For the past 15 years, the feelings most have for the Buffalo Bills in their upcoming game with the Oakland Raiders, have been rare. It's December, with a meaningful game that holds potential playoff implications, that the Bills are heavily expected to win.
The Bills need the victory to keep any hope alive that they can make it to the postseason in 2014. And the Raiders — coming off a blowout loss to Kansas City — seem to be ripe for the picking.
Can the Bills hold up on their end of the bargain? Some things to watch for during the game:
1) Can Kyle Orton get back on track?
- In the past six games, the quarterback position has left a lot to be desired. Kyle Orton has been inaccurate, inefficient, and his play hasn't allowed the Bills offense to progress. Over that six-game span, Orton has thrown only five touchdown passes and he's allowed his turnover ratio to go up by throwing five interceptions. To say that Orton needs to be better is an obvious and glaring statement. On the bright side the Bills will be up against one of the worst teams in the NFL, and as bad as Oakland had been earlier in the year, the level of play is declining with each injury they suffer. On defense, the Raiders already lost edge rusher LaMarr Woodley, safety Tyvon Branch, cornerback Carlos Rogers and linebacker Nick Roach — all big defensive contributors — for the season due to injury. The injury toll is still accumulating players, with linebacker Sio Moore being out for the year, starting cornerback Tarell Brown having been ruled out against Buffalo and the other starting corner D.J. Hayden as a game time decision for Sunday. With how many points Oakland has given up in 2014 (27.2 points per game, 30th in the NFL), and with how many injuries they've suffered, the Bills have the perfect opportunity to show up in a big way on offense. It all starts, and ends, with Orton.
2) Mario should set a career high
- For the second straight season Mario Williams has posted 13 sacks and has been a force from the left side of the defense. The defensive end is now just one sack away from tying his single-season record for quarterback takedowns, and of course, only 1.5 from setting a new personal record. If one takes into consideration what offensive lineman he'll be up against, it would be an outright surprise if he did not at least tie his best single-season mark. Right tackle Khalif Barnes, to put it bluntly, has been awful. Williams against Barnes is a major matchup disparity that will likely cause rookie quarterback Derek Carr to continue his nasty habit of backpedaling and throwing off his back foot in the face of pressure.
3) Be mindful of Murray
- The Raiders have two players on the roster that have the ability of overcoming the talent disparity present when matched up with the Bills. The first — on offense — still hasn't been fully freed by the coaching staff. When Oakland ran the ball, it was clear that both Maurice Jones-Drew and Darren McFadden had seen better days. They looked slow and unable to make a big play. With mostly nothing to lose, the Raiders have tried out running back Latavius Murray and have found a player that is explosive, decisive and most importantly — young. The Bills run defense has had some spotty weeks since their game against the Minnesota Vikings in October, and if they are to completely annihilate the Raiders' offensive attack, stopping Murray will be the key.
4) The Mack Attack
- The other player that could change the course of the game is a man that spent all his time in Buffalo last year. Rookie linebacker Khalil Mack has been as good as advertised — even if the sack totals don't back up those claims. Despite only having three sacks, Mack carries the highest season-long grade of any 4-3 outside linebacker on ProFootballFocus.com, and has 35 total quarterback hurries on the season. The Raiders have succeeded in moving Mack around on the field to keep offenses from fully preparing for him, but it will be most interesting when they line him up over Cordy Glenn. The Bills left tackle has struggled in recent weeks and has allowed four-times as many sacks in 2014 than he did in 2013. To win, the Raiders will likely need to cause turnovers — and there is no easier way to force them by putting pressure on the quarterback with a player like Mack.
5) How big a role will Spiller play?
- Running back C.J. Spiller has been activated from the short-term Injured Reserve just in time for the home stretch of the playoff chase. How much can one really expect from Spiller in his first game back since October? Spiller wasn't used in a large role even when healthy, so to expect a huge uptick in snap totals in his first game back is likely a bit foolhardy. Anywhere between 15 and 25 snaps would be a good amount of work for Spiller while maintaining a normal workload for starter Fred Jackson. Spiller might also get some time split out just to get him in space, considering the lack of coverage ability possessed by two of Oakland's three starting linebackers. Spiller's presence might also make Bryce Brown inactive on Sunday, much like the beginning of the season.
Injuries Oakland OUT: CB Tarell Brown (foot), TE Brian Leonhardt (concussion), CB Chimdi Chekwa (hamstring), WR Denarius Moore (knee), T Menelik Watson (foot), WR Vincent Brown (groin) QUESTIONABLE: CB D.J. Hayden (back), DE C.J. Wilson (knee) PROBABLE: CB T.J. Carrie (ankle), QB Derek Carr (right thumb)
Buffalo QUESTIONABLE: TE Chris Gragg (knee) PROBABLE: HB C.J. Spiller (clavicle), S Duke Williams (concussion), S Da'Norris Searcy (hamstring), DE Jarius Wynn (knee), WR Marcus Thigpen (foot), HB Anthony Dixon (chest), K Dan Carpenter (groin), CB Stephon Gilmore (shoulder)
Prediction: Bills over Raiders
- The Bills are big favorites in this game for good reason: Oakland just does not have a very talented roster, and the play of rookie Derek Carr doesn't inspire much confidence. Turnovers will be the key for any potential Raiders upset, but too much is working against Oakland in this game. Mario Williams and Sammy Watkins, two of the best on Buffalo's roster, both have the potential to star in this game because of the players that they will line up against. Due to the nature of the Bills' offense, the game may start off closer than some would hope, but eventually, the talent of Buffalo's roster should win out.
For the first time since Week Seven against Minnesota, the Buffalo Bills will have a full stable of running backs of which to choose from. Following a successful week of practice, the Bills have added C.J. Spiller back to the active roster ahead of the team's game against Oakland.
Spiller, who fractured his clavicle and was placed on Injured Reserve with the designation to return, was ruled as probable against the Raiders. He returned to the practice field on Wednesday, December 3, the first day the short-term IR rules allowed him to. Spiller has been a limited participant for all nine practices he attended.
The Bills filed the paperwork to add Spiller back to the active roster on Friday, which will bring the team back up to the maximum of 53 players.
Spiller, cornerback Stephon Gilmore (shoulder), safety Da'Norris Searcy (hamstring), defensive end Jarius Wynn (knee), safety Duke Williams (concussion), running back Anthony Dixon (chest), kicker Dan Carpenter (groin) and return specialist Marcus Thigpen (foot) were all labeled as probable for Sunday's contest. Only tight end Chris Gragg was listed as questionable, after missing three games with a knee injury.
The Bills and Raiders are scheduled to kick off Sunday in Oakland at 4:25 pm.
C.J. Spiller has a lot going for him for a potential return to the field on Sunday. Spiller has practiced for almost three weeks, the spot on the active roster is there for the taking and even his head coach has commented publicly on how he has looked in eight total practices.
Now, it's just up to what his bosses decide to do by Saturday at 4 pm.
"I think he looks good. He really does. It's just a matter of waiting until the end of the week and make a move there," head coach Doug Marrone said. "But, the only concern I have is just to make sure that, just from the standpoint of, it's not really being in shape, just to be able to play and run plays in and out, in and out, in and out... that his conditioning is right at that level. It seems to be okay. I think it'll just get better. I know he looks explosive and he's moving well."
As of Thursday, Spiller was still listed on the Injured Reserve with the Designation to Return. He was considered a limited participant at Thursday's practice. Per the rules of his designation, the Bills have until Wednesday, December 24 --three weeks after his first return to practice -- to activate Spiller. If they do not, he will revert to the season-ending Injured Reserve list.
Spiller, safety Da'Norris Searcy (hamstring), defensive end Jarius Wynn (knee), safety Duke Williams (concussion), cornerback Stephon Gilmore (shoulder), tight end Chris Gragg (knee), kicker Dan Carpenter (groin) and return specialist Marcus Thigpen (foot) were all limited on Thursday. Thigpen suffered the foot injury on Wednesday, but is expected to play barring any setbacks.
Tight end Scott Chandler, following a one-day absence from practice due to an illness, returned to practice as a full participant on Thursday.
The Bills will practice on Friday morning at the ADPRO Sports Training Center before traveling to Oakland later in the day.
