The 2012 NFL regular season is finally upon us, and the battle for position in the AFC East begins right out of the gate.
While the New England Patriots remain the team to beat in the division, the AFC East has sent multiple teams to the playoffs in two of the last three seasons, and there is potential for that to happen again in 2012.
In a 16-game season, each and every game is crucial, especially games between division rivals.
In week 1, the New York Jets and the Buffalo Bills will duke it out in a game that will be of vital importance, as both teams try to prove themselves as contenders in what looks to be a crowded conference.
The two teams are as evenly matched as they’ve been in a long time, and the pressure is firmly on the Jets to give us some indication of the team they really are, and really can be.
It’s a home game for the Jets, which is why they’re favored to win this week, despite many experts picking the Bills to finish with a better record this season.
The key to the game will be controlling the line of scrimmage, on both sides of the ball.
The Bills revamped their defensive line this offseason, signing outside rushers Mario Williams and Mark Anderson to compliment their impressive inside duo of Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams.
Right tackle Austin Howard will make his first start in a Jets uniform, and he’ll have his hands full. Veteran linemen Brandon Moore and Nick Mangold must find a way to give the youngster the help he needs.
If the Bills front seven can force the Jets to become one-dimensional, their opportunistic secondary will have a chance to make plays against a Jets pass offense that’s still very much a work in progress.
Mark Sanchez has done an admirable job digesting Tony Sparano‘s offense, but he enters the regular season having barely had any game reps with his starting compliment of receivers due to nagging injuries.
Tight end Dustin Keller is expected to play, and all of the Jets’ wide receivers are relatively healthy and will suit up on Sunday. The only question is how rusty they’ll be.
Meanwhile, the Jets’ defensive line needs to find a way to get pressure on Ryan Fitzpatrick and slow down the Bills’ stout two-headed rushing attack of Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller.
The Bills’ offensive line seemed to overachieve as a unit last year, and perhaps that’s no fluke. Jets rookie Quinton Coples had 4.5 sacks in the preseason, and he’d love to get one for real on Sunday.
For all the attention the Jets’ offense has gotten this preseason because of their ineptitude, the Jets’ defense looks like a force to be reckoned with.
This is the type of defense that can carry a team to double-digit wins, even without a three-touchdowns-per-game offense. But the offense needs to carry their share of the load.
This game is going to be an interesting test for both teams. If the Jets win, people will downplay it as a game they were supposed to win. But if they lose, the entirely media constructed “circus” theme will get play once again.
For Buffalo, it’s a statement game that gives them the opportunity to pronounce themselves a legitimate threat in the AFC playoff race. Both teams will be bring a sense of urgency rarely seen in September.
In the end, I expect the Jets to pull out the victory, with a final score of somewhere in the range of 20-17.
By Sunday evening, we will learn a lot about these two teams. Until then, we will count down the hours until kickoff.