The Buffalo Bills have a football game this weekend, closing the 2022 regular season with a home game against the New England Patriots. The Patriots can qualify for a playoff berth with a win. They could also back in with a tangled web of losses from other teams should Buffalo emerge victorious. For the Bills, a win coupled with a loss by the Kansas City Chiefs on Saturday would give them the conference’s best winning percentage.
Yesterday’s great news about Hamlin’s progress gave the Bills a lift. As quarterback Josh Allen said, the next best thing that they could do is to go out and win for 3.
With all of this in mind, here are our five players to watch this week in the regular-season finale.
QB Josh Allen
The Bills go as Allen goes, and if he comes out as charged up as I think he’s going to moving forward, this team is going to be extremely difficult to stop over the next month. There is some mild concern about Allen’s ankle, which he injured a bit during the Cincinnati game when defensive end Trey Hendrickson barrel-rolled into him. Either way, Allen has dominated the Patriots of late, throwing for 1,310 yards, 15 touchdowns, and zero interceptions in his last five games against New England. He’s completed 67% of his passes in that span, adding 224 rushing yards on 36 carries in those games. If the offensive line can limit Matt Judon and Josh Uche, Allen should have no problem continuing his reign of terror against the Pats.
WR Isaiah McKenzie
Something about McKenzie against New England lately has been a nice matchup for the shifty slot receiver. After having a coming-out party last year in Week 16 by catching 11 passes for 125 yards and a touchdown, he followed that up with a strong performance in the playoffs (three catches for 45 yards; three carries for 29 yards). This year, McKenzie caught all five of his targets for 44 yards in the first meeting. It was one of only two games in which McKenzie has caught every pass that Allen threw his way. I’m looking for another strong game out of Lil’ Dirty this week.
LT Dion Dawkins
During the last matchup, Dawkins was out, and his replacement, David Quessenberry, struggled through an ankle injury while allowing a lot of pressure in Allen’s lap. Right tackle Spencer Brown held his own against Matt Judon, but Quessenberry really struggled with Josh Uche. Dawkins will need to take care of the speedy edge rusher this time around. It would be extra nice if the Bills’ offensive line could continue the success they’ve had of late in the run game. Even in the early going against the Bengals, Buffalo was able to move the ball on the ground against a top-notch Cincinnati run front. Buffalo’s running backs gained 21 yards on just three carries on their one possession in that one. James Cook has looked especially dangerous, and if Dawkins can seal the edge, Cook has the speed to take one to the house from long range.
CB Dane Jackson
In what has been a trying year for the third-year corner, Sunday’s game might be the toughest challenge for him yet. Jackson overcame a scary injury of his own earlier this year, as he was loaded into an ambulance with a neck injury during the Bills’ Week 2 victory over the Tennessee Titans. After watching his close friend and college teammate suffer a catastrophic injury on Monday night, I’ll be watching Jackson to see how he does emotionally almost as much as I’ll be watching him from a football standpoint. Knowing that Damar Hamlin is making strong progress has to lift a tremendous weight off his shoulders. My money is on Jackson securing his third interception of the season on Sunday. It would only be fitting.
S Dean Marlowe
Someone has to step into the lineup, and while it’s possible that the coaching staff will give Cam Lewis a go as the starting safety, my hope is that they’ll use the veteran Marlowe, who has paired with Jordan Poyer before in spot-duty to solid success. Marlowe started seven games with Buffalo. He only started as a safety twice — once against the Titans in 2018, and then again against the Patriots in 2020. Both times, he slid into the lineup for Micah Hyde and played next to Jordan Poyer. Against the Titans, he had four tackles and a pass breakup. Tennessee totaled 129 yards passing. Against New England, he had six tackles, one which went for a loss. He also recovered Cam Newton’s fumble to seal the victory for Buffalo. The Patriots passed for just 174 yards that day. The Bills haven’t activated Marlowe in a few weeks, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him filling Hamlin’s shoes this week. I also hope that the team actually begins the game with just ten players on defense for the first play as a tribute to Damar Hamlin this week.