The Bills begin the second half of the season in solid playoff contention. And being in contention means they have meaningful games to play in November and heading into December.
That includes this weekend’s matchup with the 2-6 Cleveland Browns, one of the league’s most under-performing and disappointing teams in the first half of the season. But with dynamic talent all over their roster, the Browns can cause problems for the Bills and everyone else they play the rest of the season.
Here are seven issues in play as Week 10 of the NFL season approaches:
1. HOW DID ALL THE BROWNS PRESEASON HYPE DEVELOP?
The Browns will spend the rest of the 2019 season digging out of their 2-6 hole and dealing with the perception that they’re the NFL’s most disappointing team. A roster loaded with talent has struggled so far, playing the third-toughest schedule in the NFL. Now, Cleveland moves into the second half of the year with the third-easiest remaining schedule in the league.
But how did all the Browns preseason hype get started?
Jay Crawford, former ESPN Sportscenter host, is now the preseason TV play-by-play man for the Browns in Cleveland. He says the 26 years since Cleveland’s last division title had fans thirsting for optimism.
“You’re walking through the desert and you’ve been walking through the desert for 30-years. And you haven’t had a drink of water,” he told One Bills Live this week. “And just up ahead, it looks like there’s water, and you can’t get there soon enough.
Crawford says Cleveland’s strong second half of the 2018 schedule, when the Browns won five of their last seven games, gave fans hope for 2019.
“Then you add pieces like Olivier Vernon on defense and Sheldon Richardson, and OBJ,” Crawford says. “You get Kareem Hunt to accent the run game with Nick Chubb in year two and you think you’ve got the quarterback piece figured out. It was easy to do that math and come up with the answer of ‘Hell, yeah, we’re going to be relevant, why wouldn’t we be?’”
They’re relevant for sure, with all that talent and all that ground to make up.
2. YOUNG GUNS ON DISPLAY
The first and seventh overall picks on the 2018 NFL draft are on display this Sunday in Cleveland. Baker Mayfield and Josh Allen have never faced one another in the regular season.
And while Buffalo’s Josh Allen is making determined and steady progress towards franchise quarterback status, Mayfield has taken a step back in the first half of 2019.
The quarterback rating and other stats reflect that, but ESPN NFL Analyst Field Yates says there’s more. He told One Bills Live that Buffalo’s first-round quarterback is already perceived as a better leader than Cleveland’s
“From an intangibles standpoint, from being the leader of a franchise, from fitting in the way he is supposed to fit in, helping the team win, and doing so in critical situations, Josh Allen has been more effective than Baker Mayfield this season,” Yates says. “Who knows which player will ultimately have a more memorable career. But Josh Allen has helped the Bills to one of the best records in the AFC right now.”
Yates says Mayfield is the poster boy for Cleveland’s disappointing half-season this year, mostly because he’s so visible in the media.
“I think there are a lot of people that I respect and trust, who, if they could, would tell Baker Mayfield it’s time to stop talking and time to start winning,” Yates says.
3. TRE-DAY VS. OBJ?
On a field at FirstEnergy Stadium that will be loaded with critical matchups, one of the most important is how the Bills match-up with Cleveland wide receiver Odell Beckham, Jr.
The Bills normally line-up Tre’Davious White at left cornerback and let him stay there. But on occasion, including last Sunday, they have him follow an opponent’s top receiver wherever he lines up.
There’s no more dynamic wide receiver in the league than OBJ, so does Buffalo move White with him when they line up? Defensive Coordinator Leslie Frazier isn’t saying.
“It's a kind of week-to-week,” Frazier says. “We just take a look at each opponent and just determine what we need to do. We'll study it this week and just see what is the best thing to do.”
4. CHUBB/HUNT COMBO ON THE GROUND
Here’s another critical matchup Sunday in Cleveland: Buffalo’s struggling run defense versus running backs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt of the Browns.
The Bills have allowed 139 rushing yards per game in the last four games they’ve played after allowing 84 yards per game in the first four.
Gap integrity is the issue, according to Bills coaches and players. And defensive end Shaq Lawson says it’s an issue that sometimes cannot be detected during the game.
“It doesn’t look like a big thing until you watch film.” Lawson told One Bills Live. “You’re like ‘Oh, I’m out of my gap.’ It’s all about technique, eyes and keys.”
The Bills gap integrity will be tested by Cleveland’s second-year running back Chubb, who’s produced 803 rushing yards already this year. Chubb and Jim Brown are the only players in Browns history with 800-rushing yards through eight games.
5. BIG-PLAY MOTOR
The Bills have a dangerous weapon in their backfield as well, rookie running back Devin ‘Motor’ Singletary, who had 23 touches for 140 total yards in the win over Washington last week.
And he’s become a big-play producer. Singletary leads NFL running backs, averaging 7.1 yards per touch so far this season. The Bills may be just at the tip of the iceberg when it comes to unlocking 'Motor’s' big play potential.
6. LOCAL CONNECTIONS
The Bills and Browns are Lake Erie neighbors and Cleveland’s roster has some notable Western New Yorkers. Starting center J.C. Tretter is a product of Akron (NY) High School and Cornell University. He roomed with the son of Bills Wall of Famer Steve Tasker (Luke) while both were at Cornell. And Cleveland just signed tight end Stephen Carlson to the roster off their practice squad a week ago. Carlson grew up in Chautauqua County and played at Jamestown High School.
Bills safety Micah Hyde is a native of Fostoria, Ohio, about 100 miles west of Cleveland. Sunday will be his first regular season game in Cleveland.
7. PATRIOTS BYE WEEK
New England gets its’ bye this week, so a win at Cleveland would put Buffalo within a game of the division-leading Patriots. The bottom-half of the AFC East has the Jets at home in the Meadowlands against the Giants and the Dolphins on the road at Indy.
Scroll through to see the top photos of the Buffalo Bills working out during Week 10 of the 2019 regular season. Bills weight room photos are presented by Crunch Fitness.