The Buffalo Bills 60th season opens in similar fashion to the first one — a road game against New York.
The Bills kicked off play in the old AFL on September 11, 1960 with a 27-3 loss to the New York Titans (now the Jets) in the Polo Grounds. Sunday marks the 117th all-time regular season meeting between the franchises. The Jets have taken four of the last six games against Buffalo, but the Bills lead the all-time series with 61 wins; the Jets have won 55.
Here are the top storylines to follow as the Bills get set to faceoff against the Jets this week:
1. YEAR TWO: JOSH ALLEN VS. SAM DARNOLD
The two first-round 2018 quarterbacks are good friends and moving towards a career-long rivalry. But because of injuries, they only faced each other once last year in New York’s 27-23 win in Orchard Park last December.
Sam Darnold out-passed Josh Allen in that game, completing 66 percent of his passes for 179 yards with one touchdown and one interception. Allen hit 50 percent of his passes and threw two interceptions.
But Buffalo’s quarterback ran it nine times for 101 yards and one touchdown. Allen did get sacked three times.
Bills head coach Sean McDermott was asked this week how much different Darnold looks compared to his rookie year.
“He looks like he’s composed. I don’t think that’s different,” McDermott answered. “We’re seeing a good solid quarterback who’s young but he’s progressing and developing. We’ll have our work cut out for us defensively because of what he does.”
2. BILLS NEW ARSENAL OF WEAPONS
Buffalo’s offseason focus was on adding firepower to the offense and Sunday’s game in New Jersey is the first real test. Free agent receivers John Brown, Cole Beasley, and Andre Roberts will play their first games for Buffalo. Rookie tight ends Dawson Knox and Tommy Sweeney make their NFL debuts. And the Bills have three new running backs: veterans Frank Gore and T.J. Yeldon, and rookie Devin Singletary.
After an impressive preseason, Singletary, Buffalo’s third-round draft pick, provides the most intrigue in the offensive backfield.
“There's also a projection of showing our confidence in a young player that we believe he can ascend and develop and that's what we do as coaches,” said McDermott. “And that's what our players and the DNA of our players, these guys take a lot of pride in what they do.”
3. IT’S WHAT’S UP FRONT THAT COUNTS
That new Bills offensive weaponry will have nowhere to go if the offensive line isn’t fixed. And this is the first week since training camp began that the Bills appear to have most of their new pieces in place up front.
Free agent center Mitch Morse will anchor the line for the first time after missing virtually all of preseason in concussion protocol. “We’re a go,” McDermott said Monday on the plan for Morse.
What’s around him may be revealed later this week. The Bills are not saying whether second-round draft pick Cody Ford starts at guard or tackle. Veteran Ty Nsekhe should be ready to line up at right tackle if called and Jon Feliciano and Quinton Spain have seen significant time at the guards spots in the preseason. Depending on how it all shakes out, left tackle Dion Dawkins will most likely be the only returning starter from 2018.
Whoever lines up on Buffalo’s offensive line will face one of the team’s stiffest tests of the season right off the bat. The Jets feature the Williams boys up front – third-overall pick Quinnen Williams in his first NFL game and Pro Bowl veteran Leonard Williams. And that’s just the beginning.
4. UP AGAINST A “DEFFENSIVE GURU”
It’s been 16 years since Gregg Williams was dismissed as Bills head coach. And he’s now at his ninth NFL stop since then as the new Defensive Coordinator of the New York Jets. Williams has spent 20 seasons in the league as either a head coach or defensive coordinator.
And in every stop, he’s always been regarded as a defensive mastermind with a knack for finding a way to pressure opposing quarterbacks. Expect most of the same this week as Williams game plans to stop Josh Allen.
Two of Williams’ key pieces are missing this week, however. Linebacker Avery Williamson is out all season with a torn ACL and linebacker Brandon Copeland is serving a four-game suspension for using PEDs.
5. BELL IS BACK
We’ll get answers to one of the great mysteries of the 2019 NFL season this week — will running back Le’veon Bell be a dominant player after taking the 2018 NFL season off? The Jets prize free agent running back is ready to go after sitting out the 2018 season in a contract dispute with the Steelers. He did not play at all in the Jets preseason.
So, it’s been more than 600 days without game action for the talented dual-purpose running back. Bell hasn’t played since the Steelers January 2018 playoff loss to Jacksonville.
Will he be the same dynamic performer in the run and pass game?
Will there be any rust?
Does he have something to prove?
“He’s one of the best backs around the league,” Sean McDermott said this week. “He hasn’t played for some time, and that probably helps him. He’s elusive, tough to bring down and one of the best backs, in my opinion, in the game.”
6. SPECIAL TEAMS QUESTIONS
Both the Bills and the Jets go into the week with questions on special teams.
The Bills got an inconsistent, uneven performance in the preseason from second-year punter Corey Bojorquez. They admitted keeping an eye open for possible punting help this week.
“It's obviously something we've looked at and evaluated what else is out there,” Bills general manager Brandon Beane said Sunday. “You also have to take in the holder part of it too, we don't want to be flip-flopping too much. But we'll definitely do our due diligence and keep an eye if we think there is a guy that would be a better fit.”
Jets new head coach Adam Gase kept coordinator Brant Boyer around from the previous regime. But New York let two Pro Bowl special teamers get away — returner Andre Roberts (to the Bills) and kicker Jason Myers.
7. HOME AWAY FROM HOME
The Bills can settle into the visitor’s locker room at Met Life Stadium this week. They’ll be right back there next week to play the Giants.
Since 2014, the Bills are 3-2 against the Jets on the road and will be looking for their second-consecutive win in the stadium after beating the Jets 41-10 in 2018.