It’s December football—the first of three December home games for the Bills. It’s the fourth straight season the Bills have played three home games in the month of December, so you know what to expect: chilly temperatures, blustery winds, and a chance for a little snow (see December 2017 vs. Colts).
Here are some of the top things to anticipate as the Bills and the rest of the NFL moves into week 14:
1. SHOWCASE FOR QB CLASS OF 2018
There were five quarterbacks chosen in the first round of last April’s draft, and all five of them are starting. But Sunday in Orchard Park, two of them will go up against each other as starters, and that hasn’t happened yet this season.
New York is expected to go with San Darnold, his return to the lineup after three games out. The Bills will give Josh Allen his eighth start of the year. The only other QBs in this year’s first round to go head-to-head were Darnold and Baker Mayfield back in week three. But Mayfield came on in relief of Tyrod Taylor that day and led the Browns to a comeback win—this is the first time two of the rookies have gone against each other as starters.
Each of the five rookies has three wins as a starter so far; Allen is 3-4. Darnold has won three and lost six. Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson is a perfect 3-0 as a starter.
And Sunday’s game in Orchard Park will feature the second-youngest combined QB matchup all time in the NFL. If you add Darnold and Allen’s ages together you get 44 years. Three years ago, Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston faced each other as starters. Their combined age was 43 years.
2. BILLS TAKEAWAYS = WINS VS. JETS
The Bills have handled the Jets fairly well in the last five years. They’ve met 11 times, and Buffalo has won seven of those games.
The primary reason—takeaways. Buffalo is +16 in turnover ratio against the Jets since 2013, the best turnover margin by one NFL team over another during that span.
And the Bills are on a bit of a turnover splurge, with six interceptions in their last four games.
3. ALLEN’S A MAGNET FOR NFL EVALUATION
It stands to reason, with so much pre-draft evaluation of this year’s quarterback class, the five first rounders would get plenty of critiques in-season as well. Buffalo’s Josh Allen may get the most, probably because he generated so much diverse and passionate criticism before the draft.
Most NFL observers like Josh Allen’s development in the last two games. Chad Pennington, who played the position for 11 years in the league and has worked with young QBs, including Sam Darnold, says he’s amazed with some of Allen’s work the last two weeks.
“Coming into the draft and even out of the draft I think evaluators were excited about the physical talent,” Pennington told One Bills Live this week. “Specifically, the arm talent. They knew about his athleticism, but I’ll be honest with you, the last couple games he has amazed me with some of the plays that he has made at his size and frame.”
“To be able to do some of the things that he’s doing is quite remarkable. I think the physical talent is there and I think that the biggest challenge for him is--how do you hone that talent to be an efficient quarterback?”
NFL Network Analyst Brian Baldinger, a long time offensive lineman in the league, sees Allen making plays without having much help around him on the Bills offense.
“It’s hard when you’re literally just running for your life all over the field almost every play,” Baldinger said this week on One Bills Live. “I don't know how you can even slow yourself down to be calm. But I see calm feet, I see a guy who is tall in the pocket and does a lot of good things. I just think that there is a lot to work with here and by no means is it a finished product.”
That’s what this Sunday’s game is about—more finishing.
4. DON’T EXPECT AN AERIAL CIRCUS
The ongoing development of both rookie QBs, Allen and Darnold, is not likely to include filling the air with footballs this Sunday. For one, they’re both coming off recent injuries—Allen to his throwing elbow, Darnold with a foot.
Secondly, the Bills and the Jets are two of the least productive passing attacks in the league.
Buffalo is second-to-last in the NFL in passing yards per game (164.6) and dead last in completion percentage (55 percent). The Jets are ranked 30th in passing yards per game, 31st in completion percentage. The Bills have just eight touchdown passes in 12 games this year, the Jets have only 12.
5. SO, WHO WILL GET THE CARRIES?
The Bills will hand off the ball to LeSean McCoy, even with his struggles this season. He had his best game of the year four weeks ago in Buffalo’s win at the Jets. Marcus Murphy also had his best game of the year against the Jets, and Buffalo has Chris Ivory available this week also—he missed the first Jets game.
The Jets may have a problem. After picking up 98 yards on 21 carries at Tennessee last Sunday, their veteran running back, Isaiah Crowell, has yet to practice this week with a bad toe. If he can’t go, New York may rely on young backs Elijah McGuire and Trenton Cannon. Not the best options for an offensive attack starved for production this year.
6. DON’T EXPECT A NAIL-BITER
The first Bills-Jets matchup four weeks ago was a blowout. And if form holds, this week’s game could be one-sided as well.
Since 2010, more than half of the Bills-Jets matchup, eight of 17 games, have been decided by 20 points or more. That includes the 41-10 Buffalo blowout four weeks ago.
Both the Bills and the Jets should be accustomed to both winning and losing by big scores. The Bills have the worst average margin of defeat in their eight losses (21.4 points). The Jets have the league’s best margin of victory in their three wins (19.0 points).
7. MEANTIME, SAME OLD STORY FOR THE PATRIOTS
While the Bills and Jets do battle in Orchard Park Sunday, the Patriots and the Dolphins matchup in South Florida. And sometime during the afternoon, word may come of a New England victory against the Dolphins, and the Patriots 10th consecutive AFC East division title. No other NFL team has ever done that.