Top 3 Individual Matchups
1 – Stephon Gilmore vs. DeAndre HopkinsHopkins has already eclipsed 1,000 yards receiving this season. Gilmore is second in the league in pass breakups and leads the Bills with three interceptions. This battle goes back to the college days when they squared off as players at South Carolina and Clemson.
2 - Cordy Glenn vs. J.J. WattGlenn won't be the only offensive lineman assigned with this task. Houston defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel moves Watt all across the defensive front. The reigning NFL Defensive MVP is as disruptive as ever and will demand attention from two players at all times.
3 – Sammy Watkins vs. Johnathan JosephWatkins tore Sean Smith up last week. How he'll fare against another veteran corner in Joseph remains to be seen. Buffalo's offensive staff is still trying to find ways to keep the dynamic receiver a focal point of their passing game for 60 minutes.
Bills Top 2 Advantages
Good advantage – Run defenseAlthough Buffalo's run defense was not up to snuff last week in Kansas City, on the whole it has been a solid unit holding opponents to under 95 yards a game for most of the season. Houston's run game has improved as the season has worn on, but the Bills should be able to keep the Texans from pounding out yards consistently on the ground.
Best advantage – Run gameOn the flip side Buffalo's run game has been one of the few consistent elements of the team. LeSean McCoy has five straight games of 100 yards or more from scrimmage with most of those coming on the ground. Even with Karlos Williams iffy this week, McCoy should be able to keep the team in favorable down and distance against the league's 16th ranked run defense.
Bills Number 1 Must
Smart football **The Bills have been unable to play a full 60-minute game without some unforced errors that have cost them this season. Playing a perfect game is almost impossible, but personal foul penalties, missed assignments, not recognizing time and score have all compromised Buffalo's effectiveness and consistency in games. Playing another streaking team in the Texans, smart, consistent play is the only thing that will give the Bills a chance.
Defense dominatingThe Houston Texans defense is peaking entering the final month of the regular season. Defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel's unit was the best in the league in November. For the month, the Texans defense ranked number one in the NFL in points allowed per game (8.8), net yards allowed per game (250.5), net passing yards allowed per game (180.5), and second in rushing yards allowed per game (70.0). They also held three of their last four opponents without a touchdown in November.
Formation frequencyHouston's offense has improved their effectiveness on offense through variety. The last two games head coach Bill O'Brien and offensive coordinator George Godsey have made heavy use of six offensive linemen up front. They've also used a myriad of different personnel groupings to keep opposing defenses off balance. The Texans have used 12 and nine different personnel groupings in each of the last two games, both wins for Houston.
Making long use of ShortsSince Cecil Shorts has returned to the Texans lineup they haven't been shy in using him in several different ways. Two weeks ago the former high school quarterback threw a touchdown pass to Alfred Blue against the Jets. Last week he took a shovel pass from Brian Hoyer while in motion and took it around the right side for a touchdown. He's also taken seven direct snaps in the last two games in the team's Wildcat package.
DroppersDespite all the improvement on the offensive side of the ball for the Texans, dropped passes are still an issue for the team. Houston leads the league in drop percentage as they've been unable to hang onto more than six percent of their targets (6.2%). Only five other NFL clubs are at five percent of higher. According to SportingCharts.com, the Texans have dropped 28 catchable passes out of 453 targets this season.
Hemming them inEveryone is familiar with J.J. Watt's exploits in sacking the quarterback. He has an NFL-best 13.5 sacks, 42 quarterback hits and 26 tackles for loss. Houston's defensive front as a whole however, has done a consistent job of collapsing the pocket and hemming quarterbacks in, especially against shorter signal callers. Two weeks ago against Ryan Fitzpatrick (6-2), though he did run for a touchdown, they prevented him from rolling out of the pocket.
They took a similar approach with the six-foot Drew Brees last week, forcing him to throw from inside the pocket. The results were positive as Brees did not throw a touchdown pass for the first time in 45 games. Buffalo QB Tyrod Taylor is 6-1 and should expect a similar approach.
Big play limitationsWhile DeAndre Hopkins has had his share of big gainers for the Texans this season, on the whole Houston's offense has not made many game-changing plays. They rank 28th in the league in plays of 20 yards or more with just 35 on 793 plays. Their run game has been particularly devoid of big plays with just two of their 314 carries this season going for 20 yards or more. It's why Houston ranks dead last in the league with an average of less than five yards per offensive play this season (4.96).
Quote of the week"We as a team we have to finish. We have to learn how to finish. Last week we punched that team in the mouth and had a very good game early. But games aren't won in the first quarter, they're not won in the second quarter or the third. They're won at the end when the clock is at triple zero. We have to finish."
--LB Manny Lawson
Stat of the weekIn his past six games LeSean McCoy is averaging 116.7 all-purpose yards per game.
Milestones in reachLeSean McCoy needs 28 rushing yards for 7,500 in his career. He is also looking to gain over 100 yards from scrimmage for the sixth straight game. Would be the fourth Bill in team history to gain over 100 yards in six straight games. (O.J. Simpson, Thurman Thomas and C.J. Spiller)
Tyrod Taylor needs 10 more passing attempts without an interception to set a franchise record for the most consecutive attempts without a pick. Currently has a streak of 166 attempts, the records is 175 by Drew Bledsoe in 2002.
Sammy Watkins needs four receptions for 100 in his career.
Final noteBuffalo is 5-1 this season when they hold their opponents to 20 points or less.