The Buffalo Bills moved into first place last week by defeating the New England Patriots. They can’t clinch the AFC East with a win against the Atlanta Falcons this week, but they can’t drop out of first place if they just keep winning. The remedy is simple, really: win football games. That’s all the Bills have to do.
The records and the point differential reveal a game that should be winnable for Buffalo this week, but given the fact that our squad is one of Urban Meyer’s two NFL victories, we can’t call any game an easy one. If the Bills play how they’re capable, however, they can compete with anyone—and the Falcons are no exception.
Here’s our list of players we’ll be watching this week as the Bills try to make it three wins in a row.
WR Cole Beasley
I’m curious to see how the Bills use him just one week after his teammate, Isaiah McKenzie, blew up to the tune of 11 catches, 125 yards, and one receiving touchdown in that 33-21 victory over the New England Patriots. Do I think Beasley should be eliminated from the offense? No—in fact, I think that part of the reason the Bills lost some of the head-scratchers this season was due to an inability to use Beasley more often on check downs. Do I think that McKenzie should see more time on the field, though? Absolutely, as he gives the team a more dynamic athlete in the intermediate portion of the field. Beasley is great at hooking up in the short zone, and he’s also outstanding at beating man coverage quickly for short gains. McKenzie stretches the field horizontally, opening even more space in zones for others thanks to his speed. Offensive coordinator Brian Daboll has a problem on his hands, but it’s a good problem to have given that he has too many talented players to field. Look for quarterback Josh Allen to utilize his slot receivers early and often.
G Jon Feliciano
Will he start? Will he cede his spot to Ryan “Rick” Bates? If Feliciano does start, will he be effective? After an inconsistent start to his season, Feliciano has missed eight games this year thanks to a calf injury and a stint on the Reserve/COVID-19 list. While I think it’s entirely possible that Bates starts at left guard this week, I expect that head coach Sean McDermott will default to Feliciano starting. Against an Atlanta team with one of the league’s worst pass rushes, the front five should be able to keep Allen clean while opening holes for the running backs to find room. That left guard spot is one to watch this week.
DT Ed Oliver
I’ve tried to avoid writing about the same people repeatedly (hence leaving Josh Allen out this week...I write about him an awful lot!), but with a quarterback like Matt Ryan on the other side, a strong pass-rush presence coming up the middle is essential to success. Oliver has been that dude at times this year, as he’s totaled seven tackles for a loss, 13 pressures, ten quarterback hits, and 1.5 sacks so far. It’s definitely an underwhelming stat line given his draft pedigree, but he has definitely been better this year than he was last year—when he played much of the season out of position as a one-tech. If Oliver can push the pocket up the middle, he’ll not only give himself a chance for sacks, but he’ll create opportunities for his teammates, as well.
LB Tremaine Edmunds
Speaking of guys whose stat lines aren’t always up to the standard set by their draft pedigree, Edmunds is a case study for people’s preferences in a linebacker. If they want splash-plays, Edmunds isn’t the guy for them. If they want steady pass defenders who clog lanes against tight ends and receivers alike, then Edmunds is more than up to snuff. He’ll need to do plenty of that pass-coverage stuff this weekend, as the Falcons boast one of the league’s best young tight ends in rookie Kyle Pitts. The 6’6” 246-lb athletic specimen is a tough mark for anyone, but the 6’4” 250-lb Edmunds is at least his athletic equal. It will be interesting to see how Buffalo defends Pitts, though I expect plenty of bracket coverage utilizing Edmunds and one of their elite safeties. We’re going to hear Edmunds’s name called a lot on Sunday, and I expect that it will be because he’s played his assignment in the passing game well.
S Micah Hyde
One half of the league’s best safety duo is going to have to help out on two of Atlanta’s top offensive threats. Between Pitts and running back/pass catcher Cordarrelle Patterson, the Bills are going to be stressed in coverage with their linebackers and slot defenders. Good thing for the Bills that some of their best players are in those parts of the roster, with Edmunds, Matt Milano, Taron Johnson, Hyde, and Jordan Poyer all up to the task. Poyer is nursing a shoulder injury, but Hyde should be able to do what he does best, which is make plays. Last week, Hyde spent plenty of time near the line of scrimmage as an extra blitzer, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him up close again faking exactly that before jamming Pitts or manning Patterson. If the Bills win, Hyde will be a big part of the reason why.