(WGR 550) -- With a 4-9 record, the Buffalo Bills are all but out of the playoff hunt for their 14th straight season. The team is entering the familiar territory of playing for merely pride and for jobs in the upcoming season.
With that written, the Bills have a glorious opportunity to do two things in their upcoming contest. The first, snap their two-game losing streak with a victory over a beatable opponent. And secondly, getting their first road win of the season with EJ Manuel controlling the offense.
The Bills are on the road against the Jacksonville Jaguars who have won four of their last five games. How does Buffalo stack up?
Here are a few things to keep an eye on in the game:
1) All eyes on EJ
- EJ Manuel's performance against the New York Jets seems like such a long time ago. It's undoubtedly his best game of the season, but it's also in between two games that didn't exactly yield large dividends. The Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay contests were his two worst of the season, and have started to cast a shadow of doubt for fans in wondering if he is the long-term answer. If you're looking for a silver lining, consider this: Manuel's best game of the season came just seven days removed from what his worst performance to that point (Pittsburgh). Now with the Tampa Bay game in the rearview mirror, Manuel can move forward and capitalize on a team that has given up a lot of yardage through the air (256.2 yards per game) and has a young and injured secondary he's going up against. The potential for Manuel to have a breakout game is there, now it's just on him to grab ahold of it. If he does, he'll do wonders for the psyche of a fan base that may be close to clamoring for another quarterback.
2) The Jacksonville run stuffers?
- After starting the season as one of the worst run defenses in the NFL, the Jacksonville Jaguars have turned things around over the past five games. In the last five weeks, they've held opponents to just 70.8 yards per game. The Jaguars just so happened to win four of those five games. Through the first eight weeks? Jacksonville allowed 161.8 yards per game and lost every single contest. Whatever the reason for the incredible turnaround, it's been one of the biggest keys for them to win four of their last five. In what seemed to be an extremely winnable matchup for Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller more than a month ago, the duo will have their hands full on Sunday.
3) Bills DL should dominate
- At the beginning of the season, the offensive tackles of the Jaguars looked to be a strength. Former top-ten pick and left tackle Eugene Monroe resumed his role and the team drafted Texas A&M standout Luke Joeckel with the second overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft to start at right tackle. Since then, Joeckel suffered a season-ending injury and the Jaguars, who knew the likelihood of Monroe returning as an unrestricted free agent was slim so they smartly dealt him for draft picks. In their place Jacksonville is going with Cameron Bradfield at left tackle and Austin Pasztor at right tackle, two players that have struggled significantly since they entered the lineup. Adding to that, right guard Will Rackley was added to the injury report late in the week with a concussion, and now he's questionable to play. Kyle Williams, Marcell Dareus, Mario Williams and Jerry Hughes have been a strength for the Bills all season long, so this matchup appears to be one that favors them quite heavily.
4) Harnessing Henne
- The Jaguars started the year as a totally inept offense that could rarely move the ball down the field with Blaine Gabbert as their starting quarterback. Since he suffered his injury, Chad Henne has turned the offense into a respectable unit. By no means is he the long-term answer and the player that the front office are hoping leads Jacksonville to bigger and better things, but at the very least he can be a serviceable player that will put the team into a position to win every once and again. When Henne has some time in the pocket, he can make a lot of powerful throws and ones that make you wonder why he's never been able to put it all together. When he's pressured in the pocket and forced to move around a bit, however, his effectiveness dips by a large margin. With a down offensive line, a quarterback that can't handle pressure well, the starting running back potentially not playing and the top wideout questionable for the contest, that could play right into the Bills hands with their pass rushing prowess.
5) Home woes vs. Road woes… something's gotta give
- Although the Bills have been horrid on the road in 2013, the Jaguars have been equally as abysmal at home. The Bills are 1-5 on the road (their lone win coming against Miami with Thad Lewis at quarterback) and the Jaguars are 1-5 at home (their lone win coming last week against Houston). This game is an overwhelming opportunity against a beatable opponent for rookie quarterback EJ Manuel to get his first victory away from Ralph Wilson Stadium, which would be a step in development for the rookie quarterback.
Injuries Buffalo OUT: CB Brandon Smith (ankle) QUESTIONABLE: LB Kiko Alonso (knee), G Kraig Urbik (foot) PROBABLE: DL Kyle Williams (Achilles), S Jonathan Meeks (ankle)
Jacksonville DOUBTFUL: HB Maurice Jones-Drew (hamstring), S Johnathan Cyprien (thigh) QUESTIONABLE: WR Cecil Shorts (groin), G Will Rackley (concussion) PROBABLE: HB Jordan Todman (shoulder), T Austin Pasztor (shoulder), DT Roy Miller (shoulder)< K Josh Scobee (left hip), LB Geno Hayes (knee), G Uche Nwaneri (shoulder), S Josh Evans (shoulder), S Chris Prosinski (concussion)
Prediction: Bills over Jaguars
- Despite the fact that the Jaguars have won four of their last five games, a combination of both their injuries and roster weaknesses make it into a winnable contest for the Bills. While yes, the Bills allowed Bobby Rainey to rip off an 80-yard touchdown to start off the game last week in Tampa Bay, their run defense actually performed very well after that play. Tampa Bay's offensive line is far superior to Jacksonville's, which conceivably takes away the run game from the Jaguars. If the Bills can manage that aspect of the game, they can pin their ears back and make Henne uncomfortable, keying better field position and possessions for Buffalo's offense. EJ Manuel has a chance to bounce back with a huge effort against a pass defense that leaves much to be desired. All in all, the matchup favors the Bills.