The Game Matchups Preview series is dedicated to breaking down how the Buffalo Bills match up with their opponent in every game of the 2023 NFL season. This series will look at five key matchups; Bills Pass Offense vs. Opponent Pass Defense, Bills Rush Offense vs. Opponent Rush Defense, Bills Pass Defense vs. Opponent Pass Offense, Bills Rush Defense vs. Opponent Rush Offense, and Bills Special Teams vs. Opponent Special Teams. This entire analysis will conclude with three sections; “Why Buffalo Will Lose”, “Why Buffalo Will Win”, and a score prediction for the game.
Below, I present 2023’s first edition of this analysis for the Bills Week 1 clash with the New York Jets. Included is my “patented” 👏 scale which ranks the advantage in each matchup from 👏👏👏👏👏 (Massive Advantage) to 👏 (Minimal Advantage).
Bills Pass Offense vs. Jets Pass Defense
The Josh Allen experience begins anew on Monday. The perennial MVP candidate will take the field against a hopeful Jets franchise that has given him frets his entire career. His 81.3 Passer Rating and 38.14 QuBeR against them is by far his worst versus any AFC East team, with the Jets’ young defensive talent signifying things won’t be getting easier anytime soon. Allen still has an opportunity to flip the script Monday night against the Jets as one of the most dynamic playmakers in the NFL. Now fully healthy from a partial UCL tear in 2022 with arguably the best offensive supporting cast he has ever played with, there are reasons to be optimistic that this season’s version of Allen is the best version of him the NFL has ever seen.
Allen’s supporting cast begins with his skill players who are set to contend with one of the best secondaries in the NFL. The outside will feature a premier matchup between Stefon Diggs and Sauce Gardner. Diggs is currently riding the longest streak in the NFL of 100+ reception 1,200+ yard seasons, at three, and will begin this season’s campaign against a first-team All-Pro in Gardner. Allowing a Passer Rating of just 62.7 in 2022, Gardner will try and put the clamps on Diggs and force Allen to deal to his other playmakers. That means more balls thrown toward Gabe Davis who will match up with D.J. Reed or Trent Sherfield/Deonte Harty who will match up with a Top-10 Nickel CB in Michael Carter II. The WR/DB matchup across the board is about as even as you find in the NFL with the Bills gaining their biggest advantage in the pass game from their Tight Ends. Buffalo’s seam Tight End, Dawson Knox, is a proven matchup issue and will likely see a lot of one-on-one coverage with C.J. Mosely but it’s the Bills’ second Tight End who gives the team the biggest advantage. Rookie Dalton Kincaid, who will line up everywhere on Monday for the Bills, is going to force the Jets into some uncomfortable decisions. Either they will have to bring one of their two-high Safeties into the box, most likely Jordan Whitehead, to contend with Kincaid, or they will have to rely on their QB spy, Quincy Williams, to control Kincaid. This game may come down to how the rookie plays and how the Jets decide to play him, and that favors the Bills.
The Jets can counter the Bills skill position advantage though and will rely on their pass rush to do just that. It starts in the middle with another first-team All-Pro in Defensive Tackle Quinnen Williams who is coming off a 12.0 Sack campaign last season. Depending on where Williams lines up, expect Center Mitch Morse to consistently provide support to that side of the line. That should leave the other side on an island which means John Franklin-Myers, who has 16.0 sacks in his four-year career, should benefit from plenty of one-on-one matchups. More importantly, the emphasis on the interior of the line will put pressure on the Bills’ tackles to keep edge rushers away from Josh Allen. With the solid Dion Dawkins manning the left side of the line expect the Jets to try and overwhelm the weakest link on the Bills’ offense, Right Tackle Spencer Brown. Brown particularly struggles with speed rushers which happens to be a skillset the Jets are flush with. Second-year Jermaine Johnson, rookie Will McDonald, and the sneaky good Bryce Huff all possess speed off the line and should rotate in to challenge Brown. Beat him early and often and Buffalo may just have to sacrifice one of their skill players in the name of protecting their quarterback.
