The Bills pick up their season with a road game in Cincinnati on Sunday - the first of seven straight games against AFC competition. And after going into the bye week with a three-game losing streak, Buffalo is eager to start the final stretch off on the right foot. Here are seven storylines to follow this week as the Bills get ready to face the Bengals:
1. YOU CAN'T TELL THE PLAYERS WITHOUT A SCORECARD
Buffalo may be changing up the lineup as they enter the final seven weeks of the campaign. Head Coach Rex Ryan offered a preview of possible changes at his news conference to begin the week.
Five year veteran Corey White is going to get a chance to unseat starter Ronald Darby at the left cornerback spot for the Bills. White told reporters Monday it's an open competition. The Bills may also take a longer look at rookie corner Kevon Seymour in the defensive backfield this week, as they try to shore up a secondary that has given up some big passing plays in recent weeks.
Ryan will spend the week trying to identify the new starter at center, either Ryan Groy or Patrick Lewis. And he raved about the strides Seantrel Henderson has made in recent weeks. The Bills are likely to give Henderson more first team reps during the week to see if he's ready to return to action for the first time since last November.
- VETERAN HELP ON THE BACK END**
The Bills went to the street Tuesday to sign veteran safety James Ihedigbo to the roster. He was out of work since February when the Detroit Lions elected not to offer him a contract after two years with them.
Much of the practice week news will focus on Ihedigbo's timetable for jumping into action to help out the beleaguered Buffalo secondary. Former Bills Safety Matt Bowen, now an NFL writer and reporter for ESPN, says it shouldn't take long for the Bills to find a role for Ihedigbo.
"What you're first trying to do is upgrade your coverage," Bowen said this week in an appearance on The John Murphy Show.
"After the Monday night loss to Seattle, and we saw some of the issues they had in the secondary; especially Doug Baldwin down the middle of the field, trying to match up with Jimmy Graham. You're trying to create some competition on your roster. And I think you can do that during the season."
"I understand it's not training camp, it's not OTAs, where guys are fighting for jobs," Bowen continued. "But still, if you bring in a guy and you give him an opportunity to play, you never know what can happen. You might find a guy who can match up with the tight end. You might find a guy who can roll down in run support and give you an upgrade at that position. It could allow you to create more packages within your defense."
3. MORE HELP FROM HARVIN?
Wide receiver Percy Harvin has a two week head start on Ihedigbo as far as jumping onto the Bills roster. But after 21 snaps in Seattle, and an extra week of work in conditioning and in the playbook, the Bills sound ready to expand his role this week.
Rex Ryan says the three days of practice Harvin got in before the trip to Seattle wasn't really enough to get him game-ready. That's changed now.
"He wasn't able to run a full route complement," Ryan said early this week. "I mean, we never really felt like he was ready to do that football-shape wise. But I think we feel better about it moving