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NFL Preview - N.Y. Jets (5-4) at Buffalo (3-7)
By Lyle Fitzsimmons, Contributing NFL Editor
(SportsNetwork.com) - Before Week 1, the New York Jets' fortunes were forecast with P words like putrid and pathetic. Don't look now, NFL, but Gang Green fans are starting to toss around another P word as the team returns from its bye for a Week 11 visit to AFC East rival Buffalo.
Having beaten Buffalo in seven of their last eight meetings, the Jets find themselves in possession of the AFC's final wild card playoff spot with a one- game lead over Miami, Tennessee, Cleveland, Baltimore and San Diego.
New York will play the Dolphins twice in its final seven games, along with both the Browns and Ravens.
The Jets already played the Titans and dropped a 38-13 decision in Week 4, part of a maddening run that's seen them alternate wins and losses through nine games - equaling the league's longest all-time streak of results inconsistency.
"We have a great opportunity in front of us and that's where the excitement lies because we know that as a team, our best football is ahead of us," said QB Geno Smith, whose inaugural season has featured moments worthy of either aforementioned P-word extreme.
His 13 interceptions are third-most in the league, but he's also engineered late comebacks in wins over Tampa Bay and Atlanta and passed for a career-high 331 yards in a 27-20 defeat of the Bills at home in Week 3.
"We have been inconsistent and we've shown flashes of being a good team, but we've also had moments where we haven't looked so good. We know that as long as we clean up our mistakes and we handle the things that we can control, we'll have an opportunity."
For a sampling of the up and down nature of the 2013 New York performance, take a look at the last three games prior to the bye week.
New York defeated the NFC South-leading New Orleans Saints, 26-20, in Week 9 while coming off a 40-point road loss to Cincinnati. A week before the Bengals blew them out, the Jets defeated New England, 30-27, in overtime.
"We embrace the challenges," tight end Konrad Reuland said. "We truly believe we can beat any team we line up against."
Running back Chris Ivory galloped for 139 yards and a touchdown against the Saints, with whom he'd played three seasons before arriving in New York. The Jets came within two yards of hanging 200 rush yards on New Orleans while intercepting Drew Brees twice.
They also didn't turn the ball over, improving to 5-2 when they give it away once or not at all.
"Nobody's thinking about, 'Hey, let's run seven in a row off,'" New York coach Rex Ryan said. "The only way to get there is to handle your business, and that's what we have to do."
Future Hall of Fame safety Ed Reed will be around to help Rex and Co. handle that business moving forward. The veteran safety, who was released by the Houston Texans on Tuesday, agreed to terms with the Jets two days later.
Reed spent his first 11 seasons with the Baltimore Ravens and will reunite with his former defensive coordinator for four of his seasons there, Ryan.
The nine-time Pro Bowl selection, who has 61 career interceptions and a league-record 1,541 interception return yards, may not be able to help in Buffalo this weekend but should eventually bolster a Jets pass defense that ranks 24th in the league entering Week 11 and has picked off a mere five passes this season.
Buffalo has gone 1-5 since a 2-2 start, though it got rookie quarterback EJ Manuel back last week after he'd missed several games with a right knee sprain. The youngster was 22-of-39 for a TD, an interception and 155 yards in a 23-10 loss at Pittsburgh, in which the Bills compiled a season-low 227 total yards.
"The kid missed four weeks and just came back. He's trying his best," coach Doug Marrone said. "He's going through his footwork too quick and not (slowing) down to see things develop as quick. That happens to young quarterbacks. Do we expect him to play better than he did last game? Absolutely. Will he play better? Yes. Yes he will."
Hampering that effort could be the absences of two key receivers.
Stevie Johnson and his 41 catches for 471 yards are questionable with a groin injury, while rookie Robert Woods (23 catches, 349 yards) is doubtful with an ankle issue.
Potentially back for New York is veteran Santonio Holmes, who's not played since a hamstring injury in Week 4. Holmes is listed as probable, and the Jets will also have the services of tight end Kellen Winslow, who was shelved for four games on an NFL suspension mandated by the league's performance-enhancing drugs policy.
Holmes caught five passes for 154 yards and a score in the Week 3 game against Buffalo.
Also in the fold for New York is wide receiver David Nelson, who played three years with the Bills before heading to the Jets after Buffalo did not offer him a new contract.
Nelson has 16 catches for 199 yards in five games with his new team since signing on Oct. 2.
"Anybody who tells you, when they play an old team or a team that cut them, that it's just another game is lying to you," he said. "This is definitely more than just another game for me. It's going to be an emotional game. It's going to be a fun game. This game holds a little more in my heart than most others."
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
No run. No way.
The Jets entered the bye week with the league's best rush defense and emerged from it with the same standing. Their 73.8-yard average is nearly 10 better than the second-best team, Carolina (82.0 yards per game), and it was shown effective in the Week 3 game with Buffalo when C.J. Spiller was held to nine yards on 10 carries -- though teammate Fred Jackson did gain 72 on seven attempts, including 59 on one run. To what degree those two are limited in the absence of healthy receivers could be decisive.
Make something happen, kid.
Rookie QB Manuel was the second-best passer on the field the first time he competed with his fellow first-year starter from New York. Manuel was just 19- of-42 against the Bills, though he did hit Scott Chandler for a 33-yard TD to tie the game in the fourth quarter. He'll have to play better than he did in his injury return last week against Pittsburgh, a task that won't be easy if Johnson and Woods are either unavailable or at less than full strength.
Rightly or wrongly, the win over the Saints at least temporarily changed perception of the Jets from inconsistent novelty to potential fringe playoff contender.
Comparisons to Ryan's 2009 and 2010 New York teams -- both heavy on the run game and playing sound defense -- have begun, and the Jets can add some credence to them with a road win against a flailing rival.
Sports Network predicted outcome: Jets 23, Bills 22
11/14 13:17:35 ET