The Buffalo Bills host the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday in a pivotal December game. You’d have to go back to the 2004 season finale for the last time the Bills have entered a game with nine wins against any opponent in the regular season, so this is some new territory for Buffalo. With Baltimore a consensus choice for the number-one team in football in most circles, the game will be a stiff challenge for the Bills.
Coming off a big road victory against the Dallas Cowboys on Thanksgiving Day, Buffalo will need to repeat the efficient performance of that game and then up it a few notches in order to come out with a win on Sunday. Baltimore defeated the San Francisco 49ers last week, handing that team just its second loss of the season.
The Bills will need big-time performances from their big-time players this Sunday. Here are five who could swing the pendulum in Buffalo’s favor.
QB Josh Allen
Buffalo’s young, mobile quarterback has improved drastically as a passer since entering the NFL, and he’s even improved since the beginning of this season. After playing one of the best games of his young career against Dallas, he’ll need to continue the hot streak this week. It feels so long ago when Allen played “hero ball” against the New England Patriots, throwing three interceptions in a 16-10 loss back in September. Allen has calmed in the pocket, and he seems to be reading the field much more comfortably than he was earlier in the year. His accuracy, much maligned throughout most of the last two years (even dating back to his college days), has improved, and he completed 79% of his passes last week against Dallas. If Allen can continue to play turnover-free football while moving the chains, Buffalo has a great chance to come out with a huge win on Sunday. Avoiding turnovers and three-and-outs will not only help Buffalo to score, but it will also allow the Bills’ defense to rest—and it will keep electrifying Baltimore quarterback Lamar Jackson on the sidelines, as well.
RB Devin Singletary
Speaking of keeping Baltimore’s offense off the field, if the Bills can run the ball consistently, then they will be able to keep possession themselves. In order to run the ball consistently, Devin Singletary will need to continue his stellar play. The third-round draft choice has had a strong rookie year, totaling 553 rushing yards on just 98 carries so far. He actually overtook veteran Frank Gore in rushing yardage last week, as he now leads the Bills in rushing by exactly one yard. Singletary has averaged 17 carries and 81 yards per game over Buffalo’s last three contests, all victories. If he can find some holes against a Baltimore defense that allows 4.5 yards per carry, then the Bills will be in good shape offensively.
WR John Brown
Another week, another “revenge game” for a Buffalo receiver, though this one isn’t quite as contentious as last week’s edition. Cole Beasley was clearly angry at the Dallas Cowboys for letting him go, and he made them pay last week to the tune of six catches, 110 receiving yards, and one touchdown. Brown has had nothing but good things to say about his time in Baltimore, but it certainly wouldn’t hurt for him to have a big day against his old mates. After starting the season averaging six catches and 82 yards per game, Brown has only totaled five grabs for 65 yards and a touchdown over the last two weeks. As teams have taken him away, Beasley has thrived. This week, I imagine that Baltimore will look to limit Buffalo in the intermediate-middle area of the field, as that’s where they’ve had a ton of success over the last two weeks. This means that Brown could see some one-on-one coverage against the physical Marlon Humphery, who has been called for nine penalties this year. Against a similarly physical corner, New England's Stephon Gilmore, Brown had a solid day in Week 4, catching five passes for 69 yards. I expect that the Bills will look to feed Smoke the ball this week.
LB Matt Milano
Honorable mention here to fellow linebacker Tremaine Edmunds, as both guys will be incredibly important in containing Lamar Jackson. Since Edmunds is a bit bigger, the team will probably use him to match up against tight end Mark Andrews, perhaps with some help from the safeties, as well. Milano could find himself spying Jackson often, which is an incredibly difficult, if not impossible, task. Milano has had a great year, but he’ll need to be at his best against a team that has some big, physical blockers and some electric runners. Milano can struggle with shedding blocks at times, but he has done a great job when teams try to run to the outside. He will need to play assignment-sound football this week.
S Jordan Poyer
Poyer is Buffalo’s jack-of-all-trades in the back end. They love to use him to pressure quarterbacks, and he is equally adept at playing deep zone coverages and man-to-man defense, as well. His versatility will help the Bills to disguise their intentions pre-snap, as they can move Poyer around to show a variety of looks, but then switch him into something completely different. Poyer could be used as a deep safety, he could be used as a spy, he could be used to cover tight ends either in man or as a “robber,” and he could be used as a blitzer. If Jackson doesn’t account for Poyer, he could be the guy who forces a game-changing turnover.