ADVANTAGE: Bills 👏👏
Bills Rush Offense vs. Jets Rush Defense
In Buffalo, running the ball extends far beyond the traditional idea of how it is done. While most NFL teams continue to rely on their running backs to shoulder most of the load on the ground, Buffalo looks to its quarterback to participate nearly as much. Through both designed and adlib runs, Josh Allen has accounted for 34.34% of the Bills rushing yards over the past two seasons. Just how wacky is that number? Cam Newton, one of the greatest running quarterbacks of all time, accounted for more than 30% of his team’s rushing yards just twice in his 11-year career. For the Bills, Josh Allen is as much a part of the rushing attack as their running backs are, and in 2023 that isn’t expected to change.
The Jets have the pieces to contend with the dynamic nature of the Bills rushing attack but must determine how much they are willing to sacrifice before doing so. Some sort of spy is going to be necessary at points Monday night meaning that one of Jordan Whitehead (S) or Quincy Williams (LB) will have to play that role. The issue for the Jets is that putting either into that position will provide Buffalo with a mismatch somewhere else. If the Jets send Jordan Whitehead down into the box, they are pulled out of two-high looks, a no-no against Buffalo. If Williams is the spy, then C.J. Moseley, an excellent run defender, will be one-on-one with Dawson Knox or Dalton Kincaid, each scenario a losing proposition for the Jets. The final possibility is that the Jets forego a spy altogether in which case the expectation for the Bills would be that Josh Allen will leave Metlife with his fifth career 60+ rushing yard game against the Jets.
The Bills will attack in the traditional sense of running the ball though and will do so with a deep stable of backs. James Cook comes in as the clear-cut RB1 after a rookie season where he averaged 5.7 yards per attempt and now seems to be processing running lanes much quicker in year two. He will be spelled by veteran offseason additions in Damien Harris and Latavius Murray, each of whom can and will thump up the middle when called upon this season. Traditional running lanes won’t be easy to come by for the Bills with Williams causing major issues up front but even beating him won’t guarantee success. Yet another All-Pro lies in wait behind Williams, this time in one of the league’s premier run defenders and 2022 second-team All-Pro, C.J. Moseley. Moseley has 150+ Tackles in each of the last two seasons with his 326 over that span ranking fourth behind only Roquan Smith (332), Jordyn Brooks (345), and Foyesade Oluokun (376). While the Jets’ Pass Defense gets all the headlines, it’s players like Moseley and how they excel against the run that make the Jets one of the most well-rounded defenses in the entire NFL.
ADVANTAGE: Jets 👏
Bills Pass Defense vs. Jets Pass Offense
The last time that Jordan Poyer, Micah Hyde, and Tre White all took the field together in a meaningful NFL game was November 25, 2021. That should change on September 11, 2023, with Buffalo’s three All-Pro Defensive Backs expected to take the field. In 2022 a major theme for the Bills was injuries and while it’s possible that could repeat in 2023, a regression to the mean seems more likely. Despite countless injuries the Bills still finished fourth in Passer Rating against (82.1) and are making some changes this season they expect will only make them better. Those changes include additional depth that should reduce the impact of potential injuries as well as some play-calling and scheme changes brought on by Head Coach Sean McDermott taking over defensive play-calling duties.
The first matchup for the new look Bills defense will be against one of the greatest Quarterbacks of all time, Aaron Rodgers. After 18 seasons in Green Bay which resulted in four MVPs and one Super Bowl ring, Rodgers followed the path of his predecessor (Brett Favre) and moved on to the Jets. He does so as an unquestioned upgrade of 2022’s Zach Wilson and the presumed missing piece of a Super Bowl puzzle. His pass catchers could help him do that beginning with his WR1, Garrett Wilson, his best receiver since Davante Adams. While Wilson looks to build on his 1,103-yard rookie campaign he will have new running mates in 2023, mainly Allen Lazard and Randall Cobb. Lazard will play the role of big-bodied possession receiver while Cobb remains a suitable slot option even at the age of 33. Far from an elite receiving trio, Rodgers throwing to Wilson, Lazard, and Cobb will still challenge the Bills Palms scheme which should look slightly different in 2023. Expect more press from the Bills DBs who round out their three All-Pros with second-year CB Christian Benford on the outside and one of the best nickel defenders in the league in Taron Johnson. Add to that some new players in the middle including Terrel Bernard (LB) in base and Taylor Rapp (S) in dime and, while there may be some hiccups, the Bills should hold their own against the Jets even if their RBs and Tyler Conklin (TE) are targeted often by Rodgers.
