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Thursday Night Preview: Will the Surprising Buffalo Bills Keep It Rolling Against the Jets?

The rising Buffalo Bills have shot up to 13th in our current power rankings. Tonight, they face a New York Jets team that ranks only 27th, but they have shown the ability to put some points up with Josh McCown at the helm. They've averaged 21.67 points-per-game over their last three and will try to keep it up against the Bills -- and make the AFC East picture even more confusing.

Can the Jets pull off the upset, or will the Bills knot it up with New England Patriots? Let's dig in and find out.

Quarterback Breakdown

This matchup features two quarterbacks who rank out well using numberFire's advanced analytics. Tyrod Taylor has faced a tough schedule against the pass, but among the 32 quarterbacks with at least 100 drop backs, he ranks 10th in Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) per drop back (0.16). In terms of Passing Success Rate -- the percentage of drop backs which result in a positive NEP -- his 43.01% mark slides him back to 24th.

Taylor is also excellent he is on the ground. He has the third-most rushing attempts among quarterbacks (34), and he has added 10.01 Rushing NEP to the Bills this season.

On the other side of this matchup is McCown, who has performed pretty well. Among quarterbacks with 100 or more drop backs, he ranks 20th in Passing NEP per drop back (0.09) and scoots up the ranks in Passing Success Rate (47.50%) to 13th.

Both signal callers are struggling from a lack of a deep ball. Looking at the NFL's Next-Gen Stats, Taylor ranks 21st in average intended air yards (IAY) at 8.5 yards per attempt, and McCown is even farther back, ranking 32nd at 7.5 yards per attempt. (For some context, Deshaun Watson leads the league with a mark of 11.3 IAY.)

Running Back Play

In Buffalo, LeSean McCoy has been a workload beast. McCoy ranks seventh in the NFL in carries (137), while leading all running backs in both targets (46) and receptions (38). The downside to that heavy workload is that McCoy hasn't been the most efficient back -- among 34 runners with 60 carries or more, McCoy ranks 27th in Rushing NEP per play (-0.10). However, he is coming off a monster effort last week in which he touched the rock 33 times for 173 yards and a score.

The Jets, meanwhile, are splitting the workload between Matt Forte and Bilal Powell. Powell has been the more effective runner in Rushing NEP per play (-0.05, good for 25th), while Forte's -0.11 ranks only 44th.

Defensive Matchup

These defenses are in two very different spots -- the Bills have been one of the best defensive units all year, ranking 10th, while the Jets have struggled to a ranking of 24th.

These two teams are opposites in terms of strengths and weaknesses. Buffalo ranks 7th against the pass and 17th against the run, while the Jets are getting burned through the air, ranking 24th against the pass, but checking in far better against the run at 12th.

In looking at Football Outsiders' adjusted sack rate, which displays sacks (plus intentional grounding penalties) per pass attempt adjusted for down, distance, and opponent, both teams are atrocious at pressuring the quarterback. The Jets have sacked opposing passers 11 times on their way to an an adjusted sack rate of 4.7%, ranking 27th. The Bills, who have notched 13 sacks this season, fall in just behind them at 29th.

Historical Comparisons

According to our models, there are only two contests that correlate with this game greater than 90% of the time, but the one most like this matchup goes all the way back to Christmas Eve of 2000, when the Miami Dolphins took on the Patriots.

This was the last game of 2000 regular season for both teams, and the Dolphins were looking to wrap up a division title against a Drew Bledsoe-led Pats team that was only 5-10 heading into this tilt. The Dolphins got everything they could handle, scratching out 10 fourth quarter points to win by just a field goal, 27-24.

Lamar Smith struggled his way to 26 yards on 20 carries but was able to find the end zone twice to lead the way offensively for Miami.

In tonight's matchup, the 2017 Bills will play the role of the 2000 Patriots, meaning we could see a cover of the over but a push on the spread.

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