In the midst of crucial points for their franchises, here are three ways the rivalry between the New York Jets and Buffalo Bills can ignite.
There are certain terms in the NFL glossary that get the blood of New York Jets fans boiling. Phrases like “fake spike” and “lost control of the football,” for example, are likely verboten at MetLife Stadium tailgates, as is the label “Tom Brady.”
“Buffalo Bills” may soon entire that forbidden lexicon.
The supposed rivalry between the Jets and Bills hasn’t exactly been must-see television. They’ve met annually, often twice, since 1960, but the teams’ respective glory days have never coincided. The most memorable meetings prior to the new century, for example, was perhaps when Buffalo earned their only win of the 1968 season over the future Super Bowl III champions. Playoff clinchers won by each team in the 1990s preceded a relatively brief quarterback rivalry between Ken O’Brien and Jim Kelly.
But under new regimes, the Jets and Bills are inching their way back toward respectability. Buffalo has earned a bit of a headstart via two playoff appearances over the last three seasons and the Jets have made several notable moves in an effort to end a postseason drought nearing a decade, similar to how the Bills ended a negative streak old enough to get a learner’s permit. Tom Brady‘s departure also potentially leaves the AFC East open to a new king.
So how can the two sides raise the animosity to fun, national levels? ESNY investigates…
1. Protect the Passers
What makes the potential conflict so interesting is that its quarterback protagonists are forever connected as first-round choices in the 2018 NFL Draft. Sam Darnold and Josh Allen were among the first seven picks of that draft, echoing the first-round status of O’Brien and Kelly earned back in 1983.
It’s not enough to continue to oversee the development of Darnold and Allen. Each has had their flashes of brilliance, but in order to unlock their true consistency, they need to surround each passer with the appropriate support. The Jets continue to be a work in progress, but there’s no denying that Darnold’s protection is better than it has been over his first two seasons in New York after using free agency and the draft to restock.
Buffalo has used this offseason to capitalize on momentum built by their most recent postseason visit, adding Stefon Diggs and John Brown to Allen’s receiving corps. The Jets used the draft to rework that area, bringing in Denzel Mims in the second round. Blockers set to play a big role moving forward include Mekhi Becton and Connor McGovern for Gang Green while Cody Ford and Dion Dawkins will protect Allen.
For their part, Darnold and Allen have established some early signature moments over the course of the rivalry thus far. The first fourth-quarter comeback of Darnold’s career came in Orchard Park, when he led an eight-play, 61-yard drive en route to the game-winning score of a 27-23 win. Allen got revenge in 2019’s opening game, when he led a comeback from 16-0 down to pull off a 17-16 victory at MetLife Stadium.
2. Keep Up the State Hate
It took the Bills’ recent playoff push…and perhaps a shoutout from New York Governor Andrew Cuomo…to remind America that they’re the only team that plays their home games in New York State proper, with the Jets’ MetLife Stadium dwelling situated in East Rutherford, NJ. Buffalo’s Empire domain was established with wins at MetLife over both the Jets and Giants. Of that trio, they easily have the brightest outlook.
We’re literally the only football team in New York… 🤦♂️ https://t.co/7Lk9XmGN8n
— Buffalo Bills (@BuffaloBills) October 25, 2019
Buffalo used their newfound success to relentlessly remind anyone of this exclusivity. Even Allen played on the trope after the Bills’ latter win over the Giants last September. The antics of “Bills Mafia,” known for having Super Bowl-levels of fun even in the direst of situations, have only served to exacerbate the Empire State pride.
A team from Buffalo will probably never fully invade the metropolitan area, but taking over the rest of the expansive state would be a nice little accolade to add to the resume. The Empire-Garden State rivalry could certainly use an awakening after years of dormancy.
The Knicks-Nets struggle never truly lived up to its potential and the Devils-Rangers edition has had its highlights of hate but has sunk to such a level that fans of both teams collaboratively acknowledged their mutual incompetency during a get-together in Newark last spring. The emergence of another red and blue team that plays in New York could truly get a fun, furious cycle going on the gridiron.
3. Take Care of Business
Tom Brady’s reign of terror in the AFC East is finally over, but there’s no guarantee that the New England Patriots’ stranglehold on the division is coming to an end. Sure, there are gigantic questions under center (Jamal Adams pick-six victim Jarrett Stidham is the current heir to the Brady throne) but New England still boasts enough elite starters to ensure that they won’t go quietly into the night.
The powers that be at the NFL’s scheduling department has started to spotlight matchups between the Patriots and their often downtrodden divisional brethren. New England’s yearly MetLife Stadium visit will be part of ESPN’s Monday Night Football slate for the second straight year. The Bills and Patriots likewise join the Monday Night Football festivities, as their December tilt in Foxboro, MA will be the program’s season finale. Last season, the squads partook in an exciting late-season Saturday night thriller.
It’s great to see that the NFL thinks that the gargantuan gap between the Patriots and their division foes is narrowing, but the teams have to prove why, as each of the aforementioned examples ended in a New England victory. Close games with the Patriots are no longer acceptable with the Brady menace having gone to pewter pastures. It’s time for retribution after years of Patriot pain.
Likewise, the Jets and Bills must also be cautious of the Miami Dolphins. South Beach was a land of football follies last season, but many were encouraged by their strong 5-4 stretch to finish the year (which included wins over both the Jets and Patriots) and a strong offseason has caused some to peg Miami as a sleeper team.
No one ever celebrated a rivalry consisting of also-rans, which is perhaps a reason why the Ohio-based Bengals-Browns series has never taken off. If the Jets and Bills want to steal the NFL spotlight, their focus can’t solely be upon each other.
Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags