on point with the football when it came to accuracy. It's a timing-based offense and he knows where to go with the football, but what stood out to me was his anticipation in the pass game. He trusts his protection and the system now and it's made a big difference."

Wilson was 19-33 for 234 yards and a touchdown and his 89.7 rating was his second highest on the year.

"Definitely a different quarterback than Mike White," said Levi Wallace of Wilson. "He's a lot more athletic, I think a lot of his big plays come up when he's out of the pocket creating plays. He has great arm talent, and he's hard to defend and prepare for, so it's going to be a group effort to try to contain him."

Wilson has also turned the ball over a lot less of late. He's now gone four straight games without throwing an interception, a span of 136 pass attempts.

4. New York on its third left tackle

The New York Jets were encouraged by what they felt they had assembled at the outset of the season with respect to their offensive line. 2020 first-round pick Mekhi Becton would man left tackle. Free agent additions Morgan Moses and Dan Feeney helped to provide a veteran presence and first-round pick Alijah Vera-Tucker added a promising young starter to the group.

But Becton suffered a serious injury in Week 1 and was lost for the season. Other starting linemen have been in and out of the lineup and just this past week, Becton's replacement at left tackle, George Fant went down with a knee injury in the first half against Tampa Bay and was put on injured reserve this week.

Chuma Edoga, who stepped in to Fant in last week's game for 41 snaps, would be the expected starter. He missed practice on Wednesday with a knee injury, but practiced fully on Thursday. If for some reason Edoga can't go the starting job would fall to former Bills backup OT Conor McDermott.

"Chuma came in last week and we'll have to see what his injury status looks like at the end of the week," said Douzable. "Conor McDermott started in the Miami game when George Fant was hurt. Fant was having a great season. He had only given up one sack and under 15 QB pressures the whole year. He was playing at a high level. McDermott could slide into that role. He's played as a sixth offensive lineman. He started the Miami game and had some struggles. Chuma starts if he's able, otherwise it's McDermott."

The Jets also claimed OT Greg Senat off waivers from Indianapolis this week. The former Baltimore sixth-round pick in 2018 has appeared in 10 games in his career.

5. Tightening things up

The Jets season-long statistics are not pretty in a lot of categories. They're 25th in scoring and have given up more points than any other team in the league defensively. But each of their last three games have been one-score affairs. In fact, five of their last seven games have been decided by seven points or less, with their last two decided by nine points combined.

New York only won two of their close games, beating Houston by seven and Jacksonville by five, but Josh Allen sees a team still battling for their head coach.

"This is a group that plays extremely hard," said Allen of the Jets. "Obviously, they took Tampa down to the last 30 seconds and they had their opportunities in that game, but it's a hungry defense. Their coach is extremely energetic, and we know that they're going to be pumped up and ready to come play and try to take the division away from us at home.

"If I was in that position, I'd feel the same way. It's an opportunity for them to come in here and do something special in their eyes and end their season on a good note and get some momentum towards next season. So, they're playing really fast. They're playing very physical and they're going to play very hungry on Sunday."

Two of New York's wins have come against two division winning playoff teams as they beat Tennessee in overtime (27-24) and Cincinnati by a field goal (34-31).

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