For as well as the defense has played in 2014 for the Buffalo Bills, the offense has struggled for the majority of the first 14 games of the season. Besides head coach Doug Marrone, no man is taking as much heat -- or even more heat -- than offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett.
Whether it's justified or not, Hackett has been a popular scapegoat by some fans. The soon-to-be 35-year old coordinator is in just his second season in that role, and has had to go through a fair share of adverse situations during the year.
His direct boss, Marrone, recognized that in his public assessment of Hackett.
"I think that we've played -- it's been two years now-- we've gone through... we've played, I don't know, how many quarterbacks that we played," Marrone started. "We're playing with a quarterback that wasn't in our training camp. I think all those things are pretty big challenges when you're trying to get things going from an offensive standpoint."
While it doesn't necessarily read as a ringing vote of confidence at first glance, it also could be interpreted as a 'what if' type of endorsement had Hackett been given the same quarterback through the entire spring and summer and to evolve the offense from there.
On the whole, the offense -- from the quarterback play, to the blocking up front, to the running back efficiency and all the way to the wide receiver inconsistency -- has left a lot to be desired. Marrone shared similar feelings.
"If there's any blame it should be on me, in anything that happens with our football team first of all," the head coach started. "If it was a problem with one thing, it would be very easy to fix. It's really collective, and that's probably 99-percent of all the problems that occur when you're on the teams. Sometimes a play will point out somebody, but at the end of the day when you're evaluating all the plays it's just a matter of trying to get 11 guys as efficient as they can, and when everyone has a clean opportunity to get it done, does that player get it done or not and that's how you evaluate it. So for us, it's been up and down, and we're just going to continue to try to get better."
Hackett's fate will be something closely monitored by some at season's end. However, Marrone certainly gave his offensive coordinator some outs for how poorly that unit has played in 2014.
C.J. Spiller has had to endure only one other instance of having football taken away from him for an extended period of time. The two-month injury is second only to the full year he had to sit out of football in seventh grade, for being a self-proclaimed "knucklehead" and letting his grades slip.
The Buffalo Bills running back has gone through a fractured clavicle, and the full eight-week stretch he had to sit out as the team's injured reserve candidate with the designation to return. Still not a member of the active roster, the jury is still out as to whether the Bills will have Spiller for Sunday's game in Oakland.
With the release of fullback Frank Summers on Tuesday the team does have a vacant spot for Spiller if he can play. As for this week, it's merely a matter of how Spiller responds to doing more in practice this week.
"I'm not gonna sit up here and say he didn't look good," head coach Doug Marrone said. "He looked good, but he's still working his way back into the football part of it."
"I'll see how I feel tomorrow when I come in," Spiller replied after Wednesday's practice. "Hopefully it's a good sign. If it is, we'll keep plugging away and hopefully we'll reach a decision and go from there."
The Bills don't have to make a decision immediately on Spiller's spot on the active roster. If they deem him capable of playing Sunday against the Oakland Raiders, they must officially file the paperwork through the league offices by Saturday at 4 pm.
Should Spiller not be ready to play on Sunday, the latest he can be added to the active roster will be on Wednesday, December 24. If he is not added by that day, he would revert to the season-long Injured Reserve.
If he had his druthers, the running back would be able to play on Sunday in a situation he has yet to see as a player in the NFL. For the first time, Spiller is a member of a team that has a late-December game with a playoff berth potentially on the line.
"If I'm able to play, I'll play," Spiller said. "I don't need no pep speech to know how big this game is. This is why I play the game. It's the whole reason I play the game -- to play in these type of environments to build to have a chance to go to the playoffs."
The Bills and Spiller will resume practice on Thursday afternoon.
The winter brings along many additional illness concerns for the general population, and the Buffalo Bills are not an exception to the rule. For the third straight week, the Bills were without a starting player to begin the practice week due to sickness.
While Mario Williams and Kyle Williams previously had to miss practice time over the past two Wednesdays, this week it was tight end Scott Chandler's turn. In all the cases before him all players returned to practice after missing only one day of work.
Even without Chandler, the tight end group didn't slip below three players on the field at one time due to the return of one of their own. Second-year player Chris Gragg returned to the practice field for the first time since he suffered a knee injury.
Gragg had missed the previous three weeks of practices and games after the injury happened in Detroit against the New York Jets in Week 12. The tight end was considered to be a limited participant in his first day back.
In addition to Gragg, the Bills also limited the reps of cornerback Stephon Gilmore (shoulder), safety Duke Williams (concussion), kicker Dan Carpenter (groin), safety Da'Norris Searcy (hamstring) and defensive end Jarius Wynn (knee). Wednesday marked the first time Gilmore had been listed on the injury report with an ailing shoulder.
The playing status of the Bills' duo of injured safeties has yet to be determined. Searcy had to sit out against the Green Bay Packers due to the hamstring injury, while his backup Williams is still attempting to clear the National Football League's concussion protocol. If both are unable to play on Sunday, second-year player Bacarri Rambo will get his first start with Buffalo.
The Bills will get back to practice on Thursday afternoon in preparation for the Sunday contest against the Oakland Raiders.
The days of the Buffalo Bills carrying a traditional fullback are over for the time being. The Bills announced Tuesday afternoon that fullback Frank Summers had been released from the active roster in preparation for the return of C.J. Spiller.
Summers had been with Buffalo since the start of the 2013 season, but saw his playing time decreased as the 2014 season went on. The Bills elected to make the fullback inactive for the last four games, which was a likely sign of his impending departure.
In almost two seasons, Summers carried the ball 18 times for 63 yards and two touchdowns, while also catching 12 passes for 88 yards and an additional touchdown. His last carry with the Bills came on November 9 during a loss to the Kansas City Chiefs.
The release of Summers makes room for the previously injured Spiller to reclaim a spot on the active roster. Spiller had been placed on the injured reserve with the designation to return which keeps a player out a minimum of eight weeks.
The running back has since been cleared to practice and will do so to start the week. The Bills have yet to announce if Spiller will be able to play against the Oakland Raiders on Sunday.
Two years into the careers of cornerback Stephon Gilmore and left tackle Cordy Glenn, the top two picks of the Buffalo Bills in the 2012 NFL Draft, one seemed to be a bit more ahead of the other. An injury set Gilmore back which led to an average season, while Glenn had become a quality force for the Bills at left tackle.
Fourteen games into their third seasons, the tables have turned a bit.
Gilmore, the 10th pick of the draft in 2012 and the Bills' top selection, transitioned from average player and favorite whipping boy among a certain contingent of fans to a lockdown, physical cornerback that can be depended on by a team on a weekly basis.
Against two potent offenses with Hall of Fame-caliber quarterbacks, Gilmore allowed only 3 catches for 20 yards on 13 total targets. Since he was picked on in Week Six by the New England Patriots, Gilmore has turned the corner with one solid outing after another.
"He's played well. I think, for a little bit, it might have looked like some teams were going at him a little bit," head coach Doug Marrone said Monday. "Leodis [McKelvin] was playing at a high level and he was able to get a lot of balls to his side. He was allowed to break of a lot of them up. I think, when that started happening, you just saw him get more and more confidence back. I think that's he's playing just like we expected him to play."
The cornerback has doubled his career interception total by picking off three passes in 2014. On the other hand Glenn, the Bills' second-round pick in 2012, has doubled the career total of a rather negative statistic.
In his first two seasons the left tackle allowed only eight sacks in 29 total games, and perhaps even more encouraging, only two through the last 16 of those 29 contests. The 2014 regular season hasn't been as friendly to Glenn to say the least. He's allowed eight sacks in the first 14 games, and is a part of the reason why the offensive line has struggled as much as they have.
"He's struggling," Marrone said. "He knows that and we're working to try to get him back in the form we need him to be productive."
One of the keys to his form, besides protecting the quarterback more capably, will be to stay away from taking penalties that can hurt the team's already struggling offense. Over the last two weeks Glenn has been called for a penalty five times.
As one of the building blocks of the offense, Glenn will need to turn it around in the final two weeks of the season -- much like his early round Bills' colleague from the 2012 draft. The left tackle will be up against pass rushing talents like Oakland's Khalil Mack and New England's Chandler Jones, which could make for a long day for Kyle Orton if the offensive lineman isn't up to the task.
If the Bills are to have any hopes of making it to the playoffs they'll need Gilmore to stay, and Glenn to get back, near the top of their respective games.