Where Buffalo’s advantage grows to a more extreme level against the Jets passing attack is upfront. While Von Miller won’t see the field for the first quarter of the season Buffalo has a more than capable edge rush to hold them over until then. Starters Greg Rousseau and Leonard Floyd each had 8.0+ sacks last season and will contend with some question marks at the Tackle position for the Jets. Duane Brown is expected to man the Left Tackle role while Mekhi Becton should start at Right Tackle. If each plays up to the peak of their abilities the Jets should have no issues protecting Rodgers, but peak performance is highly unlikely. Brown has practiced little this preseason while dealing with injuries while Becton hasn’t played in a meaningful game since September 12, 2021. The Bills will test each of those players with Floyd and Rousseau, who will rotate out occasionally with two of A.J. Epenesa, Shaq Lawson, and Kingsley Jonathan. Add to that the looming threat of the ever-dangerous Matt Milano and the Bills can dominate in this particular matchup on Monday night.
ADVANTAGE: Bills 👏👏👏
Bills Rush Defense vs. Jets Rush Offense
The Bills’ 2022 rush defense was generally an afterthought in NFL circles despite its impressive nature. They would finish the season third in rush defense DVOA (-19.7%) while only allowing 4.32 Y/A. As impressive as it was last season there are some real concerns regarding it in 2023. With Pro-Bowl Middle Linebacker Tremaine Edmunds electing to leave Buffalo for Chicago there seemingly is a hole in the middle of the Bills defense. That hole, at least for now, will be filled by second-year player Terrel Bernard who has the potential to excel in the role. Far from a guarantee though, this is an area of the field that teams are expected to attack repeatedly until the Bills overtly prove this is not a weakness.
That includes the New York Jets who should leverage their impressive interior Offensive Line to attack the middle of the Bills defense. Laken Tomlinson (LG), Connor McGovern (C), and Alijah Vera-Tucker (RG) are all plus offensive linemen who in this case make up a great run-blocking trio. Vera-Tucker is the key player of the bunch and prior to a season-ending injury in 2022 was arguably the best player on the Jets. If he rounds back into that form this may represent the most significant mismatch the Jets have against the Bills. They should get some push in the middle and in doing so cause issues for the Bills’ undersized linebackers. Keep an eye on DT1 for Buffalo in Ed Oliver who has flashed brilliance but as an undersized interior defensive lineman can occasionally get blown off the ball. This puts extra reliance on the likes of DaQuan Jones and Poona Ford to man the 1-tech and keep not only Oliver and the Bills linebackers clean but also to plug holes for the Jets running backs.
In Week 1 those running backs will be some combination of Breece Hall, Dalvin Cook, and Michael Carter. Both Hall and Cook are immense talents but coming off an injury are expected to be on a pseudo-pitch count. When healthy Hall and Cook make up what may be the best duo in the NFL but in Week 1 a surprising amount of the workload may fall to Michael Carter. Carter is a more than capable running back though and has leveraged his quick feet to the tune of a 4.0 Y/A to start his career. The key for the Jets will be providing their running backs clean lanes to run through and with their advantage up front there is no reason to suspect that won’t happen. This will put the spotlight on both Terrel Bernard and Matt Milano. While Bernard has much to prove to be considered even a starting-caliber NFL linebacker, Milano has already proven to be much more. A first-team All-Pro in 2022, Milano will be the key to the Bills’ entire defense in 2023 and may just be the team’s only hope to slow down the Jets’ rushing attack.
ADVANTAGE: Jets 👏👏👏
Bills Special Teams vs. Jets Special Teams
In most weeks the Bills will have an advantage on Special Teams with Week 1 being no different. Tyler Bass is balancing on the line between great and elite and will look to make the move to the latter in 2023. His 85.6% FG rate and 97.5% XP rate are impressive before even considering the weather conditions he often plays in. He will again be joined by Sam Martin who, while punting less than any other starter in the league, is a player who can flip field position when necessary. Lastly is the Bills’ return man Deonte Harty, who is filling in for the injured Nyheim Hines. Harty is no slouch in the role and was an All-Pro returner in 2019. Ball control will be a concern for him but give Harty an open field and he can change a game in the blink of an eye.
The Jets do have a solid Special Teams as well featuring the aged Greg Zuerlein (K) and Thomas Morstead (P) in the kicking game. Zuerlein has had one of the more impressive careers in NFL history for a Kicker and returns to the Jets after posting an 81.1% FG rate and 96.6% XP rate in 2022. Morstead on the other hand comes from Miami for his 15th season in the NFL. He’s lost a bit of power in his leg but has become an expert in the net game, not seeing his average dip below 40.0 since 2011. At return, the Jets are in a similar boat as the Bills with a returner who also earned All-Pro in 2019. Mecole Hardman is on the same level as Deonte Harty and has built a career as a speedster who can also return punts and kicks. His 9.0 Y/PR and 23.8 Y/KR make him someone to monitor on Monday night.
ADVANTAGE: Bills 👏👏
Why Buffalo Will Lose
The Jets have all the momentum in the world going for them with the support of nearly every NFL analyst, with it being the day it is, and being in front of their home crowd. This offense in particular can leverage that momentum to put an older Bills defense on their heels. Both Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer are well into their 30s coming off injury-plagued seasons and should be tested by a speedy New York skill group. Add to that a major question mark at MLB for the Bills and the seasoned Aaron Rodgers will know exactly where to throw the ball and when.
On the defensive side of the ball, the recipe is simple for the Jets: slow down Allen and force him to make some dumb mistakes. They have done that over Allen’s career, forcing him into 13 total, and with their talent on defense should expect to come away with a few more on Monday. Their two-high shell will make it difficult for the Bills to be explosive and with a major issue at RT the Jets should be able to generate pressure to Allen’s dominant role side. The Bills offense is one of the most difficult to stop in the NFL but the Jets have proven they are capable and there is little reason to doubt they can’t do so again.
Why Buffalo Will Win
The Jets have all the pressure in the world on them with the support of nearly every NFL analyst, with it being the day it is, and being in front of their home crowd. This is a borderline must-win for the Jets and something Buffalo will leverage to its advantage. Pushing the Jets early and taking the crowd out of the game will be paramount, and something Buffalo can do. On defense that means putting physical pressure on Rodgers and forcing an errant throw or two. An early turnover by Rodgers could spell disaster for a Jets team, and not just in this game.
On the other side of the ball, while the Jets have historically beaten up Josh Allen, he’s a player that you doubt at your own risk. Heading into Week 1 there is a lot of doubt surrounding the Bills, something that has fueled them in the past and should fuel them this season. Look for Allen to run early and often to keep drives alive and for Stefon Diggs to go alpha mode on the Jets DBs. Add to that a massive mismatch in Tight End versus Linebacker, the biggest mismatch this game, and a Bills team that struggled to score 20 points on the Jets last season may just put up 30 in Week 1 this season.
Prediction: Bills 28 – Jets 24
While this game could go either way it’s ultimately the unknown that should provide Buffalo the edge. For the Jets, everyone knows that they are running the Aaron Rodgers Offense and Robert Saleh Defense. For the Bills, everyone knows that they are running the…wait, what are they running? We know the offense is going to feature 12-personnel, but how much, how often, and what that even looks like is a massive unknown. We know the defense is going to look much like it has in years past but with a McDermott twang to it, and maybe even some Dime packages. These teams are fairly even and if the Jets win this game it wouldn’t surprise me. That being said, the Bills seem to be a sleeping giant right now and one that may just wake up on Monday night.