Lose once, and it's likely they'll miss the playoffs for a 13th straight season. Win out, and the Bills will have to hope for help across the rest of the AFC to sneak in.
As for that schedule, Buffalo will be up against five opponents that have a combined win-loss record of 21-33-1, four (well, three plus Toronto) home games and their lone road game against a team that they've beaten already.
It starts Sunday at Ralph Wilson Stadium against the 2-9 Jacksonville Jaguars. Who will come away with this game? Let's take a look at five things to watch for:
1) Slowing down Chad Henne
- It's been night and day for the Jacksonville Jaguars since Chad Henne was inserted in to the lineup. Desperate for some hope, Jaguars head coach Mike Mularkey gave Henne a huge incentive for playing well by saying if the quarterback plays well enough, that the starting job will be his next season. That's quite a statement considering Blaine Gabbert was taken in the first round in 2011, but that discussion can be had another day. What is prudent for this weekend is how well Henne has been playing over the past two contests. He has six touchdowns to just one interception, and more importantly keyed the Jaguars to just their second win of the season. How might the Bills slow down Henne? Well, that plays in to their strong suit on defense. Mario Williams and the rest of the defensive line have been very potent at getting pressure on the opposing quarterback ever since the bye week. When Henne has time, he can make all the throws. When he's forced to move around a bit, he just isn't the same player.
2) Lots, and lots, and lots of operating room
- Defensively, the Bills have improved tremendously over the past four weeks. The same cannot be said for the Jaguars. In their past two games, they've allowed 259 rushing yards, 754 passing yards and six touchdowns. They rank 29th in points allowed per game (28.0), 28th in passing yards allowed per game (274.5), 29th in rushing yards allowed per game (136.0) and second-worst in total yards per game (410.5). Needless to say, there is a lot of opportunity for the Bills offensively. Combine all of those statistics with one of their starting cornerbacks being out due to injury, and it could be an explosive day for the Bills -- one they desperately need the way three of the past four games have gone.
3) Wideout watch
- This goes both ways in this contest. On the Bills' side, Donald Jones is an incredibly important piece of their offense for more than just pass-catching reasons. Jones is questionable for the contest after not practicing on Friday due to a calf injury. His role in the slot as a lead blocker on some running and screen plays, in addition to his pass-catching duties could lead to a big drop-off at the position with either Brad Smith or Ruvell Martin assuming the role. On the Jacksonville side, young receivers Cecil Shorts and Justin Blackmon have played at an extremely high level over the past two weeks. Luckily for the Bills, they haven't really established a slot receiver so Justin Rogers won't have a huge issue in the game. Stephon Gilmore will draw the assignment of whichever receiver presents more big-play potential. Shorts averages 20.8 yards per catch, so I wouldn't be surprised to see Gilmore following number-84 around while Leodis McKelvin works against the rookie Blackmon.
4) The Babin Factor
- Think the Bills had problems rushing the passer last season? Try being a fan of the Jaguars this season. They have only 13 sacks in 11 games this season. Their top defensive end Jeremy Mincey? Two sacks this season, just months removed from signing a four-year contract extension worth $27.2 million. Running the 4-3 defensive scheme, it wasn't that much of a shock to see the Jaguars put in a claim for established pass-rusher Jason Babin. The former Eagles defensive end has more than just these five games left on his contract, so it was a savvy move by the Jaguars to pick him up and try and give their defensive pressure a shot in the arm. Over the past 43 games, Babin has a whopping 36 sacks and seven forced fumbles. With Austen Lane out for Jacksonville, Babin will likely get the start.
5) Welcome back, Mularkey
- It's been seven years since Jacksonville head coach Mike Mularkey left the Bills organization, and Sunday will mark the first time he's been back as a head coach since 2005. He says it's just another game for him, but when talking about the 2004 season (the Bills' last year with a winning record), you couldn't help but assume he'll be rather nostalgic in his return to western New York. If he has any say in it, we could see a rather riled up group to start off the game with how the situation in Buffalo was left seven years ago. One thing's for sure, it will certainly be odd seeing Mularkey back on the sidelines at Ralph Wilson Stadium.
OUT: DE Mark Anderson, DE Chris Kelsay
QUESTIONABLE: DT Spencer Johnson, WR Donald Jones, CB Aaron Williams, FB Corey McIntyre, CB Justin Rogers
PROBABLE: T Chris Hairston, WR Brad Smith, G Kraig Urbik, TE Scott Chandler, S Jairus Byrd, CB Leodis McKelvin, LB Nick Barnett, DT Kyle Williams, G Andy Levitre, HB C.J. Spiller, DT Marcell Dareus, DE Mario Williams, S Da'Norris Searcy, C Eric Wood, TE Dorin Dickerson
OUT: HB Maurice Jones-Drew, CB Derek Cox, DE Austen Lane
PROBABLE: FB Greg Jones, WR Justin Blackmon, DT Tyson Alualu, CB Rashean Mathis, WR Cecil Shorts, C Brad Meester
Prediction: Bills over Jaguars
- I'm picking the Bills to win, but am very cautious in doing so. The Jaguars are playing with a lot of confidence right now and that's a dangerous thing in the NFL (see: 2011 Miami Dolphins). However, the Bills win my internal logical code because the Jaguars don't have a viable rushing threat, a mediocre to sub-par offensive line, they have failed to get pressure on the passer and they can't stop opposing offenses in either phase. There is too much stacked against Jacksonville in my opinion. Through the years, this has been the type of game we've seen the Bills lose. Is it possible that the Bills turn the ball over in bunches and Chad Henne lights them up? Absolutely. But the Gilmore/McKelvin combo has really played well and the Bills haven't put Ryan Fitzpatrick in many situations where he has to force a throw (which has limited those pesky interceptions). For those reasons, I pick the Bills to win.