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Week 2 Picks: The Bills’ home opener

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A pair of AFC East rivals look to avoid an 0-2 start to the 2016 season.

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Each week Zac Hirschbeck will look at the betting odds for each NFL game and then share his pick for each matchup. While hopefully it goes without saying, please don’t hold him accountable if you gamble away your retirement savings or child’s college fund based on his picks.

After going 9-6-1 in Week 1, here are his thoughts on tonight’s Week 2-opening matchup, which sees the Bills host the New York Jets.

New York Jets (-1) at Buffalo Bills

After opening the week as favorites, the Bills now enter tonight’s game as underdogs to the visiting Jets. That change is certainly understandable.

Following a Week 1 offensive effort that saw them rack up a measly 160 yards on offense against the Ravens, the Bills now face a defense that boasts what is arguably the most talented defensive line in football. With Sheldon Richardson returning from his one-game suspension to join Muhammad Wilkerson, Leonard Williams and free-agent signing Steve McLendon, the Jets’ line could prove very problematic for a Buffalo offensive line that will be without left tackle Cordy Glenn. Although Cyrus Kouandjio played well during the preseason and in Glenn’s absence against Baltimore, he’ll have his hands full in Week 2.

In addition to Glenn’s absence, a potentially limited Sammy Watkins may hinder the Bills’ passing game. While Watkins expressed certainty that he’d suit up against New York, frightening reports have emerged regarding the receiver’s surgically repaired foot. If Watkins is slowed down by the soreness in his foot, or if he sits out to rest up for Week 3, the Bills would surely miss their top receiver.

Despite the concern surrounding the Week 1 offensive performance, Glenn’s absence, and Watkins’ health, I’m optimistic in the Bills’ chances this week. That positivity stems largely from Buffalo’s defense. Although the sputtering offense deservedly received most of the post-Week 1 coverage, the defense looked good against Baltimore. Even without three projected starters (Marcell Dareus, Reggie Ragland and Shaq Lawson), Rex Ryan’s defense limited the Ravens’ run game (3.0 average on 28 carries) and confused and pressured Joe Flacco. Barring one blown assignment (Duke Williams on Mike Wallace), the Bills defense resembled a unit that was far improved from its mediocre 2015 showing.

That improvement should bode well against New York, especially considering Jets quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick’s awful history against Ryan. Following two more lackluster showings against Buffalo in 2015, it’s hard to imagine the former Bill changing his fortunes on the road tonight. With Stephon Gilmore and Ronald Darby likely limiting the production of Fitzpatrick’s top two receiving targets (Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker), Buffalo should have a great opportunity to force a few turnovers against the error-prone veteran.

On offense, I’m of the belief (and hope) that Buffalo will improve upon its Week 1 performance. Aside from two drives, the Bills looked completely out of rhythm offensively. Although a short week of preparation may not help Buffalo completely rediscover its lacking timing, I think the entire offense, and particularly Taylor, takes a step forward after such a dismal opening-week display. Whether that’s improved use of the middle of the field, a few down-the-field throws, or LeSean McCoy putting the offense on his back, I believe the offense begins to resemble the productive unit that created such high expectations for 2016.

Pick: Bills (+1)