They were both AFC Wild Card teams two years ago, and they both fell out of the playoff picture last season. Now, both the Bills and the Titans are looking to put themselves in the AFC playoff picture this year and the winner of their game Sunday in Nashville will have a leg up.
Here are some of the top things to watch for in this week’s Bills-Titans matchup plus other observations around the NFL:
1. ARE THE BILLS THE AFC’S BRONZE MEDAL TEAM?
There are two unbeaten teams remaining in the AFC – the 4-0 Chiefs and the 4-0 Patriots. And there’s 75 percent of the regular season still to be decided.
But at least one national NFL observer ranks Buffalo as the third best team in the conference right now.
“All right, the Chiefs are great. The Patriots are great. Can you name the third best team in the AFC?” asks Kyle Brandt of the NFL Network, the host of Good Morning Football.
“I still think it’s the Buffalo Bills,” he told One Bills Live. “I will take them, with that defense, and who knows with that offense, I will take them over the Browns, the Texans— really anybody else. It’s a big drop-off from the Chiefs and New England, but I think the Bills are the third-best team in the AFC right now.”
2. ONE-POINT RIVALRY
The Bills squeaked by Tennessee last year in Orchard Park with a 13-12 win in week five of 2018. These two old AFL rivals have been locked into some close ones in recent years. The last three matchups between the Bills and the Titans have all been decided by a single point.
Only four other matchups in NFL history have seen two teams play three straight games decided by one point or less—the last one from 1966-to-1969 between the Eagles and 49ers.
3. EXPECT ANOTHER LOW SCORE
The Bills and Titans are not expected to light up the scoreboard at Nissan Stadium in Nashville Sunday. They’re two of the league’s top-five defenses when it comes to points allowed.
The Titans give up 15.5 points per game – the fourth-best mark in the league. The Bills allow 15.8 ppg – good for fifth place. In fact, the Bills have held each of their four opponents this year under 20 points in each game. They had a four-game streak like that two years ago, when they made the postseason. If the Bills hold Tennessee under 20 points on Sunday, they will become the first team in franchise history to hold their first five opponents under 20 points.
4. HE CAN’T HYDE ANY MORE
In his third year with the Bills, his seventh in the NFL, safety Micah Hyde has been a model of excellence and consistency. He made the Pro Bowl two years ago, but recognition for his play has been quiet around the league.
That may be about to change. His end zone interception of Tom Brady last Sunday was one of the plays of the game. And NFL analytics graders at Pro Football Focus gave him a high grade of 90.3 for his game against New England.
For the first quarter of the season, Hyde is one of five NFL players who’s earned a grade of 90.0 or above in multiple weeks. PFF says he’s allowed quarterbacks a passer rating of only 34.5 when he’s in coverage. Hyde was also named the PFF’s All-Pro team for the first quarter of the 2019 season.
5. BEST ON THE DEFENSIVE LINE?
There’s no shortage of standouts on Buffalo’s second ranked defense through the first quarter of the season. But one national observer may surprise you with his choice as the Bills top performer on the defensive line.
Andy Benoit, a NFL Analyst formerly of the MMQB, believes backup defensive tackle Jordan Phillips has been the best player on the defensive line so far this season. Benoit told One Bills Drive that Jordan Phillips, who’s played 37 percent of the defensive snaps so far, is the top player in a strong D-line group.
“He’s been a ‘flash’ player, every single week that he plays,” Benoit said. “And he was like that in Miami – he’s been like that in Buffalo. And yet, he hasn’t fully stuck on teams yet in his career. He’s mostly been a backup who plays rotational snaps. And I don’t understand why that is. I’m not saying they should give him 50 snaps a game. It’s a rotation across the board there.”
“Jordan Phillips, to me, is one of the more under-valued players in the NFL and he has been for a long time,” Benoit continued. “It’s very clear to me that he’s been their most dynamic defensive lineman this year.”
6. MARIOTA NOT COUGHING IT UP
There’s plenty to pick apart in Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota’s game. And he’s 0-2 in two starts against the Bills in his career.
But he’s on a pace to set a career-high in passer rating; he’s at 106.2 right now. And the big reason for that—he hasn’t turned it over. Not once.
Mariota is the only NFL quarterback with two or more starts this year with no giveaways. His game has always been closely scrutinized, ever since Tennessee made him the second-overall pick in the 2015 draft.
Titans radio color analyst Dave McGinnis, former Head Coach of the Arizona Cardinals, says it’s a consistency issue with Mariota.
“He’s played good, and then there are some things that he can get better at,” McGinnis told One Bills Live this week. “He’s constantly working on trying to improve. What Marcus has to do is find a line of consistency and be able to maintain that and then start stacking wins doing that.”
7. REST OF THE LEAGUE
The Dolphins get a much-needed bye week this Sunday and the winless Jets play at Philadelphia. After beating the Bills in Orchard Park last Sunday, the 4-0 Patriots play at 0-4 Washington.
The marquee game on the NFL schedule is the London game – the first one this season. The Bears and the Raiders play at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London, the first-ever game in the new stadium. It’s the start of a 10-year partnership between the league and Tottenham. The 62,000- seat venue bills itself as the new home of the NFL in the UK.
Tottenham Hotspur Stadium will be the 187th venue to host a regular season or postseason game in NFL history. The Bears and Raiders kick off at 1 pm Eastern Time Sunday.