In his first return to the Meadowlands since being fired as the Jets coach, Rex Ryan and the Buffalo Bills face off with the New York Jets in a divisional matchup with huge implications for the AFC wild-card race. Which team will walk away victorious? Don Banks makes his pick for Week 10 Thursday Night Football below.
• Last week: 8–5; Season: 88–44 (.667).
• Best pick in Week 9: Minnesota 23, St. Louis 21 (Actual score: Vikings 21–18, in OT).
• Worst pick in Week 9: New Orleans 39, Tennessee 20 (Actual score: Titans 34–28, in OT).
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Rex Ryan loves to go on and on about how he and his Bills get out of bed each day aiming to take down the mighty Patriots and become the new beasts of the AFC East. It’s clearly a Foxboro-based obsession that Ryan and Co. have, but Rex might want to check the standings in the division. Because before Buffalo (4–4) can dethrone New England, it must first climb over the second-place Jets (5–3), Ryan’s old team that already owns more wins at midseason than it produced all of last season, in his final year on the job.
As hard as Ryan has tried to downplay his return to MetLife Stadium and his first shot at facing the Jets, he can’t help himself when it comes to seeking the spotlight and drawing attention his way. Why else would he make a point of naming Geno Smith’s tormentor—IK Enemkpali—one of his captains for the game against New York? Did he think that little in-your-face call would stay safely off the Jets’ radar screens in a week that carries obvious revenge-game undertones? If anything, Ryan probably provided a little extra motivation for New York, and who knows how much that might mean come game night?
By making it all about him this week, Ryan may be casually trying to deflect the attention from the fact the Jets have been better off without him this season, and the Bills haven’t been as good this year as they were last season at this same point. That’s a minus-two if you’re scoring at home. The Jets were 1–7 at midseason in 2014, so their four-game improvement is substantial. The Bills were 5–3 at the halfway point last year under Doug Marrone, one game better than Rex’s current record.
On defense—Ryan’s area of expertise—the Jets are outperforming the Bills in points allowed (20.2 to 24.4), on third downs (37.2 conversation rate to 38.6), and yards per play (5.14 to 5.37) under new coach Todd Bowles. And Buffalo’s 13 sacks this season are tied for third-fewest in the NFL this season, less than half the 28 sacks the Bills totaled through eight games a year ago, when Jim Schwartz’s defense wound up leading the league in sacks with 54.
All the talk aside, this is virtually a must-win for the Bills, because it’s difficult to see how they remain in the thick of the AFC wild-card hunt with a loss tonight. This game starts a streak of five out of six on the road for Buffalo, with trips to New England, Kansas City, Philadelphia and Washington still ahead between now and Christmas. If Buffalo can’t handle the Jets, next week’s Monday night showdown at Gillette Stadium has a lot less significance for a sub-.500 Bills team that will have only proven so far to be a step ahead of the last-place Dolphins.