The Buffalo Bills are back to winning consecutive games for the first time since Week 4 and 5. This consistency comes at the perfect time ahead of Week 17 where the Bills have a chance to keep their division title hopes alive and clinch a spot in the playoffs.
Here are five storylines to follow ahead of Sunday's game.
1. How this game affects each team's playoff chances
It's been a wild NFL season full of unexpected upsets and plenty of dark-horse playoff candidates. With that, it seems like several teams still have a postseason pulse and that's the case for Sunday's game against Atlanta. The Bills (9-6) have a chance to clinch a playoffs spot on Sunday and the Falcons (7-8) still have a path to a playoffs spot.
Here are two scenarios in which the Bills can clinch a playoff spot on Sunday (per ESPN):
1. Win + Baltimore loss
2. Win + Las Vegas loss + Los Angeles Chargers loss
Here's how Atlanta can make it to the postseason (per ESPN):
1. Win out + Eagles lose out
2. Vikings lose one of two + 49ers lose out
If the Bills win out, they also win the AFC East.
2. What will Josh Allen do next?
Bills quarterback Josh Allen has been on a tear the last couple of games and has tied for the NFL lead in touchdowns over that span with six. Allen showed maturity and poise against one of the toughest defenses in the NFL on Sunday. He threw for 315 yards, three touchdowns and posted a 104.4 passer rating.
Allen has the second-most total touchdowns in the NFL with 38 and after Sunday's performance, he became the first player in NFL history to throw for at least 100 passing touchdowns and collect at least 20 rushing touchdowns in his first four seasons.
So what's next for a QB who has been unstoppable lately?
Well, it could be much of the same.
We aren't sure of who will be healthy or activated from the reserve/COVID-19 list just yet but on Sunday we learned it doesn't matter who Allen's throwing to, he's still going to make plays. He'll face a defense that's allowing 26.7 points per game (28th) and 364.9 total yards per game (24th). The Falcons also let quarterbacks post high statistics in several categories like completion percentage (allow 69.1%) and passer rating (allow 100.3 passer rate).
Allen also might not face too much pressure in the pocket because Atlanta has the fewest sacks (16) and the second fewest quarterback hits (55) in the league.
3. Bills WR options
Wide receivers Cole Beasley and Gabriel Davis were added to the reserve/COVID-19 list last week and their status for this week remains unknown. If they can't play, the Bills are left with wide receivers Stefon Diggs, Emmanuel Sanders, Isaiah McKenzie and Jake Kumerow. While Allen would love to have Beasley and Davis healthy, there is plenty of depth to work with on offense even beyond the wide receiver option.
Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll knows having options at every position is important as the team gets close to the end of the season when no one is feeling 100% healthy, and Covid cases are popping up almost daily throughout the NFL.
"The people that we keep on our roster, again credit to Brandon (Beane), Joe (Schoen) and Sean (McDermott) and everyone else, the decision makers: You don't just keep them on there to keep a warm seat," Daboll explained. "These guys have earned their roles as professionals, and they're here for a reason. And we have confidence in the people that we have, whether they're the last man on the practice squad or the star quarterback. That's why you're here. You have a job to do.
"And when your number's call, we expect you to be ready. And I'm certain those guys expect to be ready too."
McKenzie answered when his number was called by racking up 11 receptions, 125 receiving yards and one touchdown. His 125 receiving yards were the fourth most by a receiver in Week 16. Regardless of who is unavailable or available for Sunday, the Bills have solid depth to work with on offense.
4. How to stop Kyle Pitts and Cordarrelle Patterson
At first glance of the Falcons offensive statistics, you may think their offense doesn't present too many challenges. They are averaging 18.5 points per game (25th), 309.5 total yards per game (25th) and have only won back-to-back games once this season. All that said, they do have a couple of playmakers worth worrying about.
Running back Cordarrelle Patterson and tight end Kyle Pitts present problems for any defense. Patterson has more than 1,000 scrimmage yards and Pitts has the second-most yards by a tight end.
Bills head coach Sean McDermott said they'll have to watch out for how and where Atlanta uses Pitts.
"They're using him in a lot of different ways, moving him around, in terms of formation and creating mismatches at times," McDermott added. "So it is a headache anytime you have a player like that that you have to defend that can move around."
Patterson is a nine-year veteran who also presents a similar threat according to defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier.
"He's a versatile guy, at one point was one of the top returners, kickoff return guys in our league," Frazier said. "And I'm sure he's still capable of doing that, but they're using him more as a running back/receiver now and he's having a good season. He's become really, the go-to guy, along with Kyle Pitts, in their offense."
5. The return of locker room favorite Lee Smith
Former Bills tight end Lee Smith will make his return to Buffalo on Sunday. Smith, a 10-year veteran, was traded by the Bills to the Falcons in March for a pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. The tight end played for the Bills from 2011 to 2014 and 2019 to 2020. He was known for having an important presence in the locker room and his leadership in a group full of young tight ends.
"He was a very well-liked guy in our building here and really appreciated his leadership that he gave us when I was here," Bills head coach Sean McDermott said. "Always nice to see players go on and do great things and it seems like just from the film that I've watched on him that he's getting quite a bit of playing time."
Smith helped tight end Dawson Knox get acquainted to the NFL during his rookie season by providing plenty of advice on how to act on and off the field.
"I mean he was like a big brother," Knox told reporters a few months after Smith was traded. "From the second I got in there he took me under his wing and showed me how to handle myself in the locker room, how to talk to coaches the right way, how to be in my playbook, how to handle practices and injuries the right way. He was crucial for me and my development. Obviously, I think Atlanta is getting a great leader and a great player, arguably the greatest blocking tight end to ever play."
Smith has nine receptions for 65 receiving yards and one touchdown so far this season.