AFC Playoff Implications in Rex Ryan’s return to the Big Apple

By Garrett Gangarossa

As it stands in early November, the AFC playoff picture is far from being settled. Halfway through the 2015 NFL season, the NFL has been absolutely crushed with injuries, as both AFC and NFC playoff contenders have lost big name players to lengthy injuries. Crushing injuries to players like Jamaal Charles of the Kansas City Chiefs and Ben Roethlisberger of the Pittsburgh Steelers have opened the door for the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets.

As a conference, the AFC is very mediocre outside of the New England Patriots and Cincinnati Bengals, producing what should be, an extremely tight race. Currently, the Bills and Jets will have to battle with teams such as the Oakland Raiders and Pittsburgh Steelers if they want a spot in this year’s playoffs.

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Thursday night, the Bills and Jets meet for the first time this season under the lights at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ. It marks the first meeting between the two sides since the Bills’ hire of former Jets head coach, Rex Ryan. Obviously, the two sides are familiar with each other’s schemes, philosophies and techniques and the familiarity between the two franchises doesn’t stop at Rex Ryan. Former Bills head coach Chan Gailey and former Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick are now running the Jets offense, setting up an interesting battle on Thursday night.

Keep an eye out to see how the Jets fans react to the former head coach being in the building. Despite Ryan’s early success with New York, leading them to two consecutive AFC Championship games, taking a head coaching job in Buffalo does not sit well with the fans. This divisional matchup is not just an ordinary game for Rex Ryan, and look for him to get his guys fired up, as always.

Following the departure of former head coach Doug Marrone; it was apparent that Buffalo needed a big name head coach. The team had not been to the playoffs, and still has not, since the 1999 season. The hire of Rex Ryan was unconventional compared to previous head coaching hires in Buffalo. With Rex, the team finally had a coach with NFL head coaching experience, and a confident voice. In the past, Buffalo hired first time head coaches, and coaches with only coordinator experience. Now, the players have a coach they can respect based on encouraging prior accomplishments.

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Despite Buffalo’s slow start, Rex Ryan is a player’s coach, who will have an active voice in the locker room and with the media. Ryan’s voice has given the Buffalo Bills an identity they haven’t had in quite sometime, a confident bully on the defensive side of the ball. From the time Ryan was hired in western New York, he preached hard-nosed football. Rex wanted to create a bully, a team that plays physical and through the whistle. Throughout the first half of the season, many would argue that mindset is directly responsible for the shaky 4-4 start.

Penalties have been the thorn in the side of the Buffalo Bills, who are on pace for the most penalties by a team in NFL history. Although Buffalo’s penalties have erased big plays, given free points to teams and even lost them games, growing pains are expected with an incoming head coach. If the Bills can embrace that smash mouth style of football, while creating a disciplined locker room, the dark days of Buffalo Bills football may be coming to an end.

For some time, national NFL audiences have not been intrigued to watch AFC east matchups due to the complete dominance of the New England Patriots over the last decade. This particular matchup however, has a handful of story lines that should appeal to the national audience. Pushing all storylines aside, this game is an intriguing matchup against two teams who are coming off big wins and desire to keep the win streak alive.

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The New York Jets have played quite well through eight games of the season, sitting at 5-3. They have found success running the football and playing stellar defense, and the game may come down to which offense can hit the big play. Health is a big factor in this game and if Buffalo can put out a healthy Sammy Watkins and LeSean McCoy, they may have the offensive edge. Nonetheless, Thursday night’s game will display substantial playoff implications in the AFC.

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