The Buffalo Bills are 14 games into the regular season and have found themselves in the midst of a tightly contested race to the playoffs. With only two games to go, the team is still alive for one of two wildcard spots, and will welcome back a potential spark for their current offensive woes.
Eligible to return from the short-term Injured Reserve, Bills' head coach Doug Marrone announced that the team would add running back C.J. Spiller to the active roster ahead of the Week 16 tilt in Oakland. Spiller had surgery to repair a fractured clavicle that he suffered against Minnesota in Week Seven, but has been on the practice field for the last two weeks.
"He's cleared, so I'm looking forward to see how he practices during the week," Marrone said Monday.
Spiller was the recipient of the Bills' only spot on the Injured Reserve that had the designation to return. He had to sit out a minimum of eight weeks, but if cleared to by the medical staff, could begin practicing after only six weeks. Spiller was able to do that, and will reclaim his spot on the active roster within the next few days.
The Week 16 matchup against the Oakland Raiders marked the earliest Spiller could return to game action, but the Bills wouldn't commit to having the running back in the lineup Sunday in California.
"I'd like to see his participation more before we make that decision," the head coach said.
To make room for Spiller on the roster, the Bills will need to either release someone or place an ailing player on injured reserve. Some candidates for release would likely include kickoff specialist Jordan Gay, fullback Frank Summers, wide receiver Deonte Thompson or to place tight end Chris Gragg on IR.
The Bills have Tuesday off and will resume practice on Wednesday, likely with a roster decision made before then.
With the way things have gone for the franchise since the turn of the century, the 2014 Buffalo Bills are in rarified air.
For the first time in almost 10 years to the day, the Bills have secured at least a .500 record in an individual season. And, the 2014 version got to the eight-win plateau in style: with a win over a Hall of Fame quarterback in the making and a bonafide Super Bowl contender.
The Bills upset the Green Bay Packers 21-13 and kept themselves firmly in the hunt for the postseason.
Some observations from the game:
Signature win for Marrone
- You can go ahead and stop the debate now: with the most recent victory over the Green Bay Packers, Bills head coach Doug Marrone has likely secured his job status with the team for 2015. If the Bills had lost the remaining three games, or only managed to beat Oakland, his job status could have been in jeopardy. Instead, he primed his team to not only compete with, but to defeat a team that has looked capable of a deep run in the postseason. Marrone now has a premiere win under his belt in just his second season as the Bills coach, and has helped the franchise to a level that they haven't reached in almost a decade. With those two factors in mind, regardless of how poorly the offense has played, Marrone has a solid enough case built for himself to return for a third season. There will need to be a vast amount of changes to the offensive side of the ball, but working with what he has had to in 2014, Marrone likely won't have to go searching for an assistant coaching job elsewhere come January.
Bills all in on defense
- Before Sunday, December 7, the Bills defense held the reputation of a unit that could be borderline dominant at times, but struggled when facing an elite quarterback. Just two weeks later, that narrative will no longer be written. In consecutive weeks the Bills have forced two future Hall of Fame quarterbacks to one of the worst games of their individual careers. As they did to Peyton Manning, the Bills limited Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers to under 200 yards passing with no touchdowns and two interceptions. In fact, over the past two weeks, Buffalo has held Manning and Rodgers to completing just 50-percent of their passes (31-of-62) for 355 total yards and four interceptions. The defense has put themselves on the short list with Seattle and St. Louis as one of the best units in all the NFL. Usually it's the defensive line that steps up — which partially was the case on Sunday with Mario Williams' strip sack to end the game — but for the last two weeks the play of the secondary has led the efforts. What makes Sunday's win over Green Bay more impressive is the fact that they performed at that level without Da'Norris Searcy, and mostly without Duke Williams. This is a truly great defense, and the performance on Sunday versus Green Bay was the prized jewel on the crown. The travesty of it all is that the efforts of that side of the ball might not even end up with a berth in the playoffs. Regardless, the last two weeks were incredible representations of the true potential of the defensive talent on the roster.
Gilmore continues to grow
- In the summer of 2013 it seemed like second-year cornerback Stephon Gilmore was on the cusp of becoming a top-10 cornerback in the league. That was, until, an injury to his wrist cost him a large portion of his season and then had to play one-handed upon his return. It was essentially a lost season for Gilmore, but all hope was not lost for his future. In the second half of the 2014 season, the patience with Gilmore has paid off and he has turned himself into the number one cornerback the Bills were hoping for when they drafted him. In consecutive weeks, he helped limit two of the NFL's best — Demaryius Thomas and Jordy Nelson — to just 66 yards on seven receptions. Gilmore has played with physicality, poise and very nearly came away with an interception against the normally uninterceptable (no, that isn't an actual word) Aaron Rodgers.
Bacarri Rambo? Bacarri Rambo.
- Reserve safety Bacarri Rambo has joined the likes of former Bills defensive back Cary Harris as a relatively unknown commodity with a late-season, two-interception performance. As a rookie with Washington, Rambo received some starts before ultimately getting benched for horrid play. In his first real defensive snaps with Buffalo, Rambo put those games in the past and had as big of an impact as any defensive player on Sunday. The second interception was more of a gift from a tipped pass, but his first forced turnover was a true display of athleticism. Aaron Rodgers thought he had Randall Cobb to his left, Rambo spotted it and undercut the route which led to a diving interception. For the time being, that signing looks like a smart one by general manager Doug Whaley. If he has to play an extended period of time, that could end up changing. However, he was one of the biggest reasons for success on Sunday, and regardless of his impact, he'll be remembered for his effort in the win over the Green Bay Packers.
Bills win yet again despite Orton
- There is no telling how good this team could be if they weren't weighted down by the play of the most important position in all of football. To be blunt, Kyle Orton's performance since the start of November hasn't inspired any confidence in the offense in being able to move the ball consistently against someone not called the New York Jets. The Bills, like they did against the Cleveland Browns, won against the Green Bay Packers with little to no help from the quarterback of the team. The difference between what he and EJ Manuel could produce on the field is mostly negligible, with Manuel having more of a chance to move the ball with his mobility. With the victory over the Packers, head coach Doug Marrone will not make the change to his second-year quarterback ahead of a road game in Oakland. However, Orton is completely and utterly replaceable, and it must be the highest priority of the offseason to upgrade that position. If it requires trading an asset for a player, the Bills should take the plunge head first into the uncharted waters. The playoffs still seem like a bit of a long shot for 2014, but with essentially the same team returning for 2015, the time to make that move is right around the corner. It really is this simple: the Bills must strive to be better than Kyle Orton and EJ Manuel.
Brutal day for Cordy Glenn
- Another problem area for the offense begins with the five men up front. All five, at times, have struggled individually during the season. The most troublesome of those players has been the regression of left tackle Cordy Glenn. In his first two seasons, Glenn became one of the more dependable offensive tackles in the NFL. In his third season, he has been anything but dependable. Glenn shook off a slow start early on and was the team's most consistent offensive lineman in the early going, but in the second half of the year he has struggled mightily. Against Green Bay, the left tackle had what could be considered as his worst game as a professional. He allowed easy pressure, took crucial penalties and added to the overall frustration that was felt every time the Bills ran on to the field for offense. Glenn will need to do some soul searching in the offseason to regain his level of play from 2012 and 2013.
Bills' MVP: CB Stephon Gilmore
- In a game where superb cornerback play was crucial, Gilmore stepped up to the challenge yet again. He has turned into a dependable player that the Bills can lean on to secure one side of the field.
Bills' LVP: QB Kyle Orton
- With all the chances the Green Bay Packers gave the Bills, Kyle Orton engineered four uninspiring drives that resulted in field goals. If the Bills had competent quarterback play, they could have blown out the Packers.
Up Next: Sunday, December 21 at Oakland (2-12)
- The Bills are still behind four teams for two wildcard spots, but at the very least, the upset win over Green Bay kept hope alive in a season that is almost an anomaly for the 21st century. For just the second time since 2000, the Bills have secured eight wins. While that shouldn't be a heralded accomplishment in an NFL city, for the way things have transpired in Buffalo, it deserves to be lauded — even slightly. The job isn't anywhere near done for Doug Marrone and his team: they still need to win out and hope for some help around the rest of the NFC. However, with the type of play the Bills have gotten from Kyle Orton, the fact that the Bills are still within a game of the postseason is a testament to just how dominant the defense has been in 2014. Can the Bills continue to shock the world, just as they did in Week 15? There is no telling if they can, but, for the first time in nearly 10 years, the Buffalo Bills will be playing in late December games that actually matter. To Oakland they march.
