It's been a long wait, but finally the Bills are hosting a division game. Buffalo strolls into Sunday's bout at 5-2, a little banged up and desperately looking to recapture its mojo. After racing to a 4-0 start, Dick Jauron's squad has dropped two of three. In a four-way division race, this one carries plenty of December implications. Here's a gameday snapshot:
TERRENCE MCGEE VS. LAVERNANUES COLES
McGee vows he's learned from last week's dreadful malaise. He says Coles won't abuse him the way Ted Ginn Jr. did. Well, the spotlight will stay on him all day. Look for Brett Favre to test McGee's bum knee early and often. Fortunately for Buffalo, it appears Ashton Youboty is ready to come back after sitting out with a foot injury. If McGee struggles, the Bills will probably insert the former Buckeye opposite Jabari Greer. The key will be whether McGee's knee can hold up in press coverage. Buffalo's corners will play Favre and the Jets aggressive, which may be too demanding if McGee hasn't properly recovered.
TRENT EDWARDS VS. NEW YORK JETS PASS DEFENSE
The moxie evaporated in the sultry Miami heat last week. For Round Two in a wild ‘n crazy AFC East, Edwards needs to rebound against a vulnerable New York secondary. The Jets' pass defense ranks 23rd in the NFL --- remember Kurt Warner's second-half explosion/near-Frank Reich impersonation a few weeks back? Against a unit that allows 232 yards per game through the air, Edwards must recapture his swagger. Those dinks and dunks that have seemed to extrapolate his confidence in each win. The bad news is that Edwards' safety valve, Josh Reed, has been ruled out with a foot injury. He's been in a walking boot all week. In his stead, diminutive Roscoe Parrish and 6-foot-5 rookie James Hardy must deliver. The Jets will no doubt shade supreme attention toward Lee Evans, which by default puts the pressure on Parrish, Hardy and tight end Robert Royal to get separation. And Edwards must coolly get into a rhythm. It'll be awfully difficult to run on New York's fourth-ranked rush defense.
DUKE PRESTON VS. KRIS JENKINS
At 360 pounds, Kris Jenkins is a load
While the Jets do run a 3-4 defense, which nixes the one-on-one, all-game matchups in the trenches, Preston will most likely be in a dogfight with Jenkins all day. Jason Whittle replacing an injured Brad Butler to Preston's right will be a concern to monitor, but this pairing will make Mark Schlereth drool. Through seven games, the offseason-splash Jenkins has delivered. While he only has 22 tackles, Jenkins anchors a revamped run defense that has quickly become the best in the division. The challenge isn't anything new to Preston. Buffalo's center has held up favorably against nose tackles Jamal Williams of San Diego and Jason Ferguson of Miami. The 6-foot-4, 360-pound Jenkins eats up blockers as a three-hour appetizer, plugs lanes and lets fellow defenders break free untouched. Last week against Kansas City, the Jets had eight tackles for loss – a direct effect of Jenkins' impact. Already this season, the Jets run defense has held three teams under 50 yards. Preston – 6-foot-5, 325 pounds – must neutralize Jenkins in isolation, so Buffalo can use other blockers elsewhere. Keep an eye on this intriguing matchup in the scrum.
James Hardy could be the X-Factor
We're still waiting. Waiting. And waiting for that Randy Moss-frame to produce Randy Moss-stats. This could be the springboard game for Buffalo's second-round pick James Hardy. He's currently seventh on the team in receptions with only seven – one per game for you math geeks. The production has been measly – rookie-wide-receiver patience considered. But this could be the game when opportunity meets luck. Reed's absence will put Hardy on the field more often, and the Jets' secondary is extremely vulnerable. Tyler Thigpen – quite possibly the worst starting quarterback since Bobby Hoying (or should we go with Dan Orlovsky after that clueless excursion out of bounds?) – shredded New York's defense for 280 yards, two touchdowns and no picks. James Hardy isn't exactly Dwayne Bowe (six catches for 102 yards), but he has a similar build. The rookie from Indiana may finally burst onto the scene.
The Favre Factor
Since erupting for six touchdowns against Arizona, Favre has been dreadful. Sure, his team has gone 2-1 and pulled within one game of first place in the AFC East, but Favre's old demons have crept back to life in spots. The 39-year-old has tossed three touchdowns to seven interceptions in the three-game span. Worse? The erratic streak has come against teams with a combined record of 3-19. Give him credit. Favre pulled through in the clutch in both wins, including a cold-blooded touchdown to Coles last week. But this year – like his previous 16 – is yet another chapter in the book of a gunslinger. Every week is a completely new story for Favre. Thread-the-needle first downs between three defenders. Numbing picks into dead air. It's a crap's shoot. Sunday's outcome could solely weigh on which Brett Favre shows up.
At home, the Bills rebound emphatically. Edwards should be able to pick apart an embattled Jets' secondary. Preston will keep Jenkins at bay just enough to open up some holes in the rushing game. And the presence of Youboty winds up being key in pass defense, softening the pressure on McGee. No Favre magic here – he's never won at The Ralph/Rich Stadium.
Bills 31, Jets 24