JETS // BILLS OVERVIEW
This game in Buffalo will likely go overlooked by the masses (as tends to be the case with games played in Buffalo — or in any corners of the AFC East that do not belong to New England), but there are actually a few interesting pieces, especially in tourneys, in this game between the 3-9 Jets and the 4-8 (but consistently improving) Bills. When these teams met a few weeks ago in New York, the Bills walloped the Jets 41-10 with Matt Barkley under center. Since then, the Bills defeated the Jaguars 24-21 and were a dropped Charles Clay touchdown shy of beating the Dolphins in Miami. If Sam Darnold returns this week (as is currently expected), the story of this game will be the two rookie quarterbacks. But the bigger story is the Bills’ offense and what they are trying to do at the moment.
This game has opened with a 38.0 point Over/Under that will make it invisible to most. The Bills have been installed as slim 3.0 point favorites to kick off the week.
JETS PASS OFFENSE
This is a tough spot for Sam Darnold in his expected return, on the road against a Buffalo pass defense that has forced the sixth shallowest aDOT in the NFL, while allowing a below-average catch rate and shaving over 10% off the league-average YAC/R rate. The Ravens are the only team in football allowing fewer yards per pass attempt than the Bills. The last time we saw Darnold was in Week 9 against Miami — when Darnold went 0 for 7 on passes that traveled more than 15 yards downfield, with three interceptions on those throws. The Jets are not forcing Darnold to keep everything short — but for the most part, they have been one of the most horizontal offenses in the NFL, and Darnold’s downfield shots have mostly been lost causes. Part of this is a playbook that has gotten less and less creative throughout the season. A larger part of this has been one of the worst supporting casts in the NFL. Darnold has topped 229 passing yards only once since Week 2. If Darnold misses another week, McCown will (surprisingly) carry one of the the lowest aDOTs in the entire NFL into this difficult road matchup. McCown managed to pile up 276 yards while chasing points against New England, but he has otherwise gone for 135 yards and 128 yards in his starts.
The best way to attack the Bills has been on passes of 15+ yards, where this team has had occasional lapses. This further complicates things for this short-area passing attack.
If you are set on going to this offense, your best bet for upside is to hope that McCown plays, and to then bet on the downfield looks that Robby Anderson is seeing. Last week, Anderson went only 4-48-0, but he saw seven targets, including two that traveled more than 30 yards downfield. The downfield connections have simply not been there for Anderson in an offense that is not doing enough to get pass catchers open, but he always has outside potential to hit for a long play or two.
Tre’Davious White is likeliest to shadow Quincy Enunwa (if the Bills bother having him shadow at all). Enunwa continues to play limited snaps in the slot with Jermaine Kearse on the field (82 perimeter snaps the last two weeks // 37 slot snaps, per PFF), which has limited his efficiency in this offense. A bet on Enunwa is a bet on a broken play, or on this offense putting together the pieces in a tough road environment.
Kearse has been maddeningly ineffective in the slot, hauling in 14 of 38 targets (36.8%) across his last six games.
This passing attack wraps up with Chris Herndon, who is finally seeing heavy playing time, with 51 and 48 offensive snaps across his last two games. Herndon has quietly seen four or more targets in four consecutive games. He runs into a tough matchup here against a Bills team that has allowed the second fewest tight end receptions in the league.
JETS RUN OFFENSE
The Bills have also been tough to run on, allowing the ninth fewest yards per carry — though from a “path of least resistance” standpoint, the way to attack this team is on the ground, and with this game likely to remain somewhat close, we should expect the Jets to play run-heavy football. Even with a 3-9 record and consistent negative game scripts, the Jets rank 18th in pass play rate.
In Jets wins and one-score games this year, Isaiah Crowell has touch counts of 10 // 14 // 18 // 16 // 15 // 14 // 25. His 25 touches last week obviously pop off the page as an outlier, but another 14 to 16 touches is a fair bet if you want to take a shot on Crow notching one of his random blowup games in this spot. He has topped 40 rushing yards only three times all season — but those three times, he went for 102 // 219 // 98.
Behind Crowell, Elijah McGuire and Trenton Cannon have been splitting scraps, giving each a back-breaking floor with very narrow paths to upside.
BILLS PASS OFFENSE
The Jets have very quietly allowed the third lowest catch rate in the league this year, and they rank a respectable 11th in yards allowed per pass attempt. With the Jets playing plenty of man coverage, however, teams are attacking relentlessly with wide receivers. On the year, the Jets have faced the third most wide receiver targets and allowed the third most wide receiver catches and the fourth most wide receiver yards.