It's do or die time for the Buffalo Bills. After 13 games the Bills still have a slight chance to make the playoffs, but need all three remaining games to end in a victory.
With all due respect to ties, they aren't all that common, so, it all boils down to the Bills going 3-0 over the final three games. Among the trio of contests are the Green Bay Packers, who have won five in a row and have averaged 40.2 points per game amidst the stretch of consecutive victories.
The Bills boast one of the best defenses in the NFL, but do they stand a chance against the offensive juggernauts that hail from a small town in Wisconsin?
Some things to watch for during Sunday's game:
1) Aaron Rodgers in a class of his own
- The Bills did a masterful job against Peyton Manning last week in limiting him to just 173 yards passing, no touchdowns and forcing two interceptions. Peyton Manning will be a first-ballot Hall of Fame choice five years after he retires from the NFL, however, his level of play isn't anywhere close to what Aaron Rodgers is doing on a weekly basis. Rodgers, through 13 games, has amassed a 35:3 touchdown-to-interception ratio. He hasn't thrown an interception since October 26, and, all three of his turnovers went off the hands of his own receiver. Basically, Rodgers is playing perfect football regardless of the opponent. The Bills' secondary will have the toughest challenge they'll face all season to keep the Green Bay passing attack from racking up the yards and points, especially without starting safety Da'Norris Searcy.
2) Bills' pass rush thwarted?
- The strength of the Buffalo Bills roster, without question, is the starting four defensive linemen that wreak havoc on a weekly basis. Just as it was last week. the Bills will have quite the challenge ahead of them to make an impact and to force Rodgers into poor throws. The quarterback has been terrific at sidestepping pressure and keeping his eyes down the field, having been sacked only 27 times this season. The Packers also boast an offensive line that specializes, shockingly enough, in pass blocking. While they have struggled at opening up running lanes consistently this season, Rodgers has been able to operate at a high level both by his doing and by the paid protectors in front of him.
3) Packers susceptible to the run
- The defense of the Green Bay Packers gets a bit of a bad reputation but the one part of it that is warranted is their inability to stop the run in 2014. Only seven teams in the NFL have allowed more yards on the ground this season, and that's coupled by a 4.4 yards per carry for Green Bay opponents. The Packers defense has shown to be fairly good against the pass recently when the game is still in question, but the run defense has always lagged behind. Defensive end Datone Jones and nose tackle Letroy Guion haven't provided enough of a push up front and the Packers lack talent at inside linebacker — which is part of the reason why they have been experimenting with Clay Matthews on the inside -- have led to the run defense to struggle all season. The bigger question for this game in particular: will the Bills' offensive line be able to take advantage of this clear weakness of Green Bay's defense? They have yet to truly cash in with a great individual performance on the ground: to this day, the highest single-game total for a Bills running back is Fred Jackson, who gained 70 yards against Cleveland. Secondly, will Buffalo have enough of a chance to establish that ground game? Or, will the Bills go into catchup mode with a potent Green Bay offense staring them in the face? The Bills will need to take advantage on the ground early in the game to give themselves a chance.
4) Keep clear of Mike Daniels
- The two names that most will bring up with Green Bay's defense are usually Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers — the two main pass rushers on the team. While Matthews has had another solid campaign in 2014, the man that the Bills must be aware of is defensive end Mike Daniels. Daniels has proven to be a commodity against both the run and pass and should be avoided if the Bills are trying to establish the run game. Starting left guard Kraig Urbik will have his hands full if matched up one-on-one against Daniels.
5) Jordy vs. Graham & Cobb vs. Gilmore
- The Green Bay Packers offense and Buffalo Bills defense have something in common: both teams stray away from moving their boundary players around. In essence, that would lead to two very predictable matchups that could be one of the determining factors to the outcome of the game. Wide receiver Jordy Nelson primarily lines up on the right side of the offense, while wideout Randall Cobb mostly goes to the left. If the way the Bills have played teams this season is any indication, Corey Graham (left cornerback) will likely be matched up against Nelson, while Stephon Gilmore (right cornerback) will primarily be covering Cobb. Graham does struggle with overwhelmingly athletic wideouts which dictates that Nelson, and not Cobb, would be the better matchup for him. Nelson is an incredibly athletic wide receiver as well, but Cobb is as quick-twitch as they come with a skill-set that would be best covered by Gilmore. All four players are having very good-to-great seasons in 2014, which means whoever gets the better of the matchups could have a huge hand in determining which team comes away victorious.
Injuries Green Bay OUT: LB Jamari Lattimore (ankle), CB Davon House (shoulder) PROBABLE: G T.J. Lang (ankle), LB Nick Perry (shoulder), G Josh Sitton (toe), DL Bruce Gaston (illness), HB Eddie Lacy (hip)
Buffalo OUT: S Da'Norris Searcy (hamstring), TE Chris Gragg (knee) QUESTIONABLE: DE Jarius Wynn (knee) PROBABLE: K Dan Carpenter (groin), DT Stefan Charles (quad)
Prediction: Packers over Bills
- The main question last week against the Denver Broncos was obvious: would the Bills offense have a good enough day to keep pace with a usually potent offense? Denver even struggled offensively against Buffalo's defense, but the answer to the previous question was a resounding 'no.' Quarterback Kyle Orton has struggled quite a bit since the bye week and will likely prevent this team from reaching the level that the organization has desired since the turn of the century: the playoffs. Aaron Rodgers is in his own universe of quarterback play at the moment, which means Kyle Orton will need to be that much better. His skill-set doesn't drive a large amount of optimism against a Rodgers-led attack. Due to that, the Packers could run away with this game — despite how well the Bills' defense has performed in 2014.
The Green Bay Packers will enter Ralph Wilson Stadium as the top scoring offense in the National Football League, and one of the best pass offenses to go along with it. When the Packers are up against the Buffalo Bills, the home team will be without a starting member of the secondary.
Safety Da'Norris Searcy, who injured his hamstring in the first half of the Bills' last game in Denver, was officially declared out for the contest against Green Bay. Searcy was on the practice field all three days, but was classified as a non-participant on both Wednesday and Friday.
Searcy will be replaced in the lineup by backup Duke Williams, who has started in three separate games for the Bills this season due to injury. Searcy has 47 tackles, three interceptions and a forced fumble in 11 starts in 2014.
Along with the safety, the Bills will also be without reserve tight end Chris Gragg on Sunday. A knee injury has prevented Gragg from playing each of the last two weeks. Gragg's impact has been minimal on the season, accounting for just seven receptions, 48 yards and one touchdown.
The Bills may have the full complement of defensive ends back for the first time in a month. Jarius Wynn, who has missed the last four games with a knee injury, earned the 'questionable' designation Friday after practice. Wynn had been a limited participant in all three days of the practice week.
Defensive tackle Stefan Charles (quad) and kicker Dan Carpenter (groin) each appeared on the injury report throughout the week, but both players are expected to play on Sunday. Both Charles and Carpenter are probable for the contest.
The Bills and Packers square off in Orchard Park Sunday at 1 pm. The game is sold out and will be available on local television.
The one day hiatus for Mario Williams from Buffalo Bills practice is over. The defensive end, who leads the team with 12 sacks in 2014, returned to the practice field a day later after dealing with an illness on Wednesday.
Both Williams and reserve offensive lineman Chris Hairston were able to fully participate in the Thursday session, and were then officially taken off of the injury report Both players are expected to be available in full for Sunday's game against the Green Bay Packers.
Safety Da'Norris Searcy was able to participate on a limited basis on Thursday, one day removed from being a non-participant. Searcy suffered a hamstring injury during Sunday's loss to the Denver Broncos. His status for Sunday's game is still unknown to this point in time.
Searcy, defensive end Jarius Wynn (knee) and kicker Dan Carpenter (groin) were all limited during the session. It was the second straight day of work for Wynn, who is attempting to come back from a knee injury that kept him out of the team's last four games. Carpenter is expected to play.
Tight end Chris Gragg was the only member of the Bills active roster that was unable to practice on Thursday. A knee injury has kept him out of the last two contests, and with his second straight day of being unable to participate, is likely on the way to missing his third straight game.
