ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (WROC) — Three of about a bazillion things on my mind as the Bills get ready to host the Evil Empire 2.0…
Baby, It’s Cold Outside
The weather has become as much a part of the lead up to this game as any football analysis. Winds are forecast to be, at minimum, between 20 and 30 miles per hour with gusts to 40 or beyond. News 8 Chief Meteorologist Eric Snitil told me earlier this week that gusts in the 60 or even 70 mile per hour range are on the table.
In fact, my good buddy Eric scored tickets to the game (without my help. despite his request) and said he’s more excited to experience the potential wind phenomena than watch the football game (of which he is very much a fan). That should tell you all you need to know about what could be in store for Orchard Park Monday night.
There is also snow and rain possible, but the wind by itself is enough to affect every pass thrown. That’s going to hurt the Bills. They are the much better passing team and the team more likely, in normal weather, to try more deeper throws. It doesn’t mean the Bills don’t still have an advantage in that department, but the weather will stunt it.
The team that really will be hurt most by the potential weather is the team that gets behind. It doesn’t mean the Bills have to eskew their normal preference of deferring when they win a coin toss. It also doesn’t mean the team that scores first is going to win. What it will mean is that a team down, say… 10-3 or 17-6 late in the third quarter might have a much longer road than normal getting back to even.
I was one of many who did not think Mac Jones posed much of a threat at quickly becoming a productive and quality quarterback in the NFL. I am also one of many who is greatly surprised at how far Jones exceeded those expectations.
There’s no doubt the Patriots have built a game plan that protects Jones and limits him from having to make too many dangerous throws. However, Jones is far from incapable of dotting the occasional “i” and hitting on the wow connection. In fact, Jones lands two or three or four deeper throws almost every game. It’s just barely enough to force defenses into playing honest.
One of the main reasons I, and many others, thought the Bills would be the dominant team in the AFC East this year is because every other division rival would be starting, essentially, a rookie quarterback. As much success as Jones has had, he still is in his first year and will be making only his 13th NFL start ever Monday night. A primetime game with the division title on the line in Orchard Park will be the most difficult NFL road environment Jones has ever faced.
Even without Tre’Davious White, the Bills secondary, in particular, and defense, in general, will pose an incredible challenge. There’s still a wealth of talent and, especially, experience that can and should baffle any rookie. Leslie Frazier has done a great job confounding offenses all season by dialing up unique and creative blitzes. There’s no reason not to think he can’t do it again, even against Josh McDaniels and Bill Belichick.
This is still a rookie quarterback on the road against the NFL’s number one defense. I think it’ll look that way on Monday night. For the Bills’ sake, it better.
What Can Brown Do
Spencer Brown will be back from the Covid list and in the starting lineup for Buffalo Monday night. And not a moment too soon.
Jon Feliciano could also be recovered from injured reserve to play Monday, but Brown is the more important cog if only because his return stabilizes two spots. Brown goes back to right tackle and Darryl Williams gets kicked back inside to right guard where he’s been more successful this year. In addition, Cody Ford goes back to the bench even though he did have a very solid game against the Saints.
Brown has been promising this season, but he has struggled against more experienced and talented pass-rushers. Frank Clark turned Brown inside out a few times in Kansas City. Matt Judon and his 11 and a half sacks could go full Waterboy kicker (love this scene) on Brown Monday night. It’s certainly a concern for the Bills for this individual game, but it’s also a fascinating battle to watch when you consider the long term outlook and development for the Bills rookie tackle.
I probably could do Thad’s Thirty Things for this game. There are so many good nooks and crannies on this rivalry, both in the small and big picture. Very good coaches pitting very good defenses against a pair of very different offenses. There might be two dozen players you could point to and say THAT guy is gonna decide it. To top it off, there are plenty of scenarios where this game ends up becoming irrelevant and the division gets decided in Foxboro the day after Christmas anyway.
As for this game, there’s one angle I keep coming back to when it comes to picking a winner.
The Patriots are the team that’s had their ears filled this week with all kinds of praise and love. They’re the surprise darlings. They’re the dangerous team no one expected. The hype for the Tom Brady v. Bill Belichick Super Bowl has already begun. To be fair, the Pats have earned it with a six-game win streak including five that were straight beatdowns.
Almost win or lose Monday night, the Pats are still going to be all of above on Tuesday. They even have the security net of getting the potentially more important rematch at home. It’s hard to imagine New England as the desperate team with something to prove. Even a Belichick team is not immune to occasionally resting on its laurels.
The Bills, on the other hand, are coming from an entirely different situation. Buffalo is 3-3 in their last six games and that includes a couple of ugly losses. If you have to pick one side or the other, the Bills have been a disappointment so far this season. Buffalo needs this game more. They need to restore the Super Bowl contending level swagger.
If the Bills lose, it’ll be hard to wake up Tuesday morning and think of them and ‘Super Bowl’ in the same thought. They will be 7-5, a game and a half out of first with losses in four of the last seven and likely very little about their team would appear ‘elite’.
I just can’t imagine that happening. I think this defense will be too much for Jones. I think there’s also going to be some rallying together after the loss of Tre White, whether it’s paying homage to their fallen teammate or proving his loss doesn’t debilitate the defense.
I think the Bills feel there are doubters now. I think they’re back to the more comfortable underdog role. I think that’ll fuel them. This is also going to be the first home primetime full house for a Sean McDermott team with a winning record. I think that’ll be worth a little extra juice.
It’s possible this Bills team might just be as soft as they looked against Indianapolis and get pushed around again by a tougher team Monday night. It’s also very possible the weather becomes so intrusive, we all walk away from this contest thinking that the winner was simply the team that survived all the weirdness.
Assuming those two things don’t happen, I’ll take the Bills because they’re more desperate and because I’m not ready to step back from my belief they are Super Bowl caliber. In what will be the best regular season win of the McDermott era (yep… even better than the one in Kansas City) give me Buffalo on the strength of a defensive stranglehold 23-10.