LAKE FOREST, Ill. (AP) — The Buffalo Bills still have a few important goals to achieve before they turn their attention toward the biggest prize of all.
They can clinch their third straight AFC East title this week, and a No. 1 seed playoff seed is in sight.
For all the prizes out there, coach Sean McDermott insisted the focus is simply on beating the struggling Bears when his team visits frigid Chicago on Saturday.
“We’re facing a Chicago Bears team that is playing really good football right now and they play extremely hard,” he said. “I think Coach (Matt) Eberflus has done a great job of changing that culture, perhaps, at least from the outside looking in, in terms of how they’re playing.”
The Bills (11-3) clinched their fourth straight playoff berth with last week’s win over Miami and would lock up the division with a win or tie against Chicago (3-11). A loss or tie by the Dolphins against Green Bay would also do it.
Buffalo has the inside track toward the top seed in the AFC — and the first-round bye and home-field advantage through the conference championship game that come with it.
The Bills and AFC West leader Kansas City have identical records. But Buffalo has the tiebreaker after beating the Chiefs in October. The Bills are also a game up on Cincinnati, with the teams scheduled to meet on Jan. 2.
As for Saturday’s game, it won’t be easy. And that’s not just because Buffalo will have to deal with Justin Fields.
The National Weather Service was predicting a high of 10 degrees with gusting wind — and that’s after heavy snow on Thursday and Friday. The Bears’ coldest home game by temperature was 2 degrees with a minus-13 wind chill against Green Bay on Dec. 22, 2008. The coldest by wind chill was minus-15 against the Packers on Dec. 18, 1983, when the temperature was 3.
The Bears have dropped seven straight — one shy of the franchise record — after a narrow loss to Jalen Hurts and the NFL-leading Philadelphia Eagles last week. But Fields continues to dazzle.
He has 1,000 yards rushing and is closing in on the single-season rushing record for a quarterback. He joined Michael Vick (1,039 in 2016) and Lamar Jackson (1,206 yards in 2019 and 1,005 in 2020) last week as the only QBs to reach 1,000.
WINDY CITY MEMORIES
Bills defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier is more than familiar with windy conditions.
He spent his five NFL seasons in the Windy City, playing cornerback on the the Bears’ famed 1985 defense. Now in his sixth season on Buffalo’s staff, Frazier has become accustomed to the gusts blowing in off Lake Erie that create havoc during Bills home games.
“Whoooo. I’ve played in some very, very windy games at Soldier Field. I don’t know if I played in one quite like the one we had against New England a year ago,” Frazier said, referring to a 14-10 loss to New England in which Patriots quarterback Mac Jones attempted just three passes because of the conditions. “It would be close between the two.”
The Bills are getting ahead of Mother Nature and a winter storm set to hit Buffalo on Friday by leaving for Chicago a day early. The team planned to fly out of Buffalo after practice on Thursday.
McDermott said the decision to leave Thursday would not disrupt the team’s preparation. The Bills have become accustomed to revising their schedule. Last month, a lake-effect storm, which dumped seven feet of snow on parts of western New York, led to the team traveling to Detroit to play a “home” game against Cleveland.
Assuming he plays, Bears cornerback Jaylon Johnson is in for another big challenge facing Stefon Diggs after going against Philadelphia’s A.J. Brown last week.
“He’s very dynamic in his route running, and it also helps having a quarterback (Josh Allen) that can throw the ball a million yards,” Johnson said. “I feel like their chemistry has definitely been building since he’s been there.”
Though Brown had nine receptions for a career-high 181 yards, Johnson made him work for it. He broke up a season-high three passes. Diggs is third in the NFL with 1,299 yards receiving. Johnson was listed as questionable Thursday because of what Eberflus said was a ring finger injury. He’s also been dealing with a rib issue.
THE MORE THE MERRIER
Diggs is all in favor of more Bills players sharing the wealth in touchdowns after running backs James Cook and Nyheim Hines and tight end Quintin Morris each caught their first TD pass on Saturday.
“It looks good as far as going into the playoffs. It gives you multiple ways to win,” said Diggs, who has a team-leading 10 touchdown receptions.
The Bears are getting a backfield boost with Khalil Herbert set to return.
Herbert missed the past four games because of a hip injury he suffered returning a kickoff against Detroit. Herbert, who shares duties with David Montgomery, has 643 yards rushing and ranks fourth in the league at 6 per carry.
“What’s really nice, too, is it’s a different type of back,” offensive coordinator Luke Getsy said. “I think there’s a value in that, and having two different types of style runners like we’re able to have here with D and him.”