If Indianapolis wins just one more time, and both Cincinnati and Pittsburgh each win once outside of their Week 16 matchup, the Bills will have to win out in order to even have a shot.
Even then, they'll need plenty of help. It's not totally out of the question, but the odds are stacked against the Bills. At this point, all they can do is win and hope things fall the right way.
It starts Sunday against the St. Louis Rams. For whatever reason, the Rams have found almost all of their success within their own division. Sporting a 5-6-1 record, all but one of their non-losses have come against the NFC West. Outside the division? The Rams are 1-6, with an 0-3 road record against non-division foes.
Where might this game be won on Sunday? Let's take a gander at five things to watch for:
1) Two new Bills' starters on OL
- This is a major area of concern for the Bills. Losing both Eric Wood and Chris Hairston to injury against Jacksonville, Buffalo will now sport Sam Young at right tackle and undrafted rookie David Snow at either center or right guard. Between them, they have zero career starts and a grand total of 87 offensive snaps combined this season. The way the Bills operate on offense, if it were only to be one new starter on the offensive line, they might have been able to get away with a minimal drop-off. But the fact that it's two, and that they'll be going up against a defense that has the fourth-highest sack total in the NFL, leads to much concern. The Bills will have to depend heavily on their running game and stick with their quick-hitting pass attack. Expect to see the Bills utilize the play-action game when they do drop back to pass, with the trusted Andy Levitre to pull over to the right side to help hold off the likes of Chris Long, William Hayes and others. The Rams will attack Snow and Young, and that could be one of the biggest determining factors of the game.
2) Up-trending Bills DEs vs. Struggling Rams OTs
- Over the past five weeks, the defensive ends of the Bills have been playing at quite a high level. The combination of Mario Williams and Kyle Moore has the Bills putting teams on their heels and helping win on early downs, something that defensive players have stressed the importance of all season long. In their matchup against the Rams, they'll be going up against a pair of offensive tackles that struggle mightily. Left tackle Rodger Saffold hasn't been able to become the player the Rams hoped he would be when they selected him in the second round of the 2010 NFL Draft. On the right side, Barry Richardson took over for the bust-worthy Jason Smith who was traded to the Jets earlier this season. In fact, the entire Bills defensive line has a leg up on the Rams and is an incredibly winnable matchup. When the Rams do drop back to pass, Williams and Moore will have a big chance to shine once again.
3) Run Fest?
- It may depend on how the weather plays out (currently a 10-percent chance of rain as this was written), but both teams will look to depend heavily on their run game to set up all other aspects of their on-field performance. Last week, Fred Jackson dominated the game against Jacksonville with C.J. Spiller ripping off an electric 44-yard touchdown run. This week, the Bills will look to do the same. On the other side, however, Buffalo won't be going up against third and fourth-string running backs. The Rams boast the rock-steady Steven Jackson and exciting rookie Darryl Richardson. Two players that offer differing styles much like the Bills duo. With a less than stellar pass-blocking offensive line, the Rams will depend on their run game to set up their passing attack. Sunday could be end up being a quicker game than most with all the running clock from the two team's mirroring game plans.
4) Stevie's Status
- The extremely tricky hamstring injury has been the latest ailment to add to Stevie Johnson's ledger. The Bills' top wideout had to leave the Jaguars game in the third quarter, and was brought along slowly at practice throughout the week. Knowing how he's handled pain in the past, Johnson would have to be riddled with a big setback on Saturday or Sunday for him not be able to at least try it out for the game. Without him in the lineup, it puts a big hole in an already middling pass attack. With him on the field, the Bills have one more viable game-breaking option. If he does play, watching how he does on that hamstring will be worth keeping an eye on as the game progresses.
5) Secondary Carousel
- Last week, the Bills went with a rookie look at cornerback. Ron Brooks got his first career start and did well at times, but the Jaguars also targeted him and got him to commit some penalties throughout the contest. Aside from Stephon Gilmore, the secondary this week is a big toss-up. With Leodis McKelvin likely back and healthy, perhaps we could see a rotation of he, Brooks and Justin Rogers as the game goes on. With how Brooks performed on Sunday, it's more likely that you'll see McKelvin or Rogers playing the nickel. The Rams have seen the emergence of rookie wideout Chris Givens in recent weeks. He, along with the game-time decision that is Danny Amendola, could be the keys to stop when the Rams actually attempt to move the ball through the air.
OUT: C Eric Wood, DE Mark Anderson
QUESTIONABLE: CB Leodis McKelvin, CB Aaron Williams, CB Justin Rogers, DT Spencer Johnson, LB Chris White, WR Stevie Johnson
PROBABLE: DT Marcell Dareus, G Andy Levitre, S Jairus Byrd, WR Donald Jones, S Da'Norris Searcy, WR Brad Smith, TE Scott Chandler, LB Nick Barnett, HB C.J. Spiller, G Kraig Urbik, DE Mario Williams, DT Kyle Williams, WR T.J. Graham
OUT: TE Mike McNeill
QUESTIONABLE: WR Danny Amendola, LB Mario Haggan
PROBABLE: HB Steven Jackson, C Scott Wells
Prediction: Bills over Rams
- This game will be close throughout, but the edge is given to Buffalo for a pair of different factors. The first? The way the Bills defensive line has been playing over the past five weeks against an offensive line that can be overpowered. Mario Williams, Kyle Moore, Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus should be in line for another game where they set the tone. Add that to the St. Louis road curse this season and the lack of wins over teams outside of their division, this could end up being Buffalo's third win in their past four games. With similar offensive styles and deficiencies, it wouldn't be a shock if it came down to a field goal at the end of the game to win it.