Two AFC East rivals out of New York square off Thursday night, and Bills coach Rex Ryan, facing his former team, has already introduced drama, starting with the naming of IK Enemkpali -- he who sent Jets quarterback Geno Smith to the infirmary (and the backup role) with a broken jaw -- as team captain. As expected, for Jets coach Todd Bowles, it's business as usual.
But who will the coaches bring to the playing field? Both are dealing with injuries to key players, and the short week doesn't make it any easier when it comes to recovery. Still, it appears both teams are likely to have the majority of their stars in uniform.
LeSean McCoy, RB, shoulder, (P): McCoy appears to finally be putting his preseason hamstring injury in the rearview mirror but in Week 9, despite gaining over 100 yards on the ground, he added an upper extremity ailment to the mix. Although the Bills haven’t offered much in the way of specifics, the injury was never deemed particularly serious. Still, Ryan was non-committal early in the week when it came to McCoy’s status, knowing there were only four days between games. McCoy did not practice Monday and was listed as a limited participant both Tuesday and Wednesday. According to ESPN.com’s Mike Rodak, Tuesday was little more than a walkthrough, but McCoy was projected as if he would have been limited.
Perhaps Ryan is more comfortable knowing that Karlos Williams is now healthy and able to pick up the load when McCoy isn’t available, as he did last Sunday to the tune of 110 yards rushing and two scores. Actually, to the delight of Williams’ fantasy owners, he demonstrated his value even when McCoy is healthy. Williams’ first touchdown came before McCoy exited the game with the shoulder injury.
With the probable designation, it’s clear the Bills expect to have McCoy available. What is unclear is how much he will be able to do. Don’t expect any limitations for McCoy to start the game; his own teammate declared him to be 100 percent ready. While Williams’ support and optimism for his teammate is admirable, it’s also entirely possible that things could change if McCoy takes a hit that aggravates the shoulder. Not to mention the challenge he will face from the Jets’ stingy run defense. Either way, both backs should be involved in this game. Just how the workload shakes out is where the uncertainty lies.
Sammy Watkins, WR, ankle, (P): Last week, Watkins provided a number of hints as to how the sprained ankle he suffered in Week 8 was still problematic. Expectations were lowered given Watkins’ acknowledgment that he would avoid “any crazy moves” and might have to remove himself occasionally from the game. Then he went on the field and produced 168 yards and a touchdown. So much for being limited.
The performance didn’t come without a price. Watkins’ ankle was clearly sore this week and with only a few days to recover, he won’t be 100 percent. It’s not enough to keep him out as the probable listing indicates and, by his own description, he wasn’t 100 percent heading into last week either. But whether Watkins can realistically be expected to put up a similar performance is in question.
The Jets have all the usual suspects on the injury report; in fact, they list 12 players as probable indicating all are expected to play. Fantasy owners can take comfort in knowing that virtually all of the stars listed on the injury report have already played at least one game with their ailments and, in most cases, have posted solid numbers nonetheless.
Wide receiver Brandon Marshall (ankle/toe) posted his fewest receiving yards in Week 9 but still managed to score a touchdown. Even when he’s less than 100 percent healthy, he’s a favored target of Fitzpatrick’s.
Wide receiver Eric Decker has been challenged by recurring stiffness and swelling in his PCL-injured knee but continues to fight through it. He has only missed one game and has scored a touchdown in all but one of the games in which he’s played.
Running back Chris Ivory has encountered various soft tissue injury challenges, including, most recently, a hamstring strain, yet has managed to play in all but one game. Although the last three opponents the Jets have faced have limited his run production, Ivory did rediscover the end zone last week. Twice.
Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick is expected to undergo thumb surgery to repair ligament damage in the thumb of his non-throwing hand, but not before he starts tonight’s game. He played through the injury last week and threw for 272 yards.
Marshall, Decker, Ivory and Fitzpatrick are all listed as probable and are all expected to play.
The Jets will likely be without perhaps their biggest defensive star, however, as cornerback Antonio Cromartie is listed as doubtful due to a thigh bruise. If he indeed sits this one out, it will be his first missed game due to injury in his 10-year career. Try as he might, the short week played into the challenge for Cromartie to push through and play. As ESPN.com’s Rich Cimini notes, Buster Skrine or Marcus Williams is expected to start but recently activated off IR/designated for return is cornerback Dee Milliner who is likely to see his first game action of the season Thursday night.