For most of the last decade, the Bills have been pushovers in the AFC East. Most teams circled them as an easy win.
These are not the same old Bills.
After spending tons of money and draft resources this offseason to improve their defense, the Bills are now talented enough to make a real run at the AFC East title. Meanwhile, the Jets are viewed by many as a team on the decline, ripe for the picking for the Bills to knock back a spot in the division.
Here are five key to the game for the Jets to avoid taking a step back in the first week of the season.
The Bills made some of the biggest splashes in free agency last year, making huge upgrades along their defensive line with the additions of Mario Williams and Mark Anderson.
Meanwhile, the Jets' tackles have been under the microscope this preseason. Not only will the young and inexperienced Austin Howard get the start on the right side, but Pro Bowler D'Brickashaw Ferguson has seen a gradual decline in his play over the past year.
Williams will likely line up on the right side, taking advantage of a bigger mismatch against the young Howard. While Howard has played well in limited action during the preseason, he has yet to face a player of Williams' rare blend of speed, size and strength.
Even if Howard rises to the challenge and holds his ground, it will be for nothing if Ferguson does not return to his former Pro Bowl self. Ferguson continued to struggle in the preseason against faster rushers like Osi Umenyiora.
How to stop it
To stop the Bills' pass rush, using chips and nudges from running backs and tight ends will be key. Using newly-acquired Jason Smith as an extra tackle is another option as well.
However, while the Bills have plenty of talent on their line, the Jets should be able to handle the interior pressure from Kyle Williams and Marcel Dareus. Nick Mangold can block just about anyone in the league on his own, and Brandon Moore has not given up a sack in over a year.
The Jets could also use the Wildcat package to slow down the Bills' rush. If Tebow is in the game, defenders have to play the run at all times, which will disallow them from going full-out on a pass rush.
As long as Matt Slauson holds his ground, the Jets can devote their time to helping out the tackles with pressure off the edge.
Generally,the Jets have had a consistently stout run defense under Rex Ryan, but they can be vulnerable to outside runs and screens.
Much of this is due to the lack of athleticism the Jets have at the outside linebacker positions; Calvin Pace and Bryan Thomas are no spring chickens. If they do not set the edge and contain runs, they are not fast and athletic enough to break off blocks and get to the outside quickly.
Meanwhile, the Bills have two good outside runners in Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller. Jackson will presumably get the majority of the carries, with Spiller acting in a Reggie Bush-type role. The Bills will try to get him out in space matched up with linebackers.
Historically, the Jets have done well against Jackson, as his best day against the Jets came last year when he ran for just 82 yards.
Therefore, handling Spiller will be the key, or else the Jets' defense will get stretched out and be more open up the middle.
How to stop it:
There really is no magic formula for good run defense besides setting the edge, shedding blocks and making good form tackles.
If things do get ugly, perhaps the Jets could throw the faster Demario Davis in to see if he can inject some speed into the defense, but this is on the starters to simply play disciplined and not get lazy with their technique.
The Bills may have added a ton of talent to their defense, but they are still young and inexperienced at the corner position.
Stephon Gilmore appears to be the real deal, as he has locked up a starting job at one of the corner spots with ease. However, the Bills will be forced to start second-year player Aaron Williams, as Terrance McGee suffered a setback after his patella tendon surgery.
Williams played rather well last year as a part-time player; he recorded 32 tackles, an interception, forced a fumble and deflected five passes as a rookie.
Plus, as with all injuries, this takes a toll on the Bills' depth at the position. The Bills will not be able to make the same amount of substitutions because of their lack of depth.
How to attack
If the Jets are going to have any success through the air, they need to test the Bills' corners early and often. If Williams and Gilmore can handle Santonio Holmes and Stephen Hill, then so be it. But the Jets need to test them to see if they are up for the challenge.
Holmes should be able to have some success against Gilmore and Williams—after all, that's why the Jets are paying him a small fortune to be their No. 1 receiver.
It will be more interesting to see how Stephen Hill will respond to getting the opportunity to work against more inexperienced players as opposed to going up against seasoned veterans.
While the Jets' preseason woes have been well documented, Sanchez was quietly efficient and accurate.
Everyone remembers his costly interception against the Giants, but he was also 9-for-11 in that game, despite being under pressure for the entire half.
Historically, Sanchez has been effective against the Bills (save for his rookie season five-interception performance), as ESPN's Rich Cimini points out:
Sanchez in last 4 games vs. Bills -- 4-0 record, 8 TDs, 2 INTs. #Jets
— Rich Cimini (@RichCimini) September 5, 2012
It should be noted that one of those games was the 2010 Week 17 machup in which he played one series consisting of straight handoffs, but even two interceptions in three games is above his average turnover ratio.
How to keep him effective
Obviously, none of these stats will matter if the Jets cannot slow down the Bills' pass rush. The Jets need to give Austin Howard help with Mario Williams, and D'Brickashaw Ferguson needs to play like his old self.
At the same time, the Jets receivers need to gain separation, which is something the injury-plagued unit did not do in the preseason. Making clear, defined targets for Sanchez will be key against a solid Bills secondary. Having Holmes and Kerley back in the lineup should go a long way in improving the receiver production.
One aspect that should not be overlooked is Sanchez's habit of holding the ball with one hand. Odds are, the Bills are going to get a few sacks on Mark, but he cannot allow a drive-killing sack to turn into a devastating turnover with a strip-sack.
Ball security during dropbacks is just as, if not more important than not throwing interceptions; at least during interceptions, the ball is (usually) down the field.
The Bills utilize a rhythm-based offense with quick passing and timely runs. They may not get a ton of big plays, but a smart quarterback like Ryan Fitzpatrick can distribute the ball like a point guard in basketball with easy, high-percentage completions.
While this approach works great with a quarterback in rhythm and speedy receivers on the outside, it can fall apart if the timing is not right.
How to stop it
The Jets need to find a way to get pressure on first and second downs, which is a big reason why they drafted Quinton Coples in the first round.
Coples, Wilkerson, Pouha (or Ellis) and DeVito need to stop the run and get the Bills in long third down situations, where Rex's playbook is wide open for him to unleash his exotic blitzes.
If the Bills can keep the down-and-distance in their favor, they can run quick slants and outs all the way down the field—if they execute correctly.
Therefore, not only will the Jets have to focus on stopping the run early, but they need to get a few hits on Fitzpatrick to get him off his rhythm.