The Buffalo Bills were among the surprise victors in the first week of the NFL season, but we’ll learn a lot about whether head coach Rex Ryan’s squad is for real in this week’s match-up.
The AFC East has been a one-horse race for the past decade-plus, with the New England Patriots dominating their divisional opponents en route to twelve division titles in the past fourteen years. This isn’t news to anyone who has watched the NFL during this time, but that figure does accentuate just how one-sided the race has been, save for some strong seasons from Ryan’s old team, the New York Jets. To drive the point home, the Boston Globe published a column Tuesday with the headline, “After Patriots, AFC East is still a trio of zeros.”
If they’re counting division championships in the past six seasons, they’re certainly not incorrect.
While the Bills looked the part in their opening win over the Indianapolis Colts, who are no slouch in their own right as AFC title contenders, the real test comes this Sunday against the rival Patriots.
The Bills have already started a war of words, with Ryan claiming he didn’t know the name of Pats running back Dion Lewis, defensive tackle Marcell Dareus adding “no one likes the Patriots” and safety Aaron Williams noting he doesn’t like the way New England players “carry themselves on the field.” It seems that little has changed for Ryan, despite the new setting.
For years, Ryan’s teams have puffed their chests to reporters, but have rarely come through on the field against New England. With the Jets, his record against the Patriots was 4-9 with zero AFC East titles. Sure, New York played the Pats tough at the start of that stretch, winning three out of the first five games and one playoff match-up, but never succeeded in their quest to take the hardware away from them.
Like his first season with the Jets, Ryan is off to a hot start with the Bills and appears to have a good shot at leading the franchise to its first playoff berth since 1999.
Starter Tyrod Taylor has looked solid so far, but his lack of a proven track record is one of the team’s biggest question marks. That said, if his Week 1 performance is any indication, we do know that he has the talent to lead the Bills past the Patriots this week at home — especially when you consider how the Pats have fared against young QBs in the past few seasons.
Under head coach Bill Belichick, New England has struggled in recent match-ups against younger QBs, losing to the Seattle Seahawks in Russell Wilson‘s sixth start, the Jets in Geno Smith‘s seventh start and barely edging out the Bills and Oakland Raiders in EJ Manuel and Derek Carr‘s first and second respective career starts. While Taylor’s lack of starting experience makes it hard for anyone to pick Buffalo to win the East this season, it also makes Belichick’s job that much more difficult this week. There simply isn’t much game tape on Taylor for the Pats’ staff to break down right now, making him the feared Wild Card of this early season rivalry game.
If Buffalo manages to pull off the upset, they’ll be on the same track Ryan’s Jets were on at the start of his tenure with New York — affording him his long-awaited second chance to snatch the crown away from New England. Whether or not he can pull it off this season or the next is anyone’s guess, but we do know one thing: Ryan’s Bills won’t go down quietly.