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Thursday Night Football Preview: Can the Jets Get Past the Bills?

The Bills won both games against the Jets last season by a score of 22-17. What do the algorithms have to say about tonight's game?

Last season, the Buffalo Bills squashed the New York Jets' playoff hopes in Week 17, when they intercepted Ryan Fitzpatrick on each of the Jets' final three drives and came away with a 22-17 victory.

Playing for Rex Ryan must be rubbing off on Sammy Watkins, who guaranteed he'll play in Thursday night's game despite various reports that he is dealing with a serious foot injury.

The Bills' offense, and Tyrod Taylor and Watkins in particular, looked pretty terrible in Week 1, as they recorded only 7 points against the Baltimore Ravens.

The Jets, behind Matt Forte and a surprising Quincy Enunwa, looked better but couldn't close the deal at home against a tough Cincinnati Bengals team.

What should we expect from these two AFC East rivals this time around?

What to Expect From Buffalo's Offense

According to our Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) metric, Taylor's 417 drop backs manufactured 71.61 points above expectation level for the Bills' offense in 2015. His 0.17 Passing NEP per drop back ranked 10th among the 34 quarterbacks who attempted at least 250 drop backs last season.

Of course, Taylor also offers the added ability to accumulate points running the football. Taylor had the highest Rushing NEP per rush (0.36) among the 58 offensive skill players who attempted at least 75 rushes last season.

In Week 1, Taylor was held under 125 total yards (passing and rushing) and did not have a touchdown. He was also sacked twice.

LeSean McCoy rushed the ball 203 times last season and accumulated -2.28 Rushing NEP, ranking him 12th among the 30 running backs who rushed the ball at least 150 times. McCoy did contribute 16.97 points of Reception NEP, the eighth-highest total among that same group of running backs. McCoy had 58 yards on 16 carries and scored a touchdown in Week 1.

Sammy Watkins accumulated 100.50 Reception NEP in 2015, the 14th-highest total among the 48 players who had at least 50 receptions. Watkins' 1.05 Reception NEP per target was the highest total in the NFL last season among players who were targeted at least 75 times. In Week 1, Watkins hauled in four of his six targets on Sunday, for just 43 yards.

How Will the Jets Offense Do?

Fitzpatrick's 2015 totals for Passing NEP were actually quite similar to Taylor's. Fitzpatrick's Passing NEP of 81.62 ranked him 12th among the 34 quarterbacks who made at least 250 drop backs last season, but he was slightly less efficient on a per drop back basis when compared to Taylor.

His 0.14 Passing NEP per drop back also ranked 12th and was tied with Philip Rivers'. Fitzpatrick completed 19 of 35 passes for 189 yards and a touchdown in Week 1. He was also sacked once and threw an interception.

Matt Forte ran to a -0.04 Rushing NEP last season, ninth-best among the 30 running backs who attempted at least 150 rushes in 2015. He looked good in his new home last week, rushing the ball 22 times for 96 yards and adding in 5 catches for 59 yards.

Both Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker ranked in the top-10 for Reception NEP last season, but it was Enunwa who led the Jets with 7 catches for 54 yards and a touchdown in Week 1. All three of those players were targeted at least seven times by Fitzpatrick.

Historical Comparisons

According to our algorithm, the closest match for this game in the NFL database is not surprisingly, the game these two teams played last January, in which the Bills defeated the Jets 22-17.

Buffalo raced out to a 13-0 lead in that one behind an 18-yard Taylor rushing touchdown and a 2-yard goal-line plunge by Karlos Williams.

A 17-yard touchdown pass from Fitzpatrick to Marshall cut the score to 13-7, and then the two teams took turns kicking three total field goals, giving Buffalo a 19-10 advantage late in the third quarter.

Decker would catch another Fitzpatrick touchdown pass to cut the score to 19-17 with 1:10 remaining in the third, but that's as close as the Jets would get. Dan Carpenter kicked his third field goal of the game in the fourth to round out the scoring.

What the Algorithms Say

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