The Buffalo Bills will begin their quest for an AFC East division title when they host the New York Jets on Sunday afternoon in the season opener for both teams.
Buffalo has not finished in first place since 1995, when Marv Levy was head coach and Jim Kelly was under center. But the Bills are coming off a 10-win season for the first time in two decades, and they are looking to take the next step after their 2019 campaign ended with a 22-19 playoff loss to the Houston Texans in an AFC wild-card game.
"Until we win the AFC East, I'm not going to feel like we're on track," Bills general manager Brandon Beane recently said to reporters. "That's a big hurdle that we need to do here. ...
"We haven't won the division and, to me, that's the goal we have to do because we need to host playoff games here in Orchard Park, and the only way we get a chance to do that is if we win the division. We haven't been able to take down the Patriots yet. Nobody has since we've been here. That's still the team we're chasing."
The New York Jets feel the same way.
As the Jets travel upstate to begin the season on the road, they are looking to break a string of four consecutive losing seasons. Last season saw New York finish 7-9 in its first season with Adam Gase at the helm.
Gase has projected confidence throughout the preseason, but a slow start by the Jets could increase questions about his job security. His relationship with star running back Le'Veon Bell also could be in the spotlight after the two publicly disagreed in August about whether the player was dealing with a tight hamstring.
Bell, 28, insists there is nothing to worry about between him and his coach. He is looking to bounce back after a disappointing season in which he averaged only 3.2 yards per carry and scored three rushing touchdowns in 15 games.
"We've had positive talks ever since I got here," Bell recently said to reporters. "I don't understand why everyone is trying to put me and Coach Gase against each other. We're not against each other. I understand how hard it is to believe that, but we actually like each other. We understand it comes with the territory."
Both clubs feature third-year quarterbacks looking to improve.
Josh Allen completed 58.8 percent of his passes while throwing for 3,089 yards, 20 touchdowns and nine interceptions last season with Buffalo. His Jets counterpart, Sam Darnold, completed 61.9 percent of his passes for 3,024 yards, 19 touchdowns and 13 interceptions during his sophomore campaign.
Neither side is dealing with significant injuries, although the Jets had linebacker C.J. Mosley opt out of the season because of the coronavirus pandemic. Starting wide receivers Breshad Perriman (knee) and Denzel Mims (hamstring) missed time during the preseason but returned to full participation in practice this week.
Left guard Alex Lewis (shoulder) was limited Wednesday and is questionable for Sunday. Starting linebackers Tarell Basham (ankle) and Avery Williamson (hamstring) and safety Marcus Maye (calf) were limited, too.
For Buffalo, defensive tackle Star Lotulelei and cornerback E.J. Gaines opted out because of the pandemic. Cornerback Josh Norman (hamstring) did not practice Wednesday and starting defensive tackle Vernon Butler (hamstring) was limited.
The most prominent arrival in Buffalo is wideout Stefon Diggs, who will make his team debut after spending the past five seasons with the Minnesota Vikings.
The Bills and Jets split last season's series in a pair of hard-fought, low-scoring games. Buffalo squeaked out a 17-16 victory in Week 1 on the road, and New York returned the favor with a 13-6 road win in Week 17.
--Field Level Media