Once upon a different era, the New York Jets went up to the old stadium in Orchard Park, New York, and beat the Buffalo Bills for one of the most significant victories in franchise history. They clinched their first division title since the 1970 merger, and they partied like it was 1999 -- even though it was Dec. 19, 1998.
Two snapshots emerged from the raucous post-game locker room:
Curmudgeonly linebacker Mo Lewis, who always seemed to have a scowl (perhaps because of years of losing), stood on a table and danced. He wore an "AFC East Champions" baseball cap, and the look of pure joy on his face was unforgettable. Moments earlier, Bill Parcells stunned everyone by choking up as he addressed the team -- a rare display of emotion from the old coach. It was that kind of day.
On Sunday, the Jets get a chance to relive the moment in the same place.
After five straight wins, the Jets (10-5) are thisclose to their first postseason appearance since 2010. A win over the Bills (7-8) would clinch a wild-card berth and probably the sixth seed in the AFC playoffs, possibly the fifth seed if they catch a couple of breaks. They can sneak in if they lose, but only if the Pittsburgh Steelers fall to the lowly Cleveland Browns.
"We're playing pretty well right now," Darrelle Revis said. "Especially to win five in a row, that's definitely difficult to do late in the season. We're still up to the challenge, and we have one more challenge this upcoming Sunday."
It'll be ecstasy or agony. The primary obstacle is the revenge-minded Rex Ryan, who is clinging to a "misery-loves-company" mindset. Kickoff is 1 p.m. at Ralph Wilson Stadium. The top storylines:
1. Fitz vs. Rex: Ryan Fitzpatrick has struggled throughout his career against Ryan-coached defenses. We're talking serious struggles -- a 1-7 record, a 49-percent completion rate, a 177-yard average per game, 12 touchdowns and eight interceptions. Six of those starts came against the Jets when he started for the Bills. Fitzpatrick played poorly in the Week 10 meeting, making bad pre- and post-snap decisions. Ryan always is dialed into Fitzpatrick's tendencies, taking away his first read. It makes him tentative. He has to overcome that, and he'll have to do it amid emotional circumstances -- his first game in Orchard Park since being cut by the Bills after the 2012 season.
2. Big Game Bowles: Todd Bowles, who has a chance to become the fourth straight Jets coach to make the playoffs in his first season, made several questionable decisions in the previous meeting -- mostly in the fourth quarter. Like Fitzpatrick and offensive coordinator Chan Gailey, Bowles was off his game. Gailey went so far as to say it "made me upset to my stomach" to rewatch the game. It was one of those nights. Bowles has done a terrific job, but he can't coach like a rookie with so much at stake. The main objective should be a fast start, something that has eluded the Jets on the road.
3. Missing pieces: The Bills will be without three of their top four weapons on offense -- running back LeSean McCoy, tight end Charles Clay and wide receiver Robert Woods. In theory, they should be easy to defend. Even under ideal circumstances, the Bills' offense is fairly basic: It's either a run or a Tyrod Taylor scramble or a deep pass to Sammy Watkins. The Jets' defense has allowed only four touchdowns in the last four games, but you should know this about the matchup: The Jets have allowed the most touchdowns outside the red zone, while the Bills lead the NFL in touchdowns of at least 20 yards. Just saying.
4. Intangibles: Obviously, the Jets have more motivation than the Bills. This could be a career-defining game for Fitzpatrick and Brandon Marshall, neither of whom has made the playoffs in 21 combined seasons. They've handled the pressure so far, but it goes up a few notches in this game. It's hard to predict how the Bills will respond. Yeah, Ryan wants desperately to beat his old team, but do his players even care? You get the feeling it'll be all or nothing -- fired up to play for Ryan or utterly listless. Maybe malcontent Mario Williams will pull a Santonio Holmes and fight with teammates in the huddle. Wouldn't it be something if Ryan benches Williams and replaces him with ... IK Enemkpali?