The New York Jets have a chance to separate themselves from the pack in the AFC Wild Card Thursday with a win over Rex Ryan’s Buffalo Bills.

New York Jets (5-3)
Buffalo Bills (4-4)
Thursday, 8:25 PM on NFL Network
MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, New Jersey

By Jeff Jarboe

Despite dropping a game on the road against Oakland, the New York Jets were able to pull out a victory in Week 9 against Jacksonville and head into their Thursday night match-up against the Buffalo Bills with a 5-3 record and a chance to pull ahead in the AFC Wild Card race.

Buffalo (4-4), along with Pittsburgh (5-4) and Oakland (4-4) is one of several teams competing with the Jets for one of the two Wild Card spots, and would have an immediate advantage over New York with a win on Thursday.

Former Jets head coach and current Bills head coach, Rex Ryan has been his usual self this week as his team gets set to take on his former team—Ryan named I.K. Enemkpali (a.k.a. the man who saved the Jets season by punching Geno Smith in the jaw) captain for Thursday’s game, and followed that announcement by showing up to a press conference in a Clemson helmet, talking trash to Calvin Pryor about the Tigers’ victory over Pryor’s Louisville Cardinals this past weekend.

Pryor summed up the situation perfectly by tweeting in response, “Guy will do anything for attention,” accompanied by a yawning emjoi.

As he did when he was head coach in New York with Super Bowl guarantees and Bill Belichick trash talk, Ryan attracts attention from the media to turn the attention away from his players before important games.

And this certainly is a big game, which is why, if the New York Jets are the playoff team that everyone believes they are, they should have no problem silencing Ryan and the Bills.

The difference between this team and the Jets teams of the last decade is going to be whether they can win the games that they need to win.

Playoff teams win the games that they need to win, plain and simple. So far this year, the only game in which you can say the Jets won when they needed to win would be their Week 2 road victory against Indy on Monday night. That was the game that jump-started Andrew Luck’s interception spree and it was the game that grabbed people’s attention.

A win against Buffalo tomorrow night has the potential to do the same. If the Jets were to win this game marginally to take a further lead in the Wild Card race and head into their Week 11 match-up with Houston on 10 days rest it would put them in a very comfortable position.

With the amount of injuries they’ve had recently on both sides of the ball, it’s not going to be easy for Bowles and the boys. Luckily, their two most important players this week are able to fight through the pain—Ryan Fitzpatrick and Brandon Marshall.

With these two guys on the field, playing at home against one of the league’s most mediocre passing defenses statistically, the New York Jets offense should be able to put up more points than Tyrod Taylor’s group will against Revis and company.

That’s not to say that the Jets are going to abandon the run game on offense—Chris Ivory remains a crucial part of the offense, even if he’s been struggling as of late—but Marshall poses the biggest threat on the outside and Fitzpatrick, well, without this guy who knows what would happen with Geno Smith on the field.

Fitzpatrick’s veteran leadership is the glue that holds this offense together, especially when they face a tough pass rush like Buffalo’s. Having spent years with Gailey in Buffalo, Fitz knows the offense very well and is capable of making adjustments when he sees a blitz or a mismatch on the outside.

With Willie Colon out for the rest of the year and Nick Mangold questionable, Fitzpatrick is going to have to get the ball out quickly to avoid further injuring his thumb.

Fitzpatrick tore ligaments in his left thumb early in the first quarter against Oakland two weeks ago, and plans to have surgery on it following tomorrow’s game. Barring any setbacks, Fitz is expected to fully recover from the surgery before next week’s match-up with Houston.

For the Jets defense the key in this one is going to be whether they can Tyrod Taylor on the ground and force him to beat them through the air. Taylor is a smart player who is very similar to Russell Wilson in that he knows how and when to use his legs to extend a play and when to take the yards himself.

Todd Bowles is going to want to pressure Taylor as he pressures all quarterbacks he comes across, but he knows they can’t over-pursue and open up running lanes for the young quarterback. If the Jets defense is able to generate pressure while still keeping Taylor in the pocket they should be able to force him into a few turnovers down the field.

Calvin Pryor and Dion Bailey may be injured, but Marcus Gilchrist has been playing lights out as of late and should be in for a busy day with Sammy Watkins running fades all day long.

You know the Jets defense is going to stop the run, especially if LeSean McCoy sits out. What it’s going to come down to in this one is which quarterback turns the ball over more. With the playoff implications imminent, I’ll take Ryan Fitzpatrick against the 24th ranked passing defense over Tyrod Taylor against Darrelle Revis.

Come Friday morning the Jets should be in a comfortable position in the AFC Wild Card race, heading into Week 10 with plenty of rest.

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