The Buffalo Bills have been one of the NFL's biggest surprises of the season's first half, despite what looked like an all-out rebuild in another potentially dismal year.
Sean McDermott's resilient squad has a chance to turn many more skeptics into believers — or at least, intrigued onlookers - on a prime-time stage against the slumping AFC East-rival New York Jets on Thursday night.
"When you know everyone's watching you, you look forward to those moments," quarterback Tyrod Taylor said. "Even with the short week, guys are preparing hard and looking forward to this opportunity to show the other team what we can do, but as well as show people that are going to be watching, everyone's going to be tuned into Thursday Night Football, to show that this team is real."
The Bills (5-2) are a half-game behind New England for first place in the AFC East. With a victory over the Jets (3-5), Buffalo would clinch its best first half to a season since the 1993 squad with Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas and Bruce Smith opened 7-1 and made it to last of the franchise's four straight Super Bowls.
"It's 5-2 and no one gives out awards for 5-2, so we have to keep that in mind," said McDermott, in his first season as an NFL head coach. "Having said that, I'm extremely proud of these guys. They've worked hard, they've earned everything that they've gotten so far, and for that, yeah, absolutely, I'm extremely proud of them and I'm happy for them."
The Bills' two losses this season have been by a combined 10 points: 9-3 at Carolina and 20-16 vs. Cincinnati. Buffalo also has yet to trail by more than seven points.
"They're tough, they're disciplined," Jets coach Todd Bowles said. "They run the ball very well. The quarterback's taking care of the football. The biggest thing: They don't turn it over and they're getting turnovers. They're playing good football."
That's despite a massive roster overhaul in the offseason; the churning continues. The Bills traded defensive tackle Marcell Dareus to Jacksonville last week, and then acquired wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin from Carolina for draft picks on Tuesday.
They remain a collection of patchwork, no-name players - both young and journeymen - who are playing well above expectations. And so far, that's been good enough to mostly win.
"There's been a different guy, and that's pretty much been the story of our team this whole year, offense and defense," Taylor said.