The Buffalo Bills enter play against the Dallas Cowboys this week on a mission. After coming up with a huge victory on the road last week against the Kansas City Chiefs, the Bills revitalized their playoff hopes, pulling their record to 7-6 with just four games to go. Dallas, on the other hand, is coming off a huge win of their own, a 33-13 thrashing of their arch rivals, the Philadelphia Eagles.
Buffalo hasn’t won consecutive games since the beginning of October, when they beat the Miami Dolphins by four scores for their third consecutive victory. Dallas hasn’t lost since the start of November, a game they dropped to those very same Eagles that they blew out last week.
If the Bills are going to continue their mad dash for the playoffs, they'll need some big performances from those players we expect to shine—and others who are long overdue to contribute.
Here are our five Bills to watch this weekend.
QB Josh Allen
Obviously, Buffalo’s MVP candidate at quarterback has to play like an MVP candidate in order for the team to come out successful against top-tier teams. Dallas has a phenomenal defense. They’re third in yards allowed, fourth in points allowed, and fifth in passing yards allowed on the season. They have 39 sacks on the year and 13 interceptions. Allen has taken just 18 sacks on the season, but he was running for his life far too often last week against the Chiefs and their top-tier defense. He’s also thrown a few interceptions — not that anybody talks about that or anything — totaling 14 on the year. Allen has to be the guy who leads the NFL in total touchdowns this week, taking what Dallas’ defense gives him and trusting his play makers to do what they do well in order to keep the offense on track. The Bills will have some chances to make plays over the top, as the Seattle Seahawks showed a pretty good blueprint a few weeks ago when they scored 31 points on the Cowboys. Allen can use his legs to extend plays as well as anyone, and if he trusts his reads and continues to spread the ball around as he has, he will be just fine regardless of the talent level of Dallas’ defense. If he’s pressured into making quick decisions in 3rd & Long situations, though, it doesn’t bode well for the Bills. Staying ahead of the chains and hitting on a big play or two after starting off patiently would be tremendous. Look for Allen to target whichever receiver is covered by DaRon Bland, who has eight interceptions and five pick-sixes on the year, on a double-move at some point in the game.
RB James Cook
With four games to go, Cook needs just 221 yards to become the Bills’ first 1,000-yard rusher since LeSean McCoy in 2017. As exciting as he’s been as a runner this year, though, it’s his recent usage as a receiver that has most of us giddy. In the last two games, Cook has 11 receptions for 150 yards and a touchdown. Last week, Cook carried 10 times for 58 yards and caught five passes for 83 yards and a touchdown. He needs to be a focal point on offense, and I’d go as far as to say that he should be the third receiving option on offense behind wideout Stefon Diggs and tight end Dalton Kincaid. With Kincaid limited in practice thanks to shoulder and thumb injuries, Cook becomes that much more important. If Kincaid can’t play, or he has to limit his snaps thanks to the injuries, Cook will need more touches. In order to have those touches, he’ll need more snaps. He hasn’t topped 50% of the snaps on offense since Week 9. The Bills need to let Jimbo cook.
[The Offensive Line]
After last week’s mess, I don’t know which player to spotlight here, so let’s go with all five of them. It seems that any time a team gives the Bills an odd-front look, the offense struggles to protect. Last week, the Chiefs showed a lot of three-man rushes with two players spying and/or firing off when Allen broke the pocket. Unfortunately for the Bills, Dallas runs a primarily odd-front defense. Defensive coordinator Dan Quinn has been an excellent defensive mind for a long time now, and he hasn’t had success in the NFL by accident. Dallas has edge rusher Micah Parsons, who has 12.5 sacks and is as good as it gets on the edge. Center Mitch Morse has to do a better job identifying where he’s needed to help, and he’ll need to orchestrate the interior to assist, as well. Last week, left guard Connor McGovern found himself out-manned a few times when lined up against defensive tackle Chris Jones, and right guard O’Cyrus Torrence had a few whiffs, as well. Tackles Spencer Brown and Dion Dawkins will have to deal with Parsons, which is a tough assignment for anyone. This group needs to have a stellar outing on Sunday.
EDGE Von Miller
After Miller turned himself in to police due to an arrest warrant for domestic violence during the Bills’ bye week, I didn’t think we’d be talking about him as a football player for the team again this year. However, Miller is out on bond, and both head coach Sean McDermott and general manager Brandon Beane discussed letting the legal process play out when questioned about Miller’s status in games. Last week, he showed signs of life on the field, as he was able to pressure Patrick Mahomes on more than one occasion. He almost notched his first sack in the fourth quarter, but the “fumble” was rightly overturned after review. With fellow defensive end A.J. Epenesa looking likely to miss the game thanks to a rib injury, that means Miller will likely be called upon to play more snaps this week. He needs to be a factor, and he’ll definitely need to be better than what he’s been for the majority of the season — which is the fourth-best defensive end in the team’s rotation. Notching his first official sack of the season, perhaps of the strip-sack variety, would be a nice treat.
S Jordan Poyer
It looks like Micah Hyde will be out this week thanks to yet another stinger, which means that Taylor Rapp will probably start, Cam Lewis will see time on defense in dime looks, and Damar Hamlin will be active to play special teams. However, it’s the veteran Poyer who needs to step up and make a play. It’s a testament to the high standard that Poyer has set that this season feels like a major down year for the veteran safety — he’s still second on the team in tackles with 73 in his age-32 season. Poyer hasn’t made any of the game-changing plays we’re so used to seeing, as he doesn’t have an interception or fumble recovery this year. Poyer has had at least two interceptions in every season he’s played with the Bills, so he has some work to do in order to maintain that streak. Quarterback Dak Prescott doesn’t throw many interceptions — he has just six this season after leading the league last year with 15. In what could be a rainy night in Orchard Park, NY, Poyer stepping in front of one of those passes intended for tight end Jake Ferguson would give the Bills a good shove towards victory.