All of a sudden, the Bills have become an exciting (albeit high-variance and low-floor) passing offense, as this team is allowing Josh Allen to hammer downfield passes, and they cut Kelvin Benjamin this week — further signaling their commitment to Zay Jones and their other young receivers. Last week, Jones saw nine targets…and seven of these looks came 20 to 30 yards downfield — legitimately exciting usage for a player with a quality physical skill set. Zay has lined up in the slot on 29 plays each of the last two weeks (compared to 26 and 36 on the perimeter). We have been targeting slot receivers all year against the Jets, as this is where they have struggled the most. In Week 12, Julian Edelman went 4-84-1 against the Jets on only five targets. In Week 10, Zay Jones did most of his damage against the Jets from the slot. In Week 9, Danny Amendola was the most effective Dolphins receiver in this matchup. In Week 8, Anthony Miller, Taylor Gabriel, and Josh Bellamy all made impact plays from the slot. In Week 7, Adam Thielen destroyed this team playing mostly in the slot while Stefon Diggs was shut down on the outside. And in Week 6, it was Chester Rogers from the slot for the Colts.
Last week, the Bills fed another four passes to speedster Robert Foster — who will be given a chance to hit each week, as a zero-floor, high point-per-dollar upside play. He went 1-27-0 last week on his four looks, but he went 2-94-1 and 3-105-0 the previous two weeks. Second-year speed threat Isaiah McKenzie was fed four targets (a pair of short targets and a pair of intermediate crossing routes that he ran out of the slot), and with the Bills letting Kelvin Benjamin go, McKenzie could be in line for more snaps after playing 50% last week.
The floor on this inefficient passing attack is low, but with Josh Allen throwing a whopping 16 of his 33 passes more than 15 yards downfield last week there is true and honest upside here. Allen added 135 yards on the ground on nine carries (one week after going for 99 yards on 13 carries). This team is not going to become a pass-heavy unit (even last week, they threw the ball on just over 50% of their plays), but the Jets are allowing the fifth most opponent plays per game, and it won’t be surprising for Allen to get in another 28 to 33 pass attempts in this one.
BILLS RUN OFFENSE
With Allen taking over the run game, LeSean McCoy has taken a backseat the last couple weeks, carrying the ball 17 and 15 times — with last week’s 15-carry game coming in a spot in which the Bills ran 72 plays in all. McCoy has topped 17 carries only twice this year, and he has topped 100 yards only once — though that 100-yard game came against the Jets in Week 10. McCoy saw 26 carries that game with Matt Barkley unable to steal away looks on the ground, so a safer projection here is 15 to 18 carries and his standard one to four targets. McCoy is still running behind a line that ranks bottom eight in adjusted line yards, but the Jets have been a middling run game matchup (18th in yards allowed per carry), and while the floor is low here (as is the case with all players in this offense), it won’t exactly be a shock if Shady hits for a long run or a touchdown, keeping him in the low-floor tourney conversation.
There is nothing on the Jets that draws my eye in this tough matchup on the road. With 13 games on the Main Slate, I’ll be looking for better spots than this.
The Bills, on the other hand, are surprising me a bit. Taking away the Bills’ game against the Jags, Zay Jones has recent target counts of 8 // 6 // 11 // 9, and seven to 11 looks is a genuinely fair expectation here. With Josh Allen chucking often-inaccurate throws downfield, “seven to 11 looks” does not provide the floor it would with other quarterbacks (or with other wide receivers, for that matter), but the downfield nature of these looks makes Zay an exciting tourney option. Know the risks here, but the upside at the price is seriously worth paying attention to.
The same could be said — though to a lesser extent — for Foster and McKenzie. With Benjamin gone, these guys are going to see four or more targets most weeks, and Foster in particular will carry upside on these looks. Obviously, these are speculative tourney plays, but I’ll be happy to take large-field shots on this offense the rest of the way this year. With how aggressively this team is attacking, they are going to produce a few more cheap, big games down the stretch.
Attached to all these guys is Allen, who could legitimately dud even in this good matchup…but he carries nice upside with his rushing ability and his downfield throws. The entire Bills passing attack is large-field tourney viable for me, with at least Zay in the smaller-field conversation this week as well. Again: the floor needs to be noted on all these plays, but I think we see low ownership on an offense that is genuinely exciting right now in the way they are calling plays.
With more interest in the passing game than in the run game for the Bills, McCoy is taking a backseat for me, but it won’t be surprising if he strikes in this spot. I prefer to bet on safer running back plays and take my shots on high-target (or high-upside) players at wide receiver — but McCoy is not a bad play in a game that should favor the run. Worst case should be a respectable floor, and the ceiling is there.