The Bills will resume practice on Friday morning at 11:25 at Ralph Wilson Stadium.
Since the Buffalo Bills have come back from the bye week, the offense has mostly failed to live up to the level of play their defensive cohorts bestowed on a weekly basis. The large amount of the blame has been placed on the arm of starting quarterback Kyle Orton, which has even led some to pine for former first-round pick EJ Manuel to get another opportunity.
Don't expect head coach Doug Marrone to be among that legion of thinkers this week, and with the way he made it sound on Wednesday, anytime soon for that matter.
"Right now, absolutely, I will play Kyle Orton because he gives us the best chance to win now," he said. "I will say this: my job right now is to win a football game, and that's how I see it. So, I'm doing the best job I can to win a football game, plain and simple."
Orton and the Bills have gone 2-3 over the past five weeks and have failed to capitalize on many opportunities for points over that stretch. Much of that has been attributed to the inaccuracy of the quarterback.
Now, with the Bills in need of three straight wins to even have a sniff at the playoffs, Marrone is sticking with the more veteran player in Orton — even if a few games would be beneficial to Manuel. Would his mindset change if they get eliminated from playoff contention?
"No, not for me," Marrone said. "Unless it changes for somebody else."
The 'somebody else' portion is quite vague, and Marrone was asked to expand on that exact phrase.
"If you're asking me, personally, my decision is he's gonna play," he said. "If you ask somebody else, they might tell you something different. I don't know."
Marrone did concede that he'll make the decision every week, and that if the team loses their next two games he would have to consider his options. But, for the time being, he stressed that the decision is his and his alone.
And for right now, Orton is the starting quarterback of the Buffalo Bills.
Meanwhile, Manuel has been sitting on the bench since Week Five of the season and many are curious as to how his development has gone in his 'time off.' Marrone wasn't eager to get into it.
"He's progressing," the head coach said. "That's how I would put it."
Orton and the Bills have a big challenge ahead of them, at home against the white-hot Green Bay Packers Sunday at 1 pm.
After a season mired by both injury and controversy, the Buffalo Bills will be moving on from wide receiver Mike Williams after all.
According to John Wawrow of The Associated Press, the Bills plan to release Williams as soon as the wide receiver recovers from a calf injury he sustained at practice last week. He was placed on the waived/injured list on Monday, cleared waivers on Tuesday and was immediately placed on Injured Reserve.
Upon his release the Bills will not owe Williams any further compensation, as long as the wideout is cut ahead of the third day of the new league year in March. Buffalo initially acquired Williams from Tampa Bay in April for a sixth-round pick.
In nine games played with the Bills, the wide receiver had eight receptions for 142 yards and a touchdown.
Fred Jackson is often thought of as the unquestioned leader on the Buffalo Bills roster. For both his continued efforts on the field and off, the Bills awarded with the honor of being the 2014 Walter Payton Man of the Year.
Each year, all 32 teams in the NFL name an individual recipient for the Man of the Year award. The 32 finalists will then be put up for a vote with a panel of judges that encompass the league office, past recipients and the media.
By being named the Bills' Man of the Year, Jackson will receive at least a $1,000 donation to go to the charity of his choice. If he is one of the two finalists among the 32 selected players, the donation will go up to $5,000.
Should Jackson be deemed the winner of the league-wide award, the donation increases to $25,000. Jackson has chosen Carly's Club to receive the donation, a charity that he provides twenty tickets and food vouchers to for every home game.
This is the second time the running back has received the award, originally having been named Man of the Year in 2010. The Bills chose former linebacker Arthur Moats for the award last season.
With only three games to go in the 2014 NFL season, the Buffalo Bills almost assuredly need to win out in order to have a chance at the playoffs. The first test will be against a bonafide Super Bowl contender in the Green Bay Packers, which means the Bills will need all hands on deck on Sunday.
When Buffalo took to the practice field on Wednesday, defensive end Mario Williams was nowhere to be found. So as to not bring on panic from the fan base, the Bills quickly relayed the information that Williams was not taking part in practice due to an illness.
Williams, who secured a third straight season with a double-digit sack total, is also just two sacks shy of tying his single-season record of 14. The defensive end brought the quarterback down 6.5 times in November which helped him be named the AFC Defensive Player of the Month.
Both Williams and offensive tackle Chris Hairston missed the session due to sickness. Tight end Chris Gragg was the only other non-participant, who missed due to a lingering knee injury.
The Bills did get the return of defensive end Jarius Wynn to the practice field. Wynn injured his knee against the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 10 and missed the last four games because of the ailment. He was a limited participant on Wednesday, along with kicker Dan Carpenter (groin) and defensive tackle Stefan Charles (quad).
Despite suffering a hamstring injury against Denver, safety Da'Norris Searcy was able to get on the field for practice on Wednesday. He did not, however, participate in any part of the session. The Bills officially listed him as a non-participant on Wednesday.
The Bills resume practice on Thursday at the ADPRO Sports Training Center at 12:15 pm.
Since the turn of the century, the Buffalo Bills haven't played in too many December games that have meant something to their season. Sunday on the road in Denver was one of those glaring exceptions, which is why the handling of defensive end Jerry Hughes in the second half was peculiar at best.
In the 2014 season, Hughes had been one of the best players on defense for Buffalo and has steadily had his snaps increase since his arrival in 2013. That was not the case on Sunday after a series of events led to Hughes standing on the sideline more often than not.
It all started in the second quarter with Denver in Buffalo territory, and a bang-bang play that drew a pass interference penalty on cornerback Stephon Gilmore. After the call, Jerry Hughes was once again the center of the controversy after the play and took an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.
In an effort to cool him down, Bills head coach Doug Marrone had him sit on the sidelines for the subsequent plays that led the second of three Denver touchdowns. Perhaps Marrone thought that would have been the extent of Hughes' punishment, because he was in the dark about the fact that the defensive end was barely used for the remainder of the contest.
"I knew originally after the penalty, I know we talked about on the headsets of bringing him off to the sideline to make sure he cools down," Marrone started. "Afterwards, when I was asked the question, I was told he only played three snaps I think it was. It was a very limited amount. Someone said hardly played or maybe didn't play. I didn't know about that. I wasn't aware of that. Looking back, he played, I actually wrote it down, 12 of the last 36 [snaps]. I've told the coaches, reiterated it, again it's my responsibility, that if something's going to change in the rotation of rotational players, make sure that I am aware of it, and then obviously I have the final decision."
Sometimes positional coaches have complete autonomy to rotate players as they see fit, and even in some cases, bench players that aren't performing up to a certain standard. However, with the precedents that Marrone has set in his almost two seasons on the job, he wants all decisions on game day to go through him.
Perhaps that is why he was thrown off when first notified of Hughes' non-participation in the second half.
"I trust our coaches to make the right decisions, and I back them up quite a bit when they make those decisions," Marrone said, "but that's a decision that needed to be brought to my attention which wasn't and that falls on me as the head coach, our communication."
Who was the man that was responsible for sitting Hughes on 24 of the last 36 defensive snaps? Marrone confirmed it was the decision of defensive line coach Pepper Johnson.
Hughes has been one of the most penalized individuals in the 2014 season, having been flagged for three unsportsmanlike conduct calls.
"Jerry and I have talked about that," Marrone said. "Jerry is an outstanding football player that plays with a lot of emotion, that has to learn that he needs to control it in those times."
Despite the benching, Hughes played 31 of 55 total snaps in the team's 24-17 loss to the Broncos.
The story of Mike Williams' triumphant return to his hometown team likely will not have a fairytale-esque happy ending. The Buffalo Bills announced that they have placed Williams, the mercurial wide receiver acquired this past offseason, on the waived/injured list.
In essence, the designation means Williams can be claimed by any team that wishes to do so, but if he goes unclaimed, he will revert to the Bills' injured reserve list. Williams still has four years remaining on his current contract, and if he is not claimed, the Bills will be on the hook for a guaranteed 2015 base salary of $5.2 million if they were to walk away from him.
If Williams goes unclaimed, given the length of his remaining contract and money owed is likely, the Bills can keep him on the roster for next year, or they can come to an injury settlement with the wideout. A settlement would release him from the team immediately.
