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Posted: Saturday, 30 November 2013 11:55AM

5 things to watch in Bills - Falcons



(WGR 550) -- For the Buffalo Bills, their playoffs start now.

Entering Week 13, the Bills were only a game out of the final Wildcard berth and are coming up on the team's easiest stretch of the season. Not only that, but the past four games that they needed to go their way, did.

In Week 12, both the New York Jets and the Miami Dolphins lost to bring the Bills within one game. Then on Thanksgiving the two teams that would hold a tiebreaker over the Bills, Oakland and Pittsburgh, each lost their respective game.

There's still a long way to go and the Bills will have to likely win at least four of their final five games -- if not all of them -- but some things are falling their way. Their first test? The Atlanta Falcons in the not-so-comfy confines of the Rogers Centre in Toronto.

Here are some things to watch for throughout the game:

1) Falcons offensive line in disarray
- You think it's been bad for the Bills in past years? Try following the starting lineups along the offensive line for Atlanta through 2013 on for size. When the two teams square off in Toronto, there is no telling who will be on the offensive line for the Falcons. They lost starting left tackle Sam Baker to a season-ending injury, which pushed Lamar Holmes into the limelight. Since being inserted, he's had his fair share of struggles. Then you shift over to center, their former second round pick Peter Konz was benched for poor play in favor of backup Joe Hawley, so the latter will be lining up at center for the Falcons. At right guard, Garrett Reynolds has been taken advantage of by the opposition and was benched during the team's last game against the Saints in favor of Konz, so there is a large issue there. Right tackle might be the worst situation of the bunch, and that really is saying something. Jeremy Trueblood has not been productive throughout his career and the same trend is happening in Atlanta. The Falcons are considering starting undrafted free agent rookie Ryan Schraeder, or even veteran Sean Locklear who was a street free agent all of two weeks ago and hasn't been active for either game he's been with Atlanta. All of that leads to one line of thinking: the Bills defensive line should dominate this game. It could be more challenging in the event that Kyle Williams is not able to play due to his back injury, but the way the team's men along the line of scrimmage have been playing, there shouldn't be much problem in getting to Matt Ryan and making him sweat in the pocket.

2) Falcons running woes
- Hoping to solve some of their inefficiencies from past years, the Falcons elected to move on from Michael Turner and brought in free agent running back Steven Jackson in hopes that he would be the missing piece. So far, Jackson hasn't been able to make his mark in Atlanta just yet. Through the year he has only one touchdown, and his highest rushing total came in Week 1 when he rushed for 77 yards. He missed four games with an injury and has struggled to establish himself behind a porous offensive line. The Bills haven't exactly been fantastic at stopping the run this year, but they have shown flashes. This could be a week that the run defense really controls what the opposition is trying to do.

3) Spiller could pop
- Injuries have ravaged the Falcons on both sides of the ball, and it could cost them one of their best defenders on Sunday once again. Linebacker Sean Weatherspoon is questionable due to both shoulder and knee injuries, which means Atlanta could be without their speedy sideline-to-sideline linebacker. While they do have a pair of solid safeties in William Moore and Thomas DeCoud, this could be the week C.J. Spiller could finally get on track. The Falcons defensive line isn't daunting and they start two undrafted free agent rookie linebackers, which means Spiller could potentially find himself in space if he follows his blocks correctly. After his most frustrating game of the season against the Jets, Spiller could follow it up with his best of the year. Four of the past five weeks against Atlanta have resulted in both high yardage and high yards per carry averages for opposing running backs. Arizona's Andre Ellington had 154 yards on 15 carries, Seattle's Marshawn Lynch went for 145 yards on 24 carries, Tampa Bay's Bobby Rainey had a career-high 163 yards on 30 carries and Pierre Thomas of the Saints gained 73 yards on just 10 carries. Big plays are there for the taking, and Spiller may be the one to take them.

4) Turnover troubles
- Due to a declining run game and a poor offensive line, quarterback Matt Ryan has had to be the one to key the offensive efforts each and every week. He lost the team's top receiver Julio Jones to a season-ending injury only five games into the year, and Roddy White has been banged up all season as well. At times, Ryan has had to rely on the likes of Harry Douglas (who has played well since Jones' injury), Drew Davis and Darius Johnson. Ryan has turned the ball over 13 times and the Falcons are a minus-12 in turnover ratio. That could play into the hands of the Bills' secondary once more. While Jairus Byrd has the hot hand over the past two weeks, it could be the trio of cornerbacks (Stephon Gilmore, Leodis McKelvin and Nickell Robey) that have the best chances to make an impact play based on the way Ryan operates.

5) A neutral site game once more?
- Since starting the Bills in Toronto series, Buffalo has only a 1-4 record in games at the Rogers Centre. Their lone win came in 2011 over Washington, a 23-0 win over a hapless Redskins team that was starting John Beck at quarterback. Because of the overall lack of production in games up north, the atmosphere hasn't been one that yields a home field advantage for the Bills. It's been a neutral site contest all five seasons and it's been one that players haven't exactly been too fond of in past years. Perhaps an overwhelming effort will help ease those criticisms, but the game has been lifeless at times over the past five years.

Injuries
Buffalo
QUESTIONABLE: DL Kyle WIlliams (back)
PROBABLE: WR Stevie Johnson (groin), WR Robert Woods (ankle), CB Nickell Robey (ankle)

Atlanta
QUESTIONABLE: TE Tony Gonzalez (toe), LB Sean Weatherspoon (shoulder), LB Akeem Dent (ankle), DE Malliciah Goodman (calf), S Zeke Motta (hand)
PROBABLE: CB Desmond Trufant (thigh)

Prediction: Bills over Falcons
- The two keys to this game for a Bills victory will be C.J. Spiller getting back to being himself once again against a very vulnerable run defense, and the defensive line dominating the Falcons offensive line at the point of attack. If both of these happen, the Bills could run away with the contest and continue along in their playoff pursuits. With a full week of rest and a matchup that is entirely advantageous for Buffalo, the Bills might just collect their second victory in Canada.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

All photos courtesy of AP
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