Their playoff hopes not quite extinguished, the Buffalo Bills play the second game of a three-game home stand this Sunday when they take on the Cleveland Browns. Here are the top six storylines as the practice week begins:
1. DON'T BE THE FIRST
The Browns miserable campaign comes to Buffalo this week and Cleveland is still in search of its' first win. The 0-13 Browns are in the middle of a massive overhaul of their roster led by first year Head Coach Hue Jackson.
The Browns are trying to avoid becoming the first team to go 0-16 since the 2008 Detroit Lions. Years ago, I spoke with several Lions personnel about that season, and about what it felt like on the way to 0-16. To a man, they maintained they never believed they could lose every game that season, right down to the final minutes of their season finale in Green Bay. They talked about looking up at the clock at the two-minute warning in Lambeau, and coming to the realization that they would not win a game that season.
No doubt, the Browns bring similar feelings into this week's game in Orchard Park. And they're running out of chances.
The 1980 New Orleans Saints stared a winless season in the face, when they went to New York to play the Jets in week 15. The Saints got two late touchdown passes from Archie Manning to pull out their first and only victory that season.
2. REX ISN'T PACKING IT IN
Get ready for a barrage of questions for Head Coach Rex Ryan about the Bills approach to this game with their playoff hopes dangling by a thread.
But there is a slight mathematical chance going into the practice week. And Ryan says that's enough for him to keep pressing for wins.
"We are going to fight all the way and that's who this team is," Ryan said Monday. "We might not be the best team in the National Football League, but we are going to compete like we are."
3. NEITHER ARE THE PLAYERS, DESPITE OUTSIDE "NOISE"
Bills players know they'll be bombarded with questions this week about the offseason and the media reports concerning Head Coach Rex Ryan, quarterback Tyrod Taylor and the future. And they say they'll be ready.
Seven-year vet Leger Douzable says there's enough veteran leadership in the locker room to handle the questions.
"It comes down to leadership in the locker room," Douzable said this week, in an appearance on The John Murphy Show. "I think we have a great group with me, Lorenzo (Alexander), Kyle Williams, guys like Eric Wood, Richie incognito and Tyrod. We have guys who will say, 'guys we just need to focus on the game. We're still in this thing.' "
"Nobody else cares what's going on in this locker room," Douzable says. "We have to go out and put out a product we'll be part of."
4. TYROD STILL AT THE CONTROLS
Tyrod Taylor will line up for his 27th start for the Bills this Sunday. Rex Ryan put to bed any speculation that he'd go elsewhere at quarterback when Rex met the media Monday.
"The reason he's our starting quarterback is, in my opinion, he gives us the best opportunity to win. That's what we signed up for. We're trying to win these games," Ryan said.
Even with Ryan's pronouncement, questions about Taylor getting the start are likely to be heard for much of the practice week.
5. BIG NAME AT THE OTHER QB SPOT
The Bills and their fans get a front row seat for the career reclamation project for RGIII this week. Robert Griffin III got back into the Browns lineup last week, after missing 11 games with a shoulder injury suffered in week one.
Griffin, the 2012 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, went 12 for 28 for 104 yards and threw one interception last week in the Browns loss to Cincinnati. He also ran it seven times for 31 yards, including a one-yard touchdown run.
It's his running ability that has the attention of Bills defenders.
"We can't let him beat us with his legs," Leger Douzable said this week. "You have to push the pocket and force him to throw from a tunnel. You can't let him get outside and make plays with his legs. That's what he's best at doing."
6. RUN AND STOP THE RUN?
Neither running nor stopping the run worked well for the Bills in their loss to Pittsburgh last Sunday. They have a chance to fix both of those issues this week against the Browns.
Cleveland is the 31st ranked run defense in the league this year, allowing 146 yards per game on the ground. And the Browns rushing offense is ranked 25th. If Buffalo wants to get back to its' formula of running well and playing good defense, this week would be an opportunity to do so.