FLORHAM PARK, NJ – After a solid preseason debut, Buffalo Bills quarterback EJ Manuel got a congratulatory text message from a childhood friend and fellow rookie – Geno Smith.
The two young starters met at football camp in high school and stayed in touch throughout college and during the draft process, where they were the top two quarterbacks taken.
On Sunday, they will be competitors and division rivals, as the Bills (1-1) travel to MetLife Stadium to take on the Jets (1-1) in a pivotal early season matchup.
“We’ll both be competing against each other,” said Manuel. “I want to win just as bad as he does.”
The two times the Jets and Buffalo Bills faced off last season were something of a Jekyll and Hyde story for the guys in green.
In bookending games against Buffalo, Week 1 and Week 17, Mark Sanchez threw for 266 yards and three touchdowns in a 48-28 win, but after 14 games that included the buttfumble and a brief benching, he closed the season with a two fumble, one interception performance in a 28-9 loss.
WHEN: Sunday, Sept. 22, 2013, 4:25 p.m. EST (TV – CBS, Radio – ESPN NY, 98.7 FM)
WHERE: MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, NJ
INJURY REPORT (as of Thursday):
Jets: Kendrick Ellis (back) limited, Willie Colon (knee) full practice, Oday Aboushi (knee) limited, Quinton Coples (ankle) limited, Antonio Cromartie (hip) full practice, Clyde Gates (knee) full practice, Stephen Hill (knee) full practice, Santonio Holmes (foot) did not practice, Austin Howard (ribs) full practice, Jeremy Kerley (concussion) full practice, Garrett McIntyre (knee) full practice, Bilal Powell (illness) full practice, Sheldon Richardson (shoulder) limited, Geno Smith (ankle) full practice,Muhammad Wilkerson (ankle) full practice, Kellen Winslow (knee) limited
Bills: Doug Legursky (knee) limited, Jairus Byrd (foot) limited, Ron Brooks (foot) did not practice, Stephon Gilmore (wrist) did not practice, Marquise Goodwin (hand) did not practice, Dustin Hopkins (right groin) did not practice
WHAT TO WHAT FOR:
Fantasy stoppers: In consecutive weeks, the Jets defense shut down two notable fantasy running backs in Doug Martin (65 yards) and Steven Ridley (40 yards). Next up: CJ Spiller. In two games this season, Spiller has averaged 4.4 yards a carry, including a 104 yard performance against an improved Carolina front seven. The Jets defense, however, has allowed an average of 59.5 rushing yards per game and is ranked third in the league by Football Outsiders based on Value Over Average. Football Outsiders also ranked the defensive line as fourth best and second-year defensive tackle Damon Harrison has the second best run stop percentage in the league, according to Pro Football Focus. Let’s see if the Jets can make fantasy owners unhappy for a third week in a row.
Rex vs. the Rook: On Wednesday, Ryan confirmed that the Jets were very impressed with EJ Manuel before the draft in April but don’t expect him to go easy on the rookie once the game starts. “Maybe a little bit,” Ryan said, playing coy when asked if he was excited to face a rookie. “I’d much rather face a rookie quarterback than Tom Brady.” After facing Brady a week ago, look for Rex to really try and create problems for the inexperienced Manuel.
Old ties: If you happen to glance at the Bills sideline on Sunday you might see a familiar face in former Jets defensive coordinator Mike Pettine. He left for Buffalo in the off season and has undoubtedly been giving Bills players tips wherever he can, not to mention the fact that he essentially runs the same defense as Ryan. “It’s out of the same book,” Ryan said on Wednesday, referring to similarities between Pettine’s defense and his own. Ryan also took some playful shots at his friend and former colleague: “Obviously, I’ll look better than Pettite,” he said. “In fact, I might weigh less than him now. I’m just throwing it out there.”
Catch the ball: The performance of the Jets pass catchers might as well be the x-factor for the rest of the season. The defense will always be competitive, the offensive line and running game look to be improved and, as a rookie, Smith will have his ups and downs. But the team won’t win very many games if the receivers can’t hold on to the ball. Against the Patriots, they dropped six passes, including a touchdown. When asked if he had any pointers for the Jets wide receivers, Santonio Holmes said, “Yeah, catch the ball.”
Prediction: The defense will do enough to contain Spiller and Manuel and the return of Jeremy Kerley (concussion) will help Geno and the Jets offense to edge out a win against the Bills, 23-17.