I'm not surprised that Sunday's regular-season finale between the Jets and Bills has playoff ramifications. It's just that I expected Buffalo to be a wild-card contender and the Jets likely to finish in the AFC East cellar.
The Bills (7-8) won't finish last in the division as that will go to Miami, but it's certainly been a disappointing season under first-year coach Rex Ryan. Buffalo's struggles actually bode well for the head coaching opportunities for Doug Marrone. The Bills were 9-7 under him last year, but he took an opt-out clause in his contract and now is an assistant with Jacksonville. Buffalo was a better team under him than it has been under Ryan, so don't be surprised to see Marrone get another head-coaching gig this offseason. He could be a fit with New Orleans if the Saints part with Sean Payton. Marrone and Saints GM Mickey Loomis are tight. Anyway, I digress.
So while this game means little to Buffalo other than the chance to finish without a losing record and sweep Ryan's former team, it's everything for New York (10-5). The Jets will be a wild-card team with a win. A victory and Chiefs loss would be the best scenario for New York as it would then travel to a mediocre Houston team next week. The Jets would still get in with a tie no matter what and also with a loss as long Pittsburgh loses at home to Cleveland, which I can't see happening.
Jets at Bills Betting Story Lines
It's not impossible that this could be Ryan's final game as Buffalo's head coach even though he got a five-year, $27.5 million contract last offseason. I doubt he's a goner, but then I doubted the Eagles would fire Chip Kelly. Ryan once again was spouting preseason nonsense about the playoffs and it bit him in the rear. Again. At least he seems to have learned.
"The thing that kind of gives this team a black eye when we're looking at it is that I let my mouth get ahead of everything," Ryan said this week. "And I think if I would have come in there and just said, 'Hey, we're gonna compete,' and do all that stuff, maybe we wouldn't have such a bad feeling about this team."
Ryan is supposed to be defensive guru, but that unit has hugely regressed from last year when it was led by departed coordinator Jim Schwartz (who also might now get another head coaching job thanks to Ryan). Ryan inherited a defense that finished fourth in points allowed and fourth in yards allowed. This year, those rankings have dropped to 16th and 20th, respectively. There have been reports in Buffalo that some players, including star defensive end Mario Williams, are at odds with Ryan's defensive scheme. Williams won't be back next year. Also some talk that Ryan and GM Doug Whaley aren't on the same page.
Buffalo will be without top running back LeSean McCoy and tight end Charles Clay this week due to injury. Clay signed a huge free-agent deal and hasn't really lived up to it. McCoy, acquired in that trade with Philly, also has largely disappointed (895 yards, three TDs) and been injury-prone. Neither played in last week's 16-6 home win over Dallas.
The Jets have no coaching issues or internal strife. Todd Bowles has done a fantastic job in his first season, and two of the best trades of last offseason were by new Jets GM Mike Maccagnan. He sent a late-round draft pick to Houston for QB Ryan Fitzpatrick. He's having a fine season, completing 60.8 percent for 3,724 yards, 29 touchdowns (career high) and 12 picks. Last Sunday, for the third time in the past four games, Fitzpatrick led a game-winning drive in the fourth quarter or overtime. He closed an upset of the Patriots on a 6-yard touchdown pass to Eric Decker on the first possession of OT -- Pats coach Bill Belichick oddly decided to kick off after winning the coin toss. The Jets have won five straight, and Fitzpatrick has 13 touchdown passes and only one interception over that span.
Fitzpatrick has never been in the playoffs. Neither has Jets receiver Brandon Marshall. He was also acquired this offseason for a late-round pick (from Chicago) and has 101 catches for 1,376 yards and 13 touchdowns. The 101 catches are a franchise record, and he's the first player in NFL history with six 100-catch seasons.
Buffalo won at the Jets on a Thursday in Week 10, 22-17. Ryan's defense played one of its best games as it picked off two passes, recovered a fumble that was returned for a touchdown, and stopped the Jets inside the Bills' 10 in the final minutes. The Bills did nearly blow a 22-3 third-quarter lead. Tyrod Taylor was 17-for-27 for 158 yards with a TD, and McCoy rushed for 112 yards on 19 carries. Fitzpatrick wasn't good, completing just 15-for-34 for 193 yards, two TDs and two picks. Marshall did have one of those TD grabs but only three catches for 23 yards.
Jets at Bills Betting Odds and Trends
At 5Dimes , New York is a 3-point favorite (-110) with a total of 43. On the moneyline, the Jets are -160 and Bills +140. On the alternate lines, the Jets are -3.5 (+115), -2.5 (-135) and -2 (-140). The Jets are 8-5-2 against the spread this season (3-2-2 on road) and 8-7 "over/under" (3-4 on road). The Bills are 7-7-1 ATS (4-3 at home) and 8-7 O/U (4-3 at home).
The Jets have covered six of their past eight vs. the AFC East. They are 2-5-1 ATS in their past eight road games vs. teams with a losing home record. The Bills have covered six of their past nine vs. teams with a winning record. Buffalo is 1-5-1 ATS in its past seven following an ATS win. The under is 4-1 in the Jets' past five after a win. Ditto for Buffalo. The home team is 5-2 ATS in the past seven. The under has hit in five of the past eight in Buffalo.
NFL Expert Picks Against the Spread: Jets at Bills Betting Predictions
This will feel like a playoff game. It essentially is for the Jets, and they remember Ryan's reaction after the Bills won in the Meadowlands in Week 10. The Jets players also recall how Ryan sent out former Jet/Geno Smith jawbreaker IK Enemkpali as a game captain (probably will again). That said, the Bills players largely love Ryan and would enjoy nothing more than keeping the Jets out of the playoffs. Buffalo has won the past four meetings. But I'll give the 2.5 points here and go under.
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Read more articles by Alan Matthews
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