1. Second time's a charm?
After Santa Clara County officials ruled no pro or college teams are able to hold games or practices in their county for the next three weeks due to COVID-19, the San Francisco 49ers were left without a home for the next two games. After the memo came out, the 49ers and the NFL quickly got to work to find a place for San Francisco to play. On Monday, the 49ers announced they would play Monday night's game in Arizona.
That means the Buffalo Bills are heading to State Farm Stadium for their second-straight road game. Bills fans know all too well what happened the last time Buffalo played there. After the Bills orchestrated a beautiful drive to score a touchdown and give them the four-point lead with less than a minute left in the game, the Cardinals came back and executed a 'Hail Murray' to win the game. Afterwards several Bills players explained how much the loss stung, but since then they have moved on from the heartbreaker of a game.
Buffalo gets a chance to redeem themselves in State Farm Stadium on Monday. Regardless of where they play, Bills head coach Sean McDermott is focused on the opponent.
"Wherever they tell us to play, that's where we'll go to play," McDermott said. "We can't control that. And so it's a home game for San Fran any way we look at it, and we're the road team. That's how we roll. We got to find a way. We've got plenty to work on here in between now and the game, and that's what we're focused on."
2. Trying to win first MNF game this century
The primetime Bills are set to play four of their last five games in the national spotlight. Buffalo will finish out the regular season with two Monday Night Football games, a Sunday Night Football game and a Saturday afternoon game. The Bills haven't played too many Monday night games as of late. In the Monday games they have played in, it hasn't always gone their way.
In fact, the Bills are searching for their first Monday Night Football win this century. Crazy, right? Buffalo hasn't won a Monday Night Football game since 1999. In that game the Bills beat the Dolphins 23-18. Since then Buffalo has lost seven straight Monday Night Football games - including the only MNF game in Sean McDermott's tenure a 25-6 loss to New England in 2018.
Good Morning Football's Kyle Brandt likes the Bills chances on Monday night. Brandt doesn't care about their odds on that day of the week.
"Last week the Bills were a much better team than the Chargers," Brandt told One Bills Live. "This week they are a much better team than the Niners. Much better. We're talking about a backup, backup quarterback, the Niners best player on either side of the ball is George Kittle, he's out. If it wasn't George Kittle, it's Nick Bosa, he's out. I know they're resilient. I know they're well-coached. This is the no mercy time, crush these guys."
3. Sean McDermott vs. Kyle Shanahan
Bills head coach Sean McDermott and 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan both began their head coaching careers in 2017 as McDermott accepted the job in Buffalo and Shanahan in San Francisco. The two took over struggling teams as the 49ers finished 2016 with a 2-14 record, and the Bills finished the 2016 season 7-9. The two have successfully turned their teams into ones with a winning culture. McDermott has made the playoffs in two of his first three seasons, and Shanahan took his team to the Super Bowl in his third season.
While their coaching styles are different, McDermott has a lot of respect for what Shanahan has done in San Francisco.
"Kyle is a great coach," McDermott said. "He and I went against each other in the NFC South there for a few years, and he does a great job of putting his players in position to be successful. He's been to a Super Bowl. Give him all the credit in the world. He's a heck of a coach."
4. Josh Allen playing hometown team
Bills quarterback Josh Allen has ties to the San Francisco 49ers. Allen grew up about two hours away from where the 49ers play in a town called Firebaugh. Since the game was moved to Arizona it won't necessarily be a homecoming for Allen, although the QB will still face his hometown team.
"My dad was a huge Niners fan, his family huge [fans]," Allen said. "I remember watching games going back to when I was four or five years old, tailgating and cherishing some of those moments because they were really cool growing up."
Allen shared he looked up to Hall of Famer and former 49ers quarterback Steve Young when he was first learning the game.
"Actually his game is something I feel like I emulate," Allen explained. "Just being able to be mobile and throw on the run. He was kind of like one of the first people to do that. He was a little undersized, I don't have that problem, but the way that he utilized his body and his athletic ability was really cool looking back at some of the film and highlights that he had."
5. Battle between two hot coordinators
Behind every successful head coach are some brilliant coordinators. While McDermott is a defensive-minded head coach, he leans on his offensive coordinator Brian Daboll to create a winning game plan every week for his offense. San Francisco head coach Kyle Shanahan's expertise is on offense so he relies on defensive coordinator Robert Saleh to dial up a defense that will expose any offense's weaknesses.
Both coordinators are well-respected throughout the league and are looked at as coordinators who could soon become head coaches if the right opportunity presents itself. Saleh has been in the NFL since 2005 and won Super Bowl 48 during his time with the Seahawks as their defensive quality control coach. In 2019, Saleh was named Coordinator of the Year by Sporting News after coaching his defense to the Super Bowl and become second in the league in total yards allowed per game at 281.8.
Daboll has been in the NFL since 2000 and has won five Super Bowls and one College Football Playoff National Championship in 2017. This season, Daboll is leading an offense that went from scoring 19.6 points per game to 27.2. He has also helped quarterback Josh Allen's completion percentage go from 52.8 percent in 2018 to 68.8 percent through Week 12 in 2020.
CBS Sports NFL Insider Jonathan Jones thinks both have the skills to be considered as head coach candidates one day.
"Daboll has been an offensive coordinator at a handful of stops," Jones said on One Bills Live. "Saleh, what he was able to do last season with that defensive unit that was number one in many areas and number two in several others as well and winning the NFC title game. I know that he wants some plays back from Super Bowl 54 against the Chiefs, then again it's against the Chiefs. The fact that they're able to hold up right now with the injuries that they've had, still be competitive, still win against some quality opponents and still very much be in the NFC playoff race while being in the toughest division in football, the NFC West, speaks highly of Saleh's abilities."
6. Bills defense to face more talented receivers
The Bills defense will be presented with another challenge on Monday as they prepare to go up against a talented receiver in Deebo Samuel. The Bills defense was able to limit Chargers star Keenan Allen to only 40 receiving yards and limited their offense to just 17 points. Buffalo's defense is showing consistency in their ability to play aggressively while limiting teams' key offensive weapons. Since Week 7 the Bills defense has combined for 29 sacks and takeaways, which is the second-most in the NFL. Samuel had a season-high 11 receptions for 133 receiving yards in their Week 12 win against the Rams. According to PFF, 83 of his 133 yards occurred after contact. That is the most yards by a receiver in a game this season. It was Samuel's first game back after missing three due to a hamstring injury.
The Bills will also be tasked with shutting down rookie receiver Brandon Aiyuk who has had a successful first season in the NFL. Aiyuk has 35 catches for 446 receiving yards and three touchdowns. He did not play in Week 12's matchup against the Rams because he was placed on the Reserve/COVID-19 list, but Shanahan said he is expected to be back this week.
Bills defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier thinks his defense is getting close to the level he expects them to play at.
"The consistency is beginning to show up a little bit," Frazier said. "Like I've talked about before, the month of December, that's when you really want to be rising. You don't want to peak in September or October. You want to improve. I think our guys are improving and that's what you need to be able to do in our league, is improve. Not leave your best football behind you in September or October. So, we've got a lot to work on, but we're headed in the right direction."