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Buffalo Bills vs. Los Angeles Chargers — A focused Bills stampede charges into Week 16

A pair of old AFL rivals meet for the first time since 2020

Los Angeles Chargers v Buffalo Bills Photo by Timothy T Ludwig/Getty Images

The Buffalo Bills are looking California this weekend, perhaps feeling a little homesick for the holidays. While the grass may very well be greener out west right now, the weather’s predicted to be anything but hospitable.

So, now you know.

Thankfully, the Los Angeles Chargers play in a wonderful new enclosed space known currently as SoFi Stadium. Many are apt to say it’s Rams house — but this weekend it’ll be home for the Chargers this holiday season. And what a season it’s been for these Chargers.

As a franchise, there’s no shortage of football-snagging Lucy moments for the Chargers, but one most didn’t see coming was the firing of head coach Brandon Staley and general manager Tom Telesco in-season even with the team losing five of its last six games. The moves came mere hours after the Chargers dropped a 63-21 game to a Las Vegas Raiders team that lost by a score of 3-0 to the New England Patriots one weekend prior. The Raiders could have scored far more points and given up less than the box score notes, but mercy played out in the second half.

In their place, each on an interim basis are head coach Giff Smith and general manager JoJo Wooden. If Giff Smith’s name sounds familiar to some of Bills Mafia, it’s because he spent time with the team during Chan Gailey’s tenure as head coach. Giff’s role with the Bills was as defensive line coach, and he’s been credited with having played a key role in defensive tackle Kyle Williams’ development.

What unfolded in Vegas last week was the most classic case of a team giving up on its head coach. Brandon Staley had lost the locker room, and it was clear to anyone tuned in that a change was coming, fast.

On the surface, it would appear that the Chargers’ predicament heavily favors the Bills. To that end, Buffalo opened the week as 13.5-point favorites as the road team with DraftKings Sportsbook. There’s been no shortage of analysts and writers who cover the NFL saying that the Buffalo Bills are playing like the best team in the AFC right now. Certainly that means the Bills should easily defeat the reeling Chargers. Or do it?

I’m often a big believer in motivation as it relates to success in the NFL. Clearly, the Chargers had near zero last week in Las Vegas. But gone now is the head coach the team gave up on, while the players who endured a demoralizing loss on national television are left to pick up the pieces in support of their interim head coach. That sounds like a case for plenty of motivation to show up. Add in the “no one believes we have a chance” mentality, and it’s worth putting even just a second or two of pause on grandiose expectations of the Bills on Saturday. Though the scenarios are different, all one need recall is the Denver Broncos losing to the Miami Dolphins by a score of 70-20, and what followed in the weeks after that historic thrashing.

On Wednesday, middle linebacker Terrel Bernard mentioned that even though they won’t face quarterback Justin Herbert, the concepts and scheme will remain the same — that what they’re likely to see this weekend is very similar to that which they faced last Sunday in hosting the Cowboys. That lends credence to the idea that Bills should win, and do so confidently.

They are playing like one of the NFL’s best right now, and doing so against the league’s elite: whether that’s going toe-to-toe on the road in adverse conditions against the Philadelphia Eagles, winning a tight road game against the Kansas City Chiefs, or completely shutting down the league’s most potent offense (Dallas).

Though just 8-6 and owners of far too many “should have won it” games, right now the list is as short as it gets in terms of those teams the Bills might fail to defeat. This, after falling to 6-6 against the Eagles while playing some of the most inspired offensive football all season — and seeing their playoff hopes disappear faster than a sandcastle in the death grips of high tide. The NFL truly is a week-to-week league, and right now, the Buffalo Bills are one of the better stories. It’s key to remember that on any given Sunday — or Saturday, in this case — it’s anyone’s ball game.

For the Bills to win in Los Angeles and improve to 9-6, they’ll need to play a whole lot of disciplined football, while taking anything and everything the Chargers allow. Fortunately, the Bills appear to have found their identity, and it includes a fair amount of very physical offensive football.

You can be certain that the offensive line will seek an encore performance in the run game — and for sure they’re hyped up to help running back James Cook hit 1,000 yards rushing for the first time in his career. That task shouldn’t prove too difficult since he needs only 32 yards on the ground to hit a grand — but you know he wants more. He’s also only 67 yards shy of 500 yards receiving. Again, he must certainly be aiming for more. It would be wise to continue leaning into Cook as long as he’s dishing it out.

There are those who will speak of this week as a trap game, but the Bills may be the one team set up to avoid such a trap, having dealt with their own adversity on and off the field. Whatever it takes to walk off the field winners is what Bills Mafia should expect to find from Sean McDermott and company — whether that’s via a passing game renaissance or a clock-eating, grind-it-out close victory in the final minutes. No win in the NFL is easy, and no path will ever be simple. What most people remember in the end is who won and who lost, not how it played out.

Some believe the most dangerous opponent is one with the least to lose. That’s the Los Angeles Chargers at this moment. Looking past them to a two-game stretch against AFC East foes to finish the regular season would be unwise. Remember, a phenomenal edge rusher by the name of Khalil Mack plays for the Chargers — and to this point in the season he has accumulated 15.5 sacks. Mack is just as dangerous as edge rusher Micah Parsons, and the Bills will need to account for him on each and every snap. Should Mack win more often than not, Buffalo could find themselves caught in a long evening of frustrating football.

Chargers wide receiver Keenan Allen has shown up on the team’s injury report and failed to play in Week 15. But should his heel injury improve enough for Allen to suit up, Buffalo needs to find a way to limit his impact. On the season, Allen has 108 catches for 1,243 yards and seven touchdowns. Another week, potentially another elite receiver — one who’s in the midst of his best season within an already illustrious and accomplished career.

Each and every person at One Bills Drive will remind you that all the focus remains on the Chargers, but that’s because the goal is playoffs, and more. That’s all the motivation the Bills need to continue building toward something great in 2023. The AFC playoff field remains a very crowded place stuck in a very fluid situation, and Buffalo has essentially entered into a Final Four situation. In their favor? Momentum and something else. Remember, Buffalo also has a Josh Allen at quarterback — and he’s always ready for big dubs.

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