They're familiar opponents—the Bills have played the Jacksonville Jaguars in eight of the last 10 years. They're at it again this week, with the Jaguars coming to Buffalo for the first time in four years. Here are the top six storylines to follow this week as the Bills get set for the Jags:
1. SAMMY NOT A SURE THING
The Bills will make the decision soon on whether WR Sammy Watkins is ready to return to the lineup. He's been out since the week two loss to the Jets, when he couldn't finish the game with his injured foot. Two months later, Watkins has rested and rehabbed and tried to get himself ready.
Watkins has to come off the injured reserve list to return to practice and the Bills would have to use their one IR-Designated to Return move to make it happen. This Sunday is the first week he'd be eligible to play but he hasn't been through a practice with the team since September.
So if he is added to the 53-man roster, could Watkins step in and play against the Jaguars?
"I really don't know how realistic it is," Head Coach Rex Ryan said late Monday. "We will see how it goes. We obviously won't put him out there if he is in no condition to play."
With Robert Woods likely out and the Buffalo offense starving to get playmakers on the field, the Bills will need to guard against rushing Watkins back into action, regardless of how badly they need him for the playoff push.
2. NOT JUST SAMMY – QUESTON MARKS AT SAFETY ALSO
Injuries took another chunk out of the Buffalo secondary last week when Robert Blanton went out on the second to last play of the Bengals game. He started two of the last three games when Aaron Williams went on IR and got the bulk of the snaps at safety last week in Cincinnati.
Veteran James Ihedigbo, just added to the roster a week ago, was in for 18 snaps against the Bengals including the first one. Are the Bills ready to go with the man they call "Dig" as their starter after limited work? Or do they go with veteran Sergio Brown, who's got just slightly more experience than Ihedigbo (two games) with the team. Brown spent last year with the Jaguars and started four games.
3. RUSHING TO THE FINISH LINE
The Bills have left little doubt as to who's got the best rushing attack in the NFL this year. After leading the league last year, Buffalo is right back on top of the rushing stats after 10 games.
The Bills lead the league in rushing yards, yards per attempt (5.3) and rushing touchdowns (17). And even with veteran center Eric Wood out of the lineup, they seem determined to keep up the production.
Three-year vet Ryan Groy has jumped into the starting lineup at center in place of Wood. And after helping the Bills rush for 183 yards against the Bengals, Groy says winning the rushing title is an achievable goal for the offensive line group.
"That's what we strive for," Groy said Tuesday, in an appearance on The John Murphy Show. "Other teams in the NFL are different, they focus a little bit more on the pass. We believe the run game helps every phase of the offense."
"We take great pride in running the ball and we need to keep doing it and keep focusing on it and hopefully we can pull it out in the end," Groy said.
4. BILLS LOOKING FOR PAYBACK FROM JACKSONVILLE
More than any other loss, the 34-31 loss to the Jaguars in London last year damaged Buffalo's 2015 playoff hopes. The Bills coughed up a fumble and an interception in the second quarter of that game and the Jaguars scored touchdowns on both plays.
Despite trailing badly at Wembley Stadium, the Bills scored 28 unanswered points to make it a four point deficit in the fourth quarter. A controversial pass interference call on Bills CB Nickell Robey-Coleman kept Jacksonville's game clinching drive alive and the Bills dropped their second straight game headed into the bye.
5. MARRONE BACK IN UPSTATE NEW YORK
Sunday's game marks the return of Jaguars assistant coach Doug Marrone to the Bills and upstate New York. Marrone is the assistant head coach offense/offensive line coach for the Jags.
He spent four years as the head coach at his alma mater, Syracuse, before coming to Buffalo to become Head Coach of the Bills.
Marrone's two-year tenure in Buffalo came to an abrupt and surprising end on New Year's Eve 2014 when he opted out of his contract. Then Bills Running Back Fred Jackson said it was "like getting punched in the stomach." Marrone won 15 games and lost 17 in his Buffalo coaching stint.
The offensive coordinator in Jacksonville, Nathaniel Hackett, was the Bills OC during Marrone's two-year stint in Buffalo.
6. TOP 100 TALENT SHOW
Their rankings are released in the middle of the offseason, but the NFL Network's Top 100 player rankings are the source of discussion during the spring. And Bills Head Coach Rex Ryan has made note a couple of times already this week about how well represented the Jaguars were in that player poll.
Five Jaguars were named to the NFL Top-100 player list: WR Allen Robinson (31st), QB Blake Bortles (56th), RB Chris Ivory (78th), LB Telvin Smith (83rd), and WR Allen Hurns (89th).
In contrast, the Bills only put three players on the list: RB LeSean McCoy (69th), WR Sammy Watkins (96th) and G Richie Incognito (97th).
Ryan says the high rankings for Jacksonville's players are a sign the Jags have great talent despite their 2-8 record.
"They've got way more top 100 players than we did last year," Ryan said Monday. "I thought it was the Jacksonville show. But you know they've got a franchise quarterback, that's what they all tell me."