With a record of 10-5 the Jets are on the cusp of a playoff birth. Win and they are in, no scoreboard watching and no help from anyone but themselves. In most people's eyes the Jets have overachieved this year and at this moment everyone would consider this season as a success. If the Steelers won last week and this week and the Jets finished 11-5 but missed the playoffs most would still have considered that a success, but with just one game, and one Rex Ryan, between them and the playoffs a loss would tarnish that success.
This is a game the Jets should, and must, win. There's no room for error, no 'well it was a fun ride and you can see the arrow pointing up for this franchise under the leadership of Todd Bowles and Mike Maccagnan.' It has been a fun ride and fans can feel confident about the state of leadership of this team, even with a loss, but a loss to the Bills, to be swept by the coach they just fired last year, tomorrow could only be looked at as a failure.
This matchup is exactly what the NFL had in mind when they decided the last week of the regular season would only consist of division matchups. If it's not two teams battling for one playoff spot, at least it's a division rival motivated to keep their opponent from getting in the playoffs at their expense.
WHEN: Sunday January 3, 2016 1 pm EST
WHERE: Ralph Wilson Stadium Orchard Park, NY
KEYS TO THE GAME:
Run the ball with some consistency - Ryan Fitzpatrick has been outstanding for the Jets this season. He hasn't just been outstanding by Ryan Fitzpatrick standards he's just been flat-out outstanding. The same can be said for Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker, though their outstanding play is far less surprising, and Quincy Enunwa and Kenbrell Thompkins have come on to contribute just enough in key moments to keep the passing game humming. This all must continue tomorrow for the Jets to get the win, but they also need to find some consistency in the running game.
Chris Ivory was an unstoppable force the first month or so of the season but he hasn't been able to get back into that dominating groove since he started collecting minor injuries and the offensive line play slipped. Bilal Powell has stepped it up, mostly in the passing game both as a receiver and a pass protector, as he has simply looked like the fresher running back, hitting holes harder and running with more of a purpose. But Powell is unlikely to play tomorrow so it will be up to Ivory and Stevan Ridley to do work against a Bills defense that is giving up 107.2 yards per game on the ground at 4.3 yards per carry. The passing game has carried the Jets these past five weeks but some balance from a quality rushing attack would sure make this game a lot easier for the Jets to win, especially if the weather plays an impact and the wind is always an issue at Ralph Wilson Stadium.
Contain Tyrod Taylor - As surprising as Fitzpatrick's play has been this season the impressive play of Tyrod Taylor might be even more surprising. Taylor is a dangerous runner but the way he has been passing the ball, especially once he rolls out of the pocket and takes shots downfield, has been even more impressive. Of course it helps to have receivers like Sammy Watkins, Robert Woods and a tight end like Charles Clay, but Woods and Clay won't be playing tomorrow so Taylor's reliable targets consist of Watkins and Chris Hogan.
Taylor has been great this year but he won't likely be able to beat this Jets defense from inside the pocket too much with just those targets and that's exactly why the Jets have to be wary of Taylor's legs and keep him contained in the pocket. The Bills will try to run the ball as well, of course, but they will also be without LeSean McCoy and while Karlos Williams and Mike Gillislee have both looked impressive for them they aren't the receiving threat McCoy is and they don't possess the same cut-back threat that can give the Jets top ranked rushing defense fits.
Let Rex doing the Rexing - If you knew nothing about football the phrase 'let Rex do the Rexing' would sound like nonsense, but for Jets fans the phrase needs to explanation. The last time these two teams played the Bills did everything they could to give the Jets the game. All the classic problems that historically plague Rex Ryan coached teams were on full display, too many penalties, misuse of timeouts, mental mistake after mental mistake. Yet somehow the Jets made bigger mistakes that they weren't able to overcome despite all of the classic Rex Ryan flaws making an appearance.
The Jets are the better team and they are a much better team than this version of a injury depleted Bills roster. The Jets should have no trouble winning this game unless they simply implode and beat themselves. If the Jets can just let Rex and the Bills do the Rexing, and you know they will, and avoid doing any Rexing themselves they should be able to cruise to a fairly easy victory and earn a spot in the playoffs.
BEST MATCHUP: Darrelle Revis vs Sammy Watkins
The last time these teams played Watkins was held to only three catches for 14 yards, but he did beat Darrelle Revis for the game-clinching first down reception and on a couple of other plays that just didn't connect. We've seen Revis get tested by this group of incredibly talented young receivers in the league, and when healthy Watkins is as talented as any of them, and you can bet Rex Ryan is going to go down swinging with his best offensive weapon. With so few options for Taylor to go to it would make sense to hit Watkins the bracket coverage but we've seen Bowles still likes to go with a lot of one-on-one, with no help, no matter who that top receiver is.
PREDICTION: Jets 27-13
This is simple. The Jets are the better team and they have been winning in different ways over this five game winning streak. They have shown resiliency and overcome adversity and they are making the right plays at the right times. Of course Jets fans will be worried that it will all fall apart but with the talent and veteran leadership on this team combined with Bowles' personality bringing it all together the Jets should win this game by double digits.
Chris Nimbley is the Editor-in-Chief of JetsInsider.com/NYJScout.com. he can be reached on Twitter (@cnimbley), or via email (email@example.com).