The Buffalo Bills are 7-3 and in first place in the AFC East. When they kick off on Sunday against the Los Angeles Chargers, they will continue their most realistic pursuit of a divisional title in a good 20 years. However realistic that pursuit may be, it won’t be an easy journey.
The Bills have an up-and-coming Miami Dolphins squad breathing right down their necks, and the New England Patriots refuse to lie down under head coach Bill Belichick. While a date with the three-win Chargers might seem like an “easy” way to kick off the latter end of the season, Los Angeles is no pushover. Every one of their seven losses has come by eight points or less, and the Chargers boast the league’s No. 3 offense in terms of yards gained.
The Bills will need some big-time performances from their big-time players. Here’s the list of who we’re watching this week.
QB Josh Allen
Buffalo’s rising star quarterback squares off against another star in the making in rookie Justin Herbert this week. Allen is on pace to set franchise records in every meaningful passing category. If he maintains his pace, he’ll throw for 4,594 yards and 34 touchdowns while completing 68.4% of his passes. Those would erase records held by Drew Bledsoe (who threw for 4,359 yards in 2002), Jim Kelly (who had 33 touchdown passes in 1991), and...well, it depends on who you want to unseat in the completion percentage category. The highest number of anyone with at least ten appearances is Kelly Holcomb, who completed 67.4% of his passes in 2005. Trent Edwards completed 65.5% of his passes over 14 starts in 2008, which is the highest number among players with that many starts. Who has the record among quarterbacks who made all 16 starts? Well, it’s J.P. Losman, who completed 62.5% of his passes in 2006. Any way you slice it, Allen’s 2020 season is on pace to be the best quarterback season in Bills’ history. The Chargers have allowed an average of 229 yards per game through the air, but they’ve also allowed 20 touchdown passes, which is the eighth-highest total in the league. Allen should be able to put together another strong outing on Sunday.
RB Devin Singletary
From a player who has shown great improvement to one who’s been a tremendous disappointment, it’s Buffalo’s slippery running back who needs to step up this week. Singletary has not been the dynamic force that he was last season, as his yards-per-carry average is down a whole yard in his second season. Buffalo’s running game has been a mess whether Singletary or rookie Zack Moss has been in the backfield, so the issues are deeper than just the ball carrier. Sunday would be a nice time for Singletary to rip off a 100-yard day from scrimmage. Think 12 carries for 52 yards with five receptions for another 50 yards on top of that. Buffalo has done very well offensively without much threat of a rushing attack, but if they can figure out the ground game, their offense goes from excellent to elite in a hurry. Making sure that Singletary can find some open space to operate in this week would be a nice step in the right direction.
C Mitch Morse
Will he play or won’t he? Is he being held out for “football reasons,” as head coach Sean McDermott has said, or is it some sort of elaborate cover to keep Morse from discussing reservations about playing after suffering his fifth documented concussion? I think it’s clear that the line is better with Morse on the field, and I also think the line would be better with Brian Winters on the bench. We’ll see what the team decides to do with Morse on Sunday.
DE Mario Addison
What’s the best way to rattle a young quarterback? Pressure him! If the Bills can generate a strong pass rush, they can force Justin Herbert to make quick decisions. Those quick decisions can force the ball into the places Buffalo wants it to go, which will give their defense the best chance at success. Addison has been a nice addition for the Bills this year, as he has helped Jerry Hughes to generate even more pressure thanks to his own success on the other side of the line. Addison is tied for the team lead in sacks with four, and he has six tackles-for-loss and seven quarterback hits. Not bad for a guy appearing on 61% of the team’s defensive snaps as a rotational player with Trent Murphy.
S Micah Hyde
This could just as easily be Jordan Poyer being discussed, as Buffalo’s safeties possess the versatility necessary to confuse Herbert on Sunday. Defensive coordinator/assistant head coach Leslie Frazier can use both of his safeties in a variety of ways—they can play in the box, they can blitz, they can play deep zones, they can slide into robber coverages, and they can play man to man. Mixing up pre-snap looks might put the Chargers in bad situations right from the snap, as the Bills can force Herbert into some poor protections, which could lead to quick pressure. They can also make him think he has to throw the ball quickly when he actually has time. It’s the movable nature of some of these back-end pieces that makes Buffalo’s defense tough to read at times, and if Hyde can come in and make an immediate impact, he could be a major factor in a victory on Sunday.