The bye is behind the Bills. December approaches. And they still have six games left to define their 2018 season. The final half dozen games are likely to put first round draft pick Josh Allen in the spotlight as the Bills try to accelerate his development and get him meaningful playing time.
Here’s a look ahead at this weekend’s Bills-Jaguars matchup and some of the other issues in the NFL in week 12:
1. DOWN THE STRETCH THEY COME
There’s still more than a third of the season left to be played and the Buffalo Bills still have their eyes locked on their goals for the 2018 season.
General Manager Brandon Beane, in an appearance on One Bills Drive this week, spent some time re-stating the football team’s mission statement for the rest of the season, starting with the offense.
“You'd like to see that group continue to improve,” he said. “You’d like to see Josh get a lot of meaningful reps and be able to play the rest of the season. And just see improvement for young guys. Defense the same thing. Just see them as a group. I know they’ve done a lot of good things. But everybody - all three units - continue to improve and let's finish the year strong and whatever happens, happens. “
“I know one of the years in Carolina, I think it was 2002, we won four of the last five and the next year we took off and went 11-5. I’m not predicting that will happen, but I think a strong finish helps you,” Beane continued. “But even if we lose some of the games to some good opponents which we still have in front of us--you want to see us be very competitive and play well and if we lose, we don't lose because we beat ourselves, we lose because we lost to a better team.”
2. BACK FROM THE BYE
Sunday is the Bills first game back from last week’s bye. And it was the latest the team has ever had its’s bye week in franchise history.
Last year, the first under Sean McDermott, the Bills bounced back with a win after the bye, a 30-27 nail biter against Tampa Bay. It was the first of two straight wins after the bye.
Jacksonville had its’ bye week three weeks ago. They took a four-game losing streak into their bye and have since lost two more in a row.
3. POTENTIAL PRO BOWL KICKER BATTLE SUNDAY
“Hausch-Money” has been plentiful for the Bills again this season. Bills kicker Stephen Hauschka has been outstanding, with a season-long 54-yard field goal last game against the Jets. He’s a perfect 12-for-12 on extra points, and he goes into this Sunday’s game having made 15 consecutive field goals. One more will tie Rian Lindell for the longest Bills FG streak since 2012. Lindell holds the franchise record with 18-consecutive field goals made back in 2007. Hauschka hasn’t missed since his first field goal attempt of the season back on September 9 in Baltimore.
On the other sideline, Jaguars K Josh Lambo has been outstanding. He’s made 17 of his 18 field goal tries this year (94 percent). He’s tied for the NFL lead with four made field goals of at least 50 yards this year.
Inside the 50, Lambo is even better. The four-year veteran has made 28 consecutive field goals from inside 50-yards.
In a game pitting the second and fourth ranked NFL defenses against each other, Lambo or Hauschka may be the difference maker this Sunday.
4. THE NEW NFL?
Has the NFL entered a “Brave New World” after the way week 11 finished Monday night? The Rams 54-51 win over Kansas City prompted several league observers to predict a new era of offensive football, ushered in by talented young receivers and QBs taking advantage of new rules designed to open up the passing game.
Bills GM Brandon Beane isn’t so sure the league has changed.
“It was an impressive game,” he told One Bills Live. “There was a lot of good stuff. It was crazy, because it was either the offense scored or the defense scored-there wasn’t a lot of stops. It was exciting from that standpoint.”
“But, I like defense a lot. I don’t necessarily like games in the forties and fifties.”
Beane believes there’s still a role for defense and a strong running game in today’s NFL.
“Passing is very hot, but things go cyclical. That’s what the league wants, the way the rules are set up. It’s fun with fantasy football with all the points.”
“But you still have to play good defense. You still have to run the ball. I don’t think the fundamentals of the game have changed. I think you have to be able to play the other way. You have to be able to run the ball and establish the run and establish the line of scrimmage.”
5. MASCOT OR LEADER?
When the Bills take the field Sunday, they’ll be led out by former cornerback Terrence McGee, who played 10 years with the Bills and was All-Pro two times as a return specialist.
He’s the “Leader of the Charge,” the man assigned to waive the Bills flag in the tunnel end zone when the Bills are introduced.
McGee says he’s happy to do it, but he does have mixed emotions.
“I’m not going to say I’m excited to pretty much be a ‘mascot.’ but it’s definitely going to be fun to come back and get to watch the game and kinda, sorta be on the field,” McGee told One Bills Live.
McGee has turned down requests to Lead the Charge in recent years, mostly because he loved taking the field as a player. He’s not sure waving the flag and leading the team onto the field will match that high.
“I guess when you’re on the field and you’re coming out waving the flag, I would think it would feel different,” he said.
6. AFC EAST IN PLAY
The Bills have five games left on the schedule after Sunday and four of them are against the AFC East. They’ll spend December getting to know their division rivals a lot better.
And their divisional foes have interesting games on the calendar this weekend. The 5-5 Dolphins, vying for the sixth and final AFC Wild Card playoff spot, go up against the 5-5 Colts, another team trying to sneak into the postseason. Miami puts Ryan Tannehill back in as the starting QB with his shoulder injury fully recovered. Brock Osweiler went 2-3 as Miami’s starter.
The Jets take the field at home again, two weeks after their blowout loss to the Bills. And this time they’re up against the 7-3 Patriots, who are trying to come back from their loss to Tennessee going into the bye two weeks ago.
Some observers wondered whether Jets coach Todd Bowles would make it to week 12 after the loss to Buffalo.