Weekend Look Ahead

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7 things to watch for in Bills vs. Broncos and the AFC playoff race | Week 12

Josh Allen (top left) has 8 TDs and 0 INTs in the last five games. John Brown (top right) is looking to hit at least 50 yards receiving in his 11th straight game. Micah Hyde (bottom left) will lead the Bills pass defense and Von Miller (bottom right) will spearhead Denver's defense on Sunday.
Josh Allen (top left) has 8 TDs and 0 INTs in the last five games. John Brown (top right) is looking to hit at least 50 yards receiving in his 11th straight game. Micah Hyde (bottom left) will lead the Bills pass defense and Von Miller (bottom right) will spearhead Denver's defense on Sunday.

The Bills are back home this weekend after a couple in a row on the road. And they've got another important AFC opponent to deal with as they try to lock down their playoff position. Bills fans also have to start keeping an eye on the other AFC playoff contenders as the season moves down the home stretch.

Here are some of the factors to consider looking ahead to week 12 for the Bills and the NFL:

1. MORE CLARITY COMING ON PLAYOFF PICTURE

Still five or six games left for most of the AFC playoff contenders, but a vague picture of who's involved in starting to shape up. The Bills have six games left and seven wins already — good enough for the fifth seed in the AFC – the first Wild Card Spot.

Bills quarterback Josh Allen admits it's hard not to think about playoffs and what has to be done.

"I wouldn't say we've started talking about it but, you do want to keep an eye on what everybody else is doing," Allen said this week. "Ultimately, at the end of the day, I think you need to get at least 10 wins to get into the playoffs. We're sitting at seven."

Allen says Buffalo is determined to keep its focus on this week's game, knowing that's the key.

"I think we've got a good opportunity in front of us right now. But guys aren't looking forward, we're not talking about it, we're taking it one week at a time, trying to win a football game this week."

2. ALLEN HAS A NUMBER ONE TARGET

It may not have been apparent in the offseason, or even in preseason, but it's clear now — John Brown is Josh Allen's No. 1 receiver.

"Smoke" leads the team with 56catches, four of them for touchdowns. He had 14 targets and nine catches last week against Miami. And Brown has impressed outside observers, like Field Yates of ESPN, with his consistent level of performance.

"I think it's just his consistency that's been so impressive," Yates said this week, in an appearance on One Bills Live. "At least fifty receiving yards in all 10 games so far this year. We know he's a big play waiting to happen with that outstanding speed. But he's been so reliable, so consistently targeted by Josh — I think it's just been an encouraging connection."

The Bills signed Brown on March 14 this year, and Yates says it's one of the most significant free agent signings of the year.

"John Brown has been everything that the Bills could have asked for, and that Brandon Beane could have imagined, when he doled out that three-year, 27-million dollar-deal," according to Yates. "I think when you look back at free agency it's been one of the most impactful acquisitions across the league. It's been a home run."

3. OFFENSIVE IMPROVEMENT

It's not all roses and unicorns for the Buffalo offense yet. They're still ranked below average in the NFL and the passing game is ranked 23rd.

So how can they get better in the half-dozen games that remain? The short passing game is one area, according to Matt Bowen of NFL Matchup on ESPN.

"I mentioned the 'quick' game – that needs to improve," Bowen said this week in an appearance on One Bills Live. "More higher-percentage throws from Josh — I think he can improve in that area."

Bowen, who spent eight years playing safety in the league, including one season in Buffalo, has his eye on two rookies on the Buffalo offense that he believes have more to offer.

"I think what you're seeing now is the impact of Devin Singletary," Bowen said. "He's an electric talent in terms of his footwork, his lateral ability, his short area speed. What I'd like to see there is more production from him in the passing game. I think that could be an added dynamic to your offense down the stretch – if you can threaten out of the backfield with Devin Singletary."

"Also, Dawson Knox," Bowen added. "I think the athletic traits are there. I think the speed is there. He can be another weapon for them on middle of the field throws."

4. BLUE RIBBONS IN THE RED ZONE

The Buffalo offense has done great work in the red zone so far this year. The Bills are ranked third in the league, scoring touchdowns 68 percent of the time.

This weekend, they're up against a solid red zone defense. The Broncos are second in NFL red zone defense, with opponents scoring touchdowns just 41 percent of the time.

5. SAFETY DANCE

It's tough to single out the best part of Buffalo's third ranked defense. But it may lie on the back end at safety.

Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer are into their third consecutive season of standout play for the Bills. And one of their strengths is disguising coverages — not giving opposing quarterbacks a clear idea on what type of pass coverage the secondary is in.

Hyde says it's hard work disguising coverages effectively, and it starts in practice during the week.

"We do a lot of things on the practice field that we don't do in the game, because sometimes it doesn't work," Hyde told One Bills Live. "Maybe we'll give up a pass in practice because we were over-disguising, and we'll say, 'yeah, we're not doing that in a game.'"

"It's a chess match out there," he continued. "Sometimes you might want to show what you're in and the quarterback might think you're switching up on him, but you're not. You actually just want to show it sometimes. You want to show a different coverage and get to something else."

Whatever it looks like — it works.

6. BRONCOS STUMBLING AT THE END

Last week's loss in Minnesota was the fourth time this season the Denver Broncos have led a game in the fourth quarter and lost it. They are 3-4 this year when leading in the fourth quarter. Only one other NFL team this year, the winless Cincinnati Bengals, are under .500 this year when leading in the fourth quarter (Bengals are 0-3).

Denver has lost three games this year on opponents' field goals with less than 30 seconds to play in the game.

7. SCOREBOARD WATCHING

It's late November, scoreboard-watching season for teams in playoff contention. Here are important games to keep an eye on this weekend while the Bills battle with the Broncos:

At one o'clock Sunday, the Raiders-Jets matchup in the Meadowlands is important to Buffalo. The Raiders have won their last three and with a 6-4 record, they're one game behind the Bills in the Wild Card race.

The Steelers are two games back at 5-5. They've won four of their last five and they play at 1 pm Sunday against the winless Bengals in Cincinnati.

Is Cleveland a contender? They're 4-6 with a manageable schedule ahead, including a home game Sunday at 1 pm versus Miami.

Later in the day, 5-5 Tennessee is home to play the Jaguars. And if you're looking for the Bills to unseat the Patriots on top of the AFC East, you'll keep an eye on the 4:25 pm kickoff in Foxboro between New England and the Cowboys.

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