Photo: USA Today Sports

Challenge - and opportunity - await Bills in final 7 games

November 09, 2016 - 7:01 pm

By Sal Capaccio

Twitter @Salports

For the first time since 2013, the Bills have lost three straight games.  After starting 0-2 then turning it around and winning four in a row, they’re right back to where many dreaded heading into the bye: 4-5 and probably having to win 6 of the final 7 games to break the organization’s 16-year playoff drought.  Yet, even after the team’s 31-25 heartbreaker of a loss in Seattle, and that daunting task in front of them, I get a sense that many fans are still hanging in and believing it’s possible.  Maybe it’s because of the way Tyrod Taylor played, giving them a glimpse of what a franchise QB is supposed to do on a weekly basis.  Maybe it’s because they’re getting healthier at the skill positions, with LeSean McCoy, Robert Woods, and Marquise Goodwin all on the field Monday night and all proving they are valuable to this offense.  Maybe it’s because there’s still a chance the team’s best weapon through the air, Sammy Watkins, could also join the troops for the stretch run.  

But it could also be the optimism of simply looking at their remaining schedule and seeing it’s all AFC opponents, which gives the Bills a direct chance to climb the ladder in the standings while giving those teams they are fighting with for a wild card spot losses.  No matter what it is, it’s still an incredibly tall order any way you look at it.  Stacking wins like that is tough in the NFL no matter who you are or the schedule you face.  

But if it’s going to happen, it obviously has to start in two weeks - after the bye - in Cincinnati.  The Bengals will be coming off of a Monday night road game when they face the Bills.  They’ll have a short week.  While the Bills will have two weeks to get healthy and ready for them.  So it’s imperative they take advantage of it.  If they can do that and get to 5-5 there is genuinely reason to think more wins can come, and suddenly, boom! the tone and conversation changes once again.

The next five games are all against non-divisional conference opponents before the team wraps up with games against the Dolphins and Jets.  Here’s a primer of each of those five games and who each team looks to be right now:

November 20 at Cincinnati Bengals

Current record: 3-4-1

The Bengals are not the same team they’ve been the last several years.  On either side of the ball.  After being in the top-9 of points allowed in four of the past five seasons, Cincy is 19th in that department, allowing 23.6 points per game.  They’re also 25th, 23rd, and 21st in overall yards, rushing yards, and passing yards per game given up, respectively.  On offense, the Bengals are averaging 20.9 points per game, on pace for their lowest total in six seasons.  But they’re actually moving the ball, just not finishing.  They rank in the top-10 in yards per game and per play overall as well as in both the run and passing game.  Despite losing two of his main wideouts from last season and tight end Tyler Eifert being injured much of this year, QB Andy Dalton is having a nice season statistically, ranking 7th in the league in completion percentage, 8th in yards, and 3rd in average yards per gain.

November 27 vs. Jacksonville Jaguars

Current record: 2-6

One of - if not THE preseason darling for many analysts have simply failed to live up to expectations.  They’ve scored the 5th fewest points in the league (19.1 per game) and have allowed the 8th most (26.9).  One of their biggest issues is their QB, Blake Bortles.  He’s racking up a lot of yards because the Jags are usually behind in games and have to throw a lot, but he’s ranked 28th for QBs in both completion percentage (59.2) and average yards per gain (6.51). He’s already thrown 10 interceptions, 3rd most in the league behind only Case Keenum and Ryan Fitzpatrick.

December 4 at Oakland Raiders

Current record: 7-2

As opposed to the Jaguars, the Raiders were also a preseason darling and have delivered, for the most part.  Their defense wasn’t very good through much of their first seven games, but it’s stepped up much more recently, allowing less than 300 total yards the past two weeks and an average of only 20 points the past three.  And for whatever struggles their defense has had, Oakland's offense has more than made up for it.  QB Derek Carr is in the league MVP discussion.  Wide receivers Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree are both near the top of the NFL in several statistical categories, while their running game is 4th in the league averaging 127.8 yards per game, thanks to a mauling offensive line.

December 10 vs. Pittsburgh Steelers

Current record: 4-4

By the time these two teams see each other the biggest question may be whether or not Ben Roethlisberger plays.  He’s once again dealing with injuries this season.  Over the last three weeks he got hurt and left a game early (although he came back later), then missed a game, and then many believe came back too soon.  The Steelers lost all three of those contests after starting the season 4-1.  In their four wins, they’ve scored 38, 24, 43, and 31 points.  In their four losses they’ve scored 3, 15, 16, and 14.  Roethlisberger hasn’t been the same QB on the road as he has been at home, connecting on less than 59% of his passes with 5 TDs and 5 INTs this season away from  Pittsburgh.  In fact, since the start of 2015, Big Ben has 10 TDs against 14 INTs on the road.  Defensively, the Steelers aren’t really close to the usual top rankings in the league we’ve come to expect. They currently rank 24th in yards per game allowed, 13th in rushing yards and 24th in passing yards given up per game.  Their secondary has only one interception on the year (their LBs have three total) and they are tied for the lowest sack total in the league with only 11.

December 17 vs. Cleveland Browns

Current record: 0-9

The Browns, as many thought would be, are in the driver’s seat for the top overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft.  They’re the only remaining winless team.  They put up a good fight in many games, losing four of them by less than a TD, but the fact is they just have a lot of holes and not much talent around the roster.  Out of the 32 teams in the NFL, Cleveland currently ranks 29th in points scored, 20th in yards gained, 31st in points allowed, and 31st in yards allowed.  They also have the worst point differential in the league and the 2nd worst yards differential.  The Browns have had six different players play QB this season.

Follow me on Twitter @SalSports

Comments ()