The Buffalo Bills will play their second game this week in the state of Michigan, but this time they’ll be the road team as they face off against the Detroit Lions on Thanksgiving Day. Last year, the Bills also played on Thanksgiving, except they were at the New Orleans Saints as part of the nightcap. This year, they’ll play in the league’s flagship Turkey Day contest.
Buffalo is struggling with some bumps and bruises right now, as a plethora of important players are dealing with injuries. They gutted through a sleepy start last week to defeat the Cleveland Browns, but with the Lions coming off a huge victory over the New York Giants, Buffalo can ill afford to come out as flat as they did last week.
Our five players to watch this week are a little different than usual, with one notable exception.
QB Josh Allen
It would be disingenuous of me not to include Allen, so as obvious as it is, he’s on the list this week. Allen started poorly last Sunday, going 4-of-10 for just 27 yards through the team’s first four drives. However, he finished strong, going 14-of-17 for 170 yards and a touchdown from that point onward. Our own MightyOak pointed that out in the comments on Monday when we recapped the five players to watch for Cleveland, and it’s valuable perspective moving forward. Head coach Sean McDermott alluded to it in his Monday press conference, as well, saying that many of us “expect Josh to be Superman every day,” but his ability to bounce back after a sluggish start was as impressive as the superhuman things he does on a weekly basis. The truth is that I am 100% guilty of thinking Allen should be “beyond” a slump like this one at times, but there’s a more rational side in there somewhere that knows he’s struggling through an injury, had to deal with a legendary amount of snow removal around his house, and hasn’t been able to practice to stay sharp like he normally would. A game where he plays loose and confident while also throwing the ball as accurately as he did over the final 33 minutes or so in Week 11 would be great for the team, and it would also be great for Allen himself. Against a Detroit secondary that will be without top cornerback Jeff Okudah, who left last week’s game with a concussion, should be a mismatch in Buffalo’s favor. Detroit is last in the league in points allowed per game and 28th in passing yards allowed per game.
RB Nyheim Hines
My eight-year-old son picked Hines for the list this week, and when I asked him why, he told me that he “looks like he’s close to scoring a touchdown when they kick him the ball.” I can’t argue with him, as Hines has looked ready to break a big return quite a few times since coming over from the Indianapolis Colts. He’s averaging 13.3 yards per punt return and 25.3 yards per kickoff return since he was acquired by the Bills. Unfortunately, offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey has struggled to integrate Hines into the offense, although he did tell reporters on Monday that Devin Singletary, James Cook, and Hines have the potential to be “a potent trio.” I think this is the week where Hines is a little more involved offensively, especially since Singletary carried 18 times on Sunday. Look for Hines to be in on a few more snaps so as to lessen the load on Motor, and with those additional opportunities, he should be able to make a play. He’ll find the end zone for the first time in a Bills uniform this week.
C Mitch Morse
I sure hope he plays, and if he does, his effectiveness is something that we’ll need to monitor. As important as left tackle Dion Dawkins is to the line, it’s been my belief for some time now that Morse is the glue that holds the whole unit together, and I think he’s the best player of the five up front overall. If he’s out, the drop-off to Greg Van Roten is tremendous. If he’s compromised by trying to gut through an injury, it will be that much harder to keep Allen protected and to clear running lanes. Morse’s status is huge this week.
LB Tyrel Dodson
Sure, he led the team in tackles last week, notching 13 on the game. However, the drop-off from Tremaine Edmunds, who seems likely to miss his second straight game with a groin injury, to Dodson is even larger than the gap between Morse and Van Roten. Dodson is a shell of the player in coverage that Edmunds is—and, to be fair, most linebackers aren’t in the same league as Edmunds in that regard—and Buffalo’s defense is extremely different without their 24-year-old middle linebacker. The Browns were able to pick on Dodson with crossing routes on Sunday, and the Lions will likely try to do the same this week. I’m interested to see if veteran A.J. Klein is active this week, and if he is, if he steps in next to Matt Milano instead.
CB Dane Jackson
It’s been a tough two weeks for Buffalo’s de facto CB1, as he’s been burned repeatedly by both Justin Jefferson and Amari Cooper. The good news for Bills Mafia is that most NFL corners are burned by Jefferson, and Cooper is an excellent wideout in his own right. We should also be encouraged by defensive coordinator/assistant head coach Leslie Frazier saying that All-Pro cornerback Tre’Davious White is “close” to returning. However, Jackson has shown of late that he can’t consistently defend in a jump-ball situation, as he defaults to grabbing without looking for the ball far too often. Quarterback Jared Goff and wideout Amon-Ra St. Brown are a formidable duo, and while St. Brown isn’t Jefferson, he’s a tough matchup nonetheless. Jackson will need to be on his game.