Williams caught eight passes for 142 yards and one touchdown in nine total appearances in 2014. He was made a healthy scratch three times throughout the duration of the season after being acquired for a sixth-round pick last April.
The Bills have signed wide receiver Deonte Thompson off of Baltimore's practice squad to bring the active roster back up to 53 players.
As Dennis Green once yelled to a room of onlooking reporters:
"They are who we thought they were!"
With the type of performance that the Buffalo Bills put forth in a pivotal game to their playoff chances, they merely reinforced the prevailing thoughts about their identity. The Bills hung in with a bonafide Super Bowl contender but couldn't come away with a victory, losing to the Denver Broncos 24-17.
Some thoughts from the Bills loss, which left them in quite the playoff predicament:
A defense worthy of the playoffs
- On Sunday, the Bills did something that 51 teams before them could not: they held surefire Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning without a touchdown pass in the game. Manning threw for only 173 yards and turned the ball over twice, and perhaps most impressive, had his offense held to only 24 points at home. The Bills, from their defensive line, to their linebackers and then into the secondary, put together an effort worthy of a team that was destined for the playoffs. The Bills gave up three big plays on defense, a 38-yard reception to Wes Welker, a 37-yard catch to Emmanuel Sanders and a 47-yard run to Juwan Thompson. Other than those three, the Bills defense was stout throughout the game. Demaryius Thomas, who has been on fire all season long, managed only 11 yards on two receptions. Tight end Julius Thomas was held without a catch, nor a target. The Broncos were even held to converting on just 4-of-10 third down attempts. All of the great play on that side of the ball was underscored by them being held without a sack, which almost makes it more impressive. The way the defense played against this caliber of an offense, they deserved a much better fate than what was given.
Orton's welcome is being worn out
- Don't be fooled by the statistics from garbage time, prevent defense. For the fourth time in five weeks, Kyle Orton hindered the offense and prevented the Bills from taking what could have been theirs. They defeated the Cleveland Browns last week despite a poor performance from Orton, but an even worse day from Browns quarterback Brian Hoyer was the difference in the day. However, against Kansas City, Miami and now Denver, the defense played well enough for the team to claim a victory, and all the offense did was hold them back. Through the first three quarters — when the game was still attainable — Orton had yards per attempt splits of 4.0 through the first quarter, 4.4 through the first half and 5.7 after three quarters. Even though the yards per attempt went up in the third quarter, it was paired with two interceptions, with one coming in the Denver red zone. Orton has gone from suitable replacement, to average player, to an outright liability on an almost weekly basis. Teams have figured out the Buffalo offense with Orton at the helm and he hasn't been nearly accurate enough to overcome it. The problem is this: there is no easy solution. EJ Manuel showed in his four starts at the beginning of the season that he still has a ways to go, but the team may have no other option than to go back to their former first-round pick. Either way, the quarterback play will be the biggest reason an overwhelmingly talented roster will likely miss out on the postseason.
Give it a rest with the refs
- With respect to many that are reading and that this doesn't apply to, it is utterly insane that some are claiming conspiracy because of a simple fist bump between officials on a Denver scoring play. The reason for the "celebration" between the two officials, that anyone that was down on the field would tell you, was simply a matter of one official having a better view and helping out his colleague to make the correct call. The fist bump was nothing more than a 'thank you' from one official to the other for the assist on the call. Even if there was an outright conspiracy — which there isn't — do you think the officials on the field would be dumb enough to have an outward showing of it with cameras all over the field? Common sense needs to win out on this one. As for the rest of the penalties, many were calling foul on some of the calls — including some of the players. So, in an effort to be complete, let's take a look at all 12 flags that were thrown that indicted the Bills:
First quarter, false start on MarQueis Gray
Pretty self-explanatory, and the right call.
First quarter, illegal contact on Nickell Robey
If the officials were actually calling it on Robey, this is a bad call. The more likely reason for the flag is a case of misidentification. Aaron Williams did enough past five yards to Demaryius Thomas to warrant a call, and Robey was still in the vicinity with his assignment which could have led to the confusion.
Second quarter, holding on Kyle Williams
A good call coming on the interception. It cost the team 40 yards of field position.
Second quarter, neutral zone infraction on Mario Williams
Also self-explanatory, and the right call.
Second quarter, defensive pass interference on Stephon Gilmore
One of two questionable calls in the game. Gilmore should have gone for the ball and the interception, but made contact with the receiver as the ball got there. It's a play that is a coin-flip as to whether or not it gets called with the speed of the game. You can make an argument both ways.
Second quarter, unsportsmanlike conduct on Jerry Hughes
Regardless of how they felt about the penalty call on Gilmore, Hughes cannot put himself in a position to take this kind of penalty in that area of the field.
Third quarter, holding on Kraig Urbik
Negated a 23-yard run and the Bills turned the ball over on the next play.
Third quarter, unnecessary roughness on Corey Graham
No replays were shown on the penalty, but after talking with those on the field, it was a retaliatory penalty taken by Graham. On Gilmore's interception, a Denver player went to cut at Graham's lower half and the defender apparently took exception to it and retaliated. Even if the play from the Denver player was dirty, the worst thing to do is retaliate and put the team in that kind of position. It cost 36 yards of field position on the return. Players are taught to let cool heads prevail, even if an injustice has happened to them.
Fourth quarter, false start on Cordy Glenn
Fourth quarter, holding on Erik Pears
Fourth quarter, false start on Cordy Glenn
Fourth quarter, unnecessary roughness on Erik Pears
All four penalties in the fourth quarter were an open and shut case.
Here is the thing with penalties, and the outrage that comes along with them from individual fan bases: all teams will get a fair share of questionable calls against them. Referees do not decide the outcome of the game. Referees do not cause Kyle Orton to struggle with accuracy, touch and to throw two interceptions. Referees do not limit the offensive line from holding their blocks and allowing run plays to get blown up. The Bills lost this game, the referees did not lose it for them. Is there an emphasis by the NFL to over-officiate games? You bet there is. However, it's like that all over the league in 16 cities a week. Like it or not, that is the officiating culture in today's NFL. The bottom line is this: the Bills had their fair share of opportunities on the offensive side of the ball and squandered them, regardless of how the game was called by the men wearing black and white.
- Speaking of questionable calls, head coach Doug Marrone's decision to keep Jerry Hughes on the sidelines for much of the second half could register on that scale. Hughes is an emotional player and has taken quite a few personal foul penalties in the 2014 season. Despite those concerns, and even with him taking another one of those penalties Sunday, the decision to bench him with the game still hanging in the balance was a foolhardy attempt at fulfilling an idealistic approach. It's not as though the Bills didn't pay for it either. On Juwan Thompson's 47-yard run, the poor edge contain attempt of Manny Lawson — who was in for the then-benched Hughes — was the biggest factor in getting the runner into the open field. Yes, Hughes was a repeat offender and likely deserved some talking to either after the game or in the coming week, but the game was too important to willfully remove one of the best players on the defensive side of the ball from the game.
4th downs: one step forward, one step back
- The decision-making on fourth downs have become a major talking point around Buffalo, even to the point that Marrone is likely tired of fielding questions about how he approaches each individual decision. No situation is the same, and recognizing that, one must give credit where it's due to Marrone for giving his offense an extended chance in a plus-area of the field in the first quarter. The Bills went for a 4th-and-6 at the Denver 39 and failed, but showed they weren't afraid of giving up the field position if they felt there was a legitimate chance for points on the horizon. It was a call that the Bills never used to make. Then, the fourth quarter came around and Marrone once again relied on old principles. Down 14 points with only six minutes to go in the game, the Bills faced a 4th-and-2 at their own 16-yard line. Is it the most ideal of situations to go for it on fourth down usually? No, not usually. However, down two touchdowns with a waning clock and only two yards to pick up against a defense playing preventatively, the decision should have been to go for it. The Bills decided to punt and then had to face a 4th-and-16 from their own 14-yard line with only 3:33 left in the game, which carries a much lower conversion percentage. With the way the offense had been playing for the majority of the day, it likely would not have made a difference in the final outcome. However, the punt call with six minutes to go and with them down two touchdowns was the football equivalent of waving the white flag.
Bills' MVPs: Stephon Gilmore and Corey Graham
- The defense was simply superb, and it was keyed by the effort of the two starting cornerbacks. Not many secondaries can boast that they kept Peyton Manning from throwing a touchdown in a game. Both players were on top of their game Sunday.
