It’s the start of the second half of the season, and the Bills have some work to do after three straight losses. They’ve got the Chicago Bears, the first-place team in the NFC North, coming to Orchard Park this Sunday. Here are the top storylines this week as the Bills get ready to play the Bears:
1. MORE QUARTERBACK ROULETTE FOR BUFFALO
It looks like week eight may mean another quarterback switch for the Bills. With Derek Anderson in concussion protocol, the Bills have to spend the week getting Nathan Peterman ready for a possible start this week. It would be his second start of the year, his first since the season opener at Baltimore, and his fourth NFL start in his two years in the league.
“We’re going to support Nathan if, in fact, he is called upon to play,” head coach Sean McDermott said this week. “We’re going to support him with everything we’ve got. We expect him to go out there and execute and execute at a high level.
Peterman’s five-interception first start last year has dominated the national perception of him for close to a year. He’s thrown a total of four interceptions in three games played this year.
Yet interceptions were not a problem for Peterman during his collegiate career. At Tennessee and Pitt, he had an interception percentage of 2.6 in 662 pass attempts. In the NFL, his interception percentage is 11.1.
Peterman only has to go back to preseason to find his happy place. He was outstanding in three games played in August—an 81-percent completion percentage with 3 TDs and 1 INT.
It wasn’t that long ago.
2. BEARS ARE BALL-HAWKS
The problem for Peterman, or anyone else who plays quarterback for the Bills Sunday, is that the Bears are the league’s best in picking off passes. They lead the league in percentage of passes intercepted and are second overall with 11 interceptions through seven games.
Bears defenders have returned two of their picks for touchdowns this season.
3. WILL MACK BE BACK?
After 71 consecutive games played to start his career, Bears defensive end Khalil Mack finally sat out last Sunday against the Jets. The right ankle he injured October 14 against the Dolphins forced him out of the lineup.
Might Chicago be tempted to give Mack another Sunday off this week? After they play the Bills, the Bears play three games in an 11-day span, all against divisional opponents. The NFC’s defensive player of the month of September might be more valuable to them as they try to stay on top of their division.
If he does play, it would be Mack’s third ever game in Orchard Park. The UB product finished with just two tackles and no sacks last season, in Oakland’s loss to the Bills at New Era Field. And in November 2013, Mack and his UB Bulls lost a critical Mid-American Conference game to Bowling Green in the Orchard Park stadium.
4. BILLS “D” BACK ON TRACK?
While the Buffalo offense struggled mightily through the first half of the season, the Bills defense acquitted itself very well.
Buffalo hits the midway point of the season ranked sixth in the league in yards allowed after finishing 2017 ranked 26th. The Bills are strong against the pass, and are 14th in the league in sack percentage, on a pace to finish the year with 42 sacks. Last year, Buffalo finished with 27 sacks.
After a downturn against the Colts two weeks ago, the Bills came back strong Monday night. They gave up just one offensive touchdown to New England and sacked Tom Brady twice. It was the kind of defensive production Buffalo will need the rest of this season to overcome their lagging offensive output.
5. DEFENSE FRONT AND CENTER THIS WEEK
It could be a defensive showdown this week in Orchard Park. Chicago is right behind the Bills, ranked seventh in overall defense so far this year. While not facing the same caliber of opponents the Bills have, Chicago’s ‘D’ has been strong. They only gave up 10 points to the Jets last week, and they held Tampa Bay to 10 and Arizona to 14 earlier this year. The Bears give up 21 points per game this year (the Bills give up 25).
It’s not just Khalil Mack leading the way for Chicago’s tough defense. They have other first rounders like Kyle Fuller, Leonard Floyd, Prince Amukamara, and this year’s first pick, Roquan Smith, on their defense. And they’re led by veteran Defensive Coordinator Vic Fangio, in his 33rd year in the league.
6. PRYOR COMMITMENT
Will the Bills find a role for new WR Terrelle Pryor? He signed his contract Tuesday and is expected to jump into the wide receiver rotation sooner rather than later, given Buffalo’s struggle for consistency in the passing game.
Pryor spent the last couple of weeks on the street, after the Jets released him when he suffered a groin injury. He had 14 catches, two for touchdowns, in six games played with the Jets. And even though the former Ohio State quarterback hasn’t thrown an NFL pass in two years, Bills Coach Sean McDermott would not rule him out as a quarterback possibility for Buffalo. Unlikely—but who knows?
7. ANDY REID COACHING TREE ON DISPLAY
Two of Kansas City’s Andy Reid brightest proteges will be on opposite sidelines this week. Sean McDermott was hired by Reid in Philadelphia and rose through the ranks to become Eagles defensive coordinator at age 35.
Bears head coach Matt Nagy spent 10 years with Reid in Philadelphia and in Kansas City.
McDermott and Nagy are part of an extensive coaching tree Reid has generated. He’s got several former assistants working as head coaches in the NFL right now, including McDermott, Nagy, Pat Shurmur, John Harbaugh, Ron Rivera, Todd Bowles and Doug Pederson.