The final game of Week 1 of the 2023 NFL season pits the New York Jets against the division rival Buffalo Bills. In the first game of the Aaron Rodgers era, the Jets will face one of their toughest tests of the season as they look to get off to a better start than they have during their first couple of seasons under Robert Saleh.
Both the Jets and Bills underwent several changes this offseason, including both teams letting go of a coordinator on one side of the ball. Nathaniel Hackett was brought in to replace departed offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur in New York, while Bills head coach Sean McDermott is taking over defensive play-calling duties after the departure of Leslie Frazier.
How will these changes and more affect this rivalry game? We're glad you asked. Before we break down the matchup, here's a look at how you can watch the game.
How to watch
When the Bills have the ball
In two games against the Jets last season, Josh Allen struggled pretty badly. He completed just 34 of 61 passes (55.7%) for 352 yards (5.8) per attempt, one touchdown, and two interceptions. It's worth noting that the elbow injury that bothered him over the second half of the season occurred on the final drive of that first game; but it's not like his performance was out of character for a quarterback playing against the Jets, and he went only 18 of 34 for 205 yards and two picks in that first game anyway.
Allen wasn't actually under duress all that often during those two contests (30.7% of his dropbacks, per TruMedia), but the Jets did a fantastic job of converting that pressure into sacks: They brought Allen to the ground eight times on his 23 pressured dropbacks. New York also completely shut down the deep part of the field, yielding only three completions of 20 or more yards despite the fact that Allen averaged a ridiculous 10.4 air yards per attempt. (His season average against all other teams was 9.1 per attempt.)
This offseason, the Bills tried to fortify their offense in the hopes of preventing performances like those. They signed Connor McGovern away from the Cowboys to start at one guard spot and drafted O'Cyrus Torrence to start at the other. They traded up to select Dalton Kincaid in the first round and brought in Deonte Harty to provide depth at receiver. They moved on from Devin Singletary and Zack Moss, shifting responsibility to James Cook and signing Damien Harris away from the Patriots.
Beefing up the interior offensive line should prevent Allen from being pressured as often, and give him more time to push the ball down the field. Bringing in Kincaid to play a hybrid tight end/slot receiver role should allow the Bills to be more multiple in their use of both personnel (more two-tight end looks) and formations, Harty should bring more speed and after-catch dynamism, and moving to a Cook-Harris pairing should more clearly delineate the roles in the backfield and provide more utility in terms of both pass-catching (Cook) and short-yardage situations (Harris). At least, that's the plan. In Week 1, we'll get to find out pretty quickly how much of an effect those changes will really make.
McGovern, Torrence, and center Mitch Morse will be tested right away by Quinnen Williams, one of the best interior pass rushers in the league. Kincaid will have to navigate Robert Saleh's defense and provide a big threat over the middle -- an especially important role because Stefon Diggs and Gabe Davis will have to tangle with arguably the NFL's premier cornerback tandem in Sauce Gardner and D.J. Reed. The Jets allowed the league's eighth-most completions to players lined up in the slot last season, per TruMedia, as opponents avoided throwing at the outside corners whenever possible. The Bills recognized the benefits of using their slot man last season by moving Diggs there more often: He lined up inside on 31.4% of his snaps on the season, but was there for 44.8% of his snaps against the Jets. Expect to see him there more often than usual in this game as well. Gardner and Reed also play sides of the field rather than shadowing receivers, to the Bills could keep Diggs to Reed's side and have Davis line up against Gardner whenever they're on the perimeter.
Because the Jets are so strong against the deep pass and throws to the perimeter, it will be important to watch whether Allen's elbow has healed enough to allow him to be more accurate on short and intermediate passes. He was more scattershot on those throws over the latter portion of the season, and it affected the Bills' ability to move the chains when defenses concentrated on taking away the deep stuff. If he's locked in like he was earlier in the year, that's much more difficult for a defense to do.
One area where Buffalo might be able to create an advantage is by using Allen as a rushing threat. He had six designed runs for 53 yards and a touchdown against the Jets last season, and New York allowed 6.8 yards per carry against designed QB runs last season. The Bills generally want to put less rushing responsibility on Allen's shoulders this season (which is part of the reason they opted to sign a "big back" like Harris), but this is a matchup where it could be particularly beneficial. That's especially true because the Jets were incredibly stingy against the run overall, checking in eighth in FTN's run defense DVOA.
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When the Jets have the ball
New York's offense last season was totally undermined by disaster-level quarterback play. That's why the Jets made the move for Rodgers. You know this. I know this. Rodgers knows this. The entire Tri-State area knows this.
The question this season is whether the offensive line can hold up well enough for Rodgers to take the offense to the next level. The Jets have pretty big question marks everywhere except for the guard spots, where Laken Tomlinson and Alijah Vera-Tucker are each reliable starters. Left tackle Duane Brown is 38 years old and coming off shoulder surgery. Right tackle Mekhi Becton has played 48 snaps since his rookie year back in 2020. Joe Tippmann was drafted to take the center spot away from (the other) Connor McGovern, but McGovern is likely to remain in the role.
Even with Von Miller opening the season on the PUP list, the Bills have a defensive front strong enough to present a challenge to this group. Greg Rousseau was one of the best pressure players in the league before getting injured last season. Leonard Floyd has long been a reliable secondary rushman. Shaq Lawson and A.J. Epenesa are good depth pieces. And Ed Oliver, DaQuan Jones, Tim Settle, Jordan Phillips and Poona Ford comprise a solid interior rotation. Rodgers gets rid of the ball quicker than almost any quarterback in the league, but if the line has issues keeping those guys out of his face, he could become either unable or reluctant to push the ball down the field.
When he does have time (and when he delivers quickly), the passing game should run through second-year star Garrett Wilson. Wilson caught 83 passes for 1,103 yards and four scores last season, with his averages dragged down by the games he played with Zach Wilson. We've seen what it looks like when Rodgers relentless targets a wideout who is a note-perfect route runner with great size and body control, and if he locks onto Wilson the way he did Davante Adams, the duo could form a special combination. Buffalo could match Wilson across the formation with Tre'Davious White, or it could simply provide help over the top in the form of Micah Hyde and/or Jordan Poyer, who are each healthy now and ready to resume their place at or near the top of the NFL's best safety duos.
If the Bills devote extra attention to Wilson in hopes of forcing Rodgers to beat them with somebody else, there are some questions about the remainder of New York's receiver corps. Allen Lazard is a decent complementary option, but Corey Davis retired, Randall Cobb is 33 years old and several seasons removed from being an impact player, and Mecole Hardman failed to grab a significant role during training camp. The team's next-best receiving threat after Wilson might be running back Breece Hall, but he's coming off a torn ACL and is likely to be eased into action early in the season.
The split of snaps and carries between Hall and Dalvin Cook has been the subject of much fascination. Hall is clearly the more explosive player at this stage of their respective careers, but again, he'll likely be on a snap and/or touch count early on. The Jets could use Michael Carter and/or Israel Abanikanda a bit more here, but Carter was extraordinarily inefficient last season and Abanikanda is a rookie fifth-round pick. Buffalo had the NFL's third-best run defense last season, and the Jets offensive line does not inspire much hope that the Jets will be able to run it with much success against this group.
Score: Bills 20, Jets 17
The weather conditions and the strength of both defenses should keep the scoring low in this one. Given the question marks along the offensive line for New York and the Bills' general dominance of divisional foes in recent seasons, we're going with Buffalo to take home the win in a close game.
I'm confident in my pick, but if you want another expert opinion, Sportsline's R.J. White, who is an amazing 43-27-2 on his last 72 picks involving the Jets, has released his spread pick for tonight's game.