Bills' LVP: Kyle Orton
- For the fourth time in five games, Kyle Orton was one of the weakest starters on the field for the Bills. Of those four games, it has cost them wins on three separate occasions. It may be time for EJ Manuel to start warming up again.
Up Next: Sunday, December 14 vs. Green Bay
- The offense prevented the Bills from actually competing with the Denver Broncos in this game, but make no mistake: this defense is one of the best in the NFL. If the Bills even had consistently average to slightly above average play from the quarterback position, this is likely a 10 to 11 win and playoff team. That's how small the margin of error has been with the level that defense has played at. However, the charm of Kyle Orton has worn off and the Bills now face a major decision with three games to go. Now sitting in 11th in the AFC playoff race and likely needing to sweep their final three games to sneak into the postseason, do the Bills go back to the man that started the season at quarterback for them? It may not necessarily be a catalyst to three straight victories, but the evidence is there and damn near incontrovertible: Kyle Orton has been found and figured out by the Bills' opponents. And, to be perfectly honest. it's a complete shame that it's coming at the expense of one of the top defenses that has been seen in many years in Buffalo.
The Buffalo Bills will take part in something that they haven't in quite a few years: a meaningful game in December with playoff implications. Two straight wins has put the Bills in a six-way tie for the sixth and final playoff spot in the AFC with just four games to play.
The schedule hasn't done many favors for the Bills, saving three of the toughest opponents they'll face in 2014 for the last month of the season. The first of those three will be the Denver Broncos — the team Buffalo is up against on Sunday.
How do the teams match up? Some things to watch for:
1) Can the offense keep pace?
- The talk of the game will center around Peyton Manning, but we'll get to him shortly. The bigger question is this: can the Bills offense go score-for-score with the Manning-led Broncos squad? If one were to make the judgment from Buffalo's performances in November, pessimism would likely reign supreme. In three of the team's four performances, quarterback Kyle Orton has not played well and was a major factor in the team's demise in the first two games of the month versus Kansas City and Miami. Had the defense not been as dominant as they were against Cleveland, the Bills offense offered little support in securing the victory and that could have easily turned into a loss as well. It's not all on Orton, either. The offensive line has struggled, which has limited the effectiveness of the running game as well. The Bills are up against a Denver defense that ranks third in yards allowed per game, so it appears that the deck is stacked against the Bills offense to go toe-to-toe with the Broncos offense. The defensive effort will need to be extraordinary for Buffalo, as it has been many times this season.
2) Where to best attack Peyton Manning
- That brings us to the complex topic that only one team has been able to find an answer to in 2014: how to limit a Peyton Manning-led offense. The St. Louis Rams, at home, limited the Denver offense to just seven points in an upset victory earlier in the season. Much like the Rams, the Bills boast one of the top defensive lines in all the NFL, which can help the team in the efforts against Manning. Look for the Bills to rush only four, or sometimes even three, for the majority of the game to keep a maximum amount of coverage players on the field. Manning likes to get the ball out quickly, which will likely mean that the Bills run a bit more press coverage against the Denver wide receivers. If they can throw Manning's timing off a bit, that will give Jerry Hughes and Mario Williams more time to help put the team's defense in plus-situations against the potent Denver offense. It won't be an easy task, but the Bills have the personnel to slow down Manning a bit.
3) The Thomas show in Denver
- The two top targets that the Bills will need to be wary of are both nightmarish from a size-speed-ability combination standpoint. Wide receiver Demaryius Thomas and tight end Julius Thomas are two of Manning's favorite pass catchers because both can do extraordinary things to help the quarterback in a tough spot. Demaryius (6-foot-3, 229-pounds) is an excellent mover and has tremendous ability in the open field. The Broncos use a lot of quick hitting screen plays just to get the ball in his hands and then let him go to work. Don't expect to see Stephon Gilmore shadowing Thomas wherever he goes, though. The Bills prefer the left-right strategy for the starting cornerbacks, regardless of the type of talent at wide receiver that they face. If Julius Thomas is able to play, the man coverage Peyton Manning usually demands will likely mean a safety will have to cover the athletic tight end. The likeliest candidate of those available is Aaron Williams, who was not healthy enough to play against Rob Gronkowski and New England back in Week Six. If Julius Thomas were not able to play, that takes one of the dynamic dimensions away from the Broncos and gives the Bills defense an advantage on paper.
4) Slowing down C.J. Anderson
- The Bills have been one of the best run defenses in all the league, allowing only 96.3 yards per game on the ground — good enough for seventh-best in the NFL. However, recent trends have shown that the run defense might be regressing. Ever since Jerrick McKinnon and the Minnesota Vikings gained a collective 158 yards on 29 carries, the rushing averages for Buffalo's opponents have been quite good. Over the last six games, the Bills have allowed 125.2 yards per game and a per carry average of 4.84 yards. Some of that yardage was due to garbage time against the Jets, but by and large, the run defense hasn't been as good as it was early in the season. Enter Denver running back C.J. Anderson, who has gashed the Broncos' last two opponents for 167.5 yards per game. He has provided the balance that the Broncos have been trying to create offensively, which allows for more opportunities for Manning in the passing attack. An explosive, one-cut running back, Anderson will test the Bills linebackers to get to the running lane before he does to limit his effectiveness.
5) Sammy's struggles
- Four games, 13 receptions, 105 yards, no touchdowns. That has been the stat line for rookie wide receiver Sammy Watkins since the bye week, and more importantly, since teams devoted their efforts in coverage to thwarting what Watkins can do. The Bills have to try and create ways to get the ball in his hands, but perhaps some of the struggles have been due to the ever-so-popular rookie wall. Consider this: Watkins doesn't really move around on the field for the Bills. Generally speaking, he has been dedicated to only one spot, and hasn't gotten much work in the slot this season. Regardless, the Bills need to try and work through to get the ball in the hands of their most dynamic playmaker, especially against one of the best offensive teams they'll be up against all season. For the Bills to make a big run at the playoffs, Watkins must be a big part — regardless of the rookie wall.
Injuries Buffalo OUT: DE Jarius Wynn (knee), TE Chris Gragg (knee), WR Mike Williams (calf) PROBABLE: WR Sammy Watkins (hip), DT Marcell Dareus (hip), WR Robert Woods (ankle), K Dan Carpenter (right groin), WR Chris Hogan (hamstring), S Bacarri Rambo (hamstring)
Denver OUT: HB Montee Ball (groin), HB Ronnie Hillman (foot), WR Cody Latimer (concussion), CB Kayvon Webster (shoulder) QUESTIONABLE: TE Julius Thomas (ankle), DT Terrance Knighton (elbow), DE Quanterus Smith (ribs), TE Jacob Tamme (ribs), S Quinton Carter (knee) PROBABLE: HB C.J. Anderson (ankle), HB Juwan Thompson (knee), LB Lerentee McCray (illness), T Paul Comick (shoulder), CB Aqib Talib (hamstring), WR Wes Welker (not injury related), C Will Montgomery (knee), WR Demaryius Thomas (ankle)
Prediction: Broncos over Bills
- It's not as cut and dry as some are making it out to be, but ultimately the Broncos have too strong of a total team to lose at home to the Bills. Buffalo's defense will keep them in the game early, but eventually, the Bills offense won't have enough firepower to keep up with the Denver offense. If the Denver defense weren't as talented as they are, perhaps the Bills could keep it relatively close with the Broncos. They aren't, and the quarterback play of Buffalo will likely hold them back from a victory on the road.
It has been an interesting season to say the least for the mercurial Mike Williams. Adding another layer to his up-and-down 2014, the Buffalo Bills wide receiver will not appear in the team's upcoming game due to injury.
Williams, acquired by the team in the offseason for a sixth-round draft pick, will sit out for the fourth time in 2014. As opposed to the other three instances earlier in the year, this time the wideout will sit out with a calf injury. Williams had been a healthy scratch against New England in Week Six, Kansas City in Week 10 and last weekend against Cleveland.
Perhaps making it a bit more perplexing, Williams proclaimed after Thursday's practice that his calf injury was fine and that he would be back to work on Friday. He initially sustained the injury on Thursday, and despite his assertion that he'd practice, Williams was nowhere to be seen on the field the following day.
Williams, along with defensive end Jarius Wynn and tight end Chris Gragg, were the only three players that have been declared out by the Bills. Wynn will miss a fourth consecutive game due to a knee injury, while Gragg will be out for a second straight week because of a knee injury as well.
Other than the injured trio, the Bills are likely to have the full complement of players available to them on Sunday. Wide receiver Sammy Watkins (hip), defensive tackle Marcell Dareus (hip), wide receiver Robert Woods (ankle), kicker Dan Carpenter (right groin), wide receiver Chris Hogan (hamstring) and safety Bacarri Rambo (hamstring) were all listed as probable for Sunday's contest, despite being limited in practice during the week.
The Bills will fly out to Denver on Friday night and go through team meetings on Saturday ahead of the game. Buffalo is scheduled to play against the Broncos (9-3) at 4:05 pm on Sunday.
The Buffalo Bills didn't have to wait long for the return of two starters to practice this week. Only one day removed from missing the session due to illnesses, left tackle Cordy Glenn and defensive tackle Kyle Williams were back on the field as full participants Thursday.
Due to the nature the reason of their missed practice on Wednesday, both Glenn and Williams were removed from the injury report entirely. Upon the return of both players, they immediately took snaps with the starters during the invidual and positional portions of practice.
The Bills added one player to the injury report on Thursday: wide receiver Mike Williams. Head coach Doug Marrone revealed that Williams suffered a calf injury during the second-to-last period of practice and could not finish out the day. Williams said after practice that he believes he'll be able to participate with the team on Friday, but was listed as limited on Thursday.
Joining Williams on the 'limited' list were wide receiver Sammy Watkins (hip), defensive tackle Marcell Dareus (hip), wide receiver Robert Woods (ankle), kicker Dan Carpenter (right groin), wide receiver Chris Hogan (hamstring) and safety Bacarri Rambo (hamstring). Watkins, Woods, Carpenter and Hogan are all expected to play on Sunday.
The same as they were in the week leading up to the Cleveland game, both defensive end Jarius Wynn and tight end Chris Gragg did not participate in practice for the second straight day. Each player is dealing with a knee injury that prevented them from playing last weekend.
The Bills have one more day of on-field work at the ADPRO Sports Training Center in Orchard Park before leaving for Denver. The team will travel on Friday night, and will match up with the Broncos on Sunday at 4:05 pm.
The Buffalo Bills claimed two victories in the last pair of weeks, and both wins came without wide receiver Mike Williams in the lineup to make contributions on offense. Since the Bills first benched him against New England in Week Six, Williams has been active for only four of the last seven games, and has been held without a catch since.
Williams suffered a calf injury in the second to last period of Thursday's practice, which initiated the conversation with reporters after the session. An innocuous question about the severity of his injury brought out an ounce of frustration that was expressed through sarcasm.
"I'm good. I'll be back in practice," Williams said before delving into the land of irony. "Be number one scout team player again tomorrow!"
The Bills brought in the wide receiver in the offseason for just a sixth-round draft pick. Since an impressive training camp that had him eating into the playing time of Robert Woods during the preseason, Williams has slowly fallen out of favor with the coaching staff.
In nine total appearances, Williams has just eight catches for 142 yards and a touchdown. Most importantly for him, he's a bit confused by the decision of the coaching staff to keep him on the sidelines or even out of uniform entirely.
"Yeah, a lot of people are," he said. "Everything is about business. It's not all about friends, and who's better here, who's better there. Sometimes it's a business move and sometimes you're stuck into a business. I'm gonna be the best player I can be as a Buffalo Bill right now."
Williams wouldn't name names as to who else is confused by the move, but mentioned "everybody's confused, even me."
Williams is essentially on a one-year tryout with the Bills, despite being signed through the 2018 season. The way the wide receiver's contract is structured, the team can walk away from the contract without any additional monies owed to him.
Even through all the adversity this year with being benched over half of the games by the coaching staff, Williams still believed that his relationship with the coaching staff remains unaffected.
"I still talk to the coaches. I'm still the same old Mike. I'm still the person that nobody can check. We'll see though. We've gotta get on the field to prove it," he said. "I still don't believe not nobody that can check me. I'm still that same old Mike, I'm still that can score in the red zone anytime I want. I'm still the same Mike. It's just other people gotta see it, and if they don't see it, then I mean somebody will."
The Buffalo Bills were greeted by the good news of having two of the most prominent members of the starting lineup on the field for the first practice of the week. In a bit of a surprise, however, the Bills were without two other starters during the team's first session.
The team announced that defensive tackle Kyle Williams and left tackle Cordy Glenn were unable to participate on Wednesday with the rest of their teammates. Each player is dealing with an illness as opposed to an actual injury.
After Sunday's win over the Browns the team announced that both defensive tackle Marcell Dareus and wide receiver Sammy Watkins suffered respective hip injuries, with the looming possibility that one or both could miss practice time. Fortunately for the Bills, both Watkins and Dareus were on the field — albeit in a limited capacity.
Watkins implied the injury was something like a bruise, and told reporters on Wednesday that he is expecting to play against the Denver Broncos.
Along with that duo, kicker Dan Carpenter (right groin), wide receiver Robert Woods (ankle), wide receiver Chris Hogan (hamstring) and safety Bacarri Rambo (hamstring) all were able to practice but on a limited basis. Tight end Chris Gragg (knee) and defensive end Jarius Wynn (knee) sat out of practice, like they did all last week, once again on Wednesday.
In his first day back with eligibility to participate, running back C.J. Spiller was back on the field with his teammates for the first time since October. Both Spiller and head coach Doug Marrone said that they are just approaching the situation with a "day-by-day" mentality.
The Bills and Broncos will square off in Denver at 4:05 pm eastern.
Two of the most talented young players that the Buffalo Bills have on the 53-man active roster came away from the team's game on Sunday with some additional wear and tear. The Bills announced on Monday that both wide receiver Sammy Watkins and defensive tackle Marcell Dareus suffered a hip injury against the Cleveland Browns.
This is the first time Watkins had been mentioned as part of the injury report stemming from the Cleveland game. The Bills are still in a wait-and-see mode with the top wideout on the roster for both practice this week and the upcoming road contest with the Denver Broncos.
"I don't know. I really don't," head coach Doug Marrone said when asked if there was any concern about Watkins missing time. "I'll have a better gauge on it on Wednesday."
Watkins played 100-percent of the team's offensive snaps during the 26-10 victory. He was held to just 11 yards on three receptions, but was targeted nine times.
Dareus was previously reported as a groin injury that he suffered at the end of the first half. He briefly returned to action in the second half, but had his snap count reduced dramatically from his normal output. His status for practice this week is also unknown.
The Bills have been without defensive end Jarius Wynn for the past three games, and most recently lost tight end Chris Gragg for one game as well. Both players suffered a knee injury and did not participate in practice at all last week.
"We didn't put them on IR, so it's still week-to-week to see how they progress. We're hoping to see something out of them," Marrone said. "A lot of it depends on how they feel and how they move with the trainers, and then they give them to us. Obviously we didn't put them on IR, so we are expecting them back at some point."
Without Wynn, the Bills defensive line gave more snaps to both Mario Williams and Jerry Hughes at end, and in the absence of Gragg, recently signed tight end MarQueis Gray took his place in the rotation.
The members of the active roster were given Monday off from team facilities for securing the victory over Cleveland, but will get back to work on Wednesday during the team's first practice of the week. The Bills and Broncos will square off Sunday in Denver.
On Sunday against the Cleveland Browns, Buffalo Bills running back Fred Jackson set a team record for the 2014 season. The rushing attack has been so anemic this season that Jackson's 70 yards against the Browns was the highest single-game rushing total by an individual player on the team.
Jackson, head coach Doug Marrone and the rest of the offense could receive a boost from a previously injured player. Running back C.J. Spiller, who suffered a broken clavicle against Minnesota, is eligible to return to practice on Wednesday if he is cleared to by the team's medical staff.
Spiller was placed on the injured reserve with the designation to return, which makes players sit out a minimum of eight weeks of game action, although they are allowed to practice after only six weeks. The running back was deactivated from the roster during Week 8, and can come back and play in the team's final two games of the year against Oakland and New England.
In seven games this season, Spiller has 287 yards on 69 carries, and an additional 109 receiving yards on 14 receptions with one touchdown. He's in the final year of his rookie contract.