Had New York Jets quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick not thrown interceptions on two of his final three pass attempts in 2015, he might have saved the Cincinnati Bengals and their fans from the horrific fate that awaited them in the wild-card loss to Pittsburgh.
The Jets went into Week 17 riding a five-game winning streak and had a one-game lead on the Steelers for the final playoff spot. A win at Buffalo would cap an 11-5 season and sent them to Cincinnati for the playoffs, but Fitzpatrick had his worst game of the year, completing 16 of 37 passes for 181 yards with two touchdowns and three interceptions in a 22-17 loss.
Meanwhile in Cleveland, the Steelers were beating the Browns 28-18 to leapfrog the Jets into the postseason, and the rest is, well, you know.
Nine months later, the Jets get that shot at the Bengals they had hoped for when the two teams open the 2016 season in New York on Sunday.
The Jets were actually two losses to Buffalo and former head coach Rex Ryan away from being the No. 1 seed last year, and much of the talent from that squad returns this season.
Fitzpatrick returns for a second season with the Jets after a tense contract standoff which wasn’t settled until a few days before training camp, when the 11-year veteran signed a one-year, $12 million deal.
Offensive coordinator Chan Gailey uses a lot of four-receiver sets, highlighted by 1,000-yard receivers Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker. The addition of running back Matt Forte will give Fitzpatrick another target.
Defensive-minded head coach Todd Bowles and coordinator Kacy Rodgers made the Jets one of the best units in the league last year. They ranked fourth in total defense and second against the run.
The matchup between cornerback Darrelle Revis and Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green will be one to watch all afternoon.
Jets QB Ryan Fitzpatrick played for the Bengals from 2007-08 … Jets C Nick Mangold played at Ohio State and is from Centerville (Alter High School) … Jets LB Darron Lee, WR Jalin Marshall (Middletown High School) and WR Devin Smith also played at Ohio State … Jets defensive line coach Pepper Johnson played at Ohio State … Bengals K Mike Nugent played for the Jets from 2005-08 … Bengals assistant head coach/offensive line Paul Alexander is from Rochester, N.Y., and was an assistant coach for the Jets from 1992-93 … Bengals secondary coach Kevin Coyle is from Staten Island, N.Y. … Bengals linebackers coach Jim Haslett played for the Jets in 1988 … Bengals offensive assistant/wide receivers coach Dan Pitcher is from Cortland, N.Y., and played at Cortland State (2008-11) … Bengals LB Vinny Rey is from Far Rockaway, N.Y.
AFC North outlook
Baltimore (0-0) vs. Buffalo (0-0), Sunday: After winning their first five season openers under coach John Harbaugh, the Ravens have dropped three straight.
Cleveland (0-0) at Philadelphia (0-0), Sunday: The Hue Jackson era opens for the Browns and clashes with the start of the Carson Wentz/Doug Pederson era in Philadelphia.
Pittsburgh (0-0) at Washington (0-0), Monday night: The Steelers will be without suspended running back LeVeon Bell and wide receiver Martavis Bryant as they head to the nation’s captial for just the second time since 1988 to face the 2015 NFC East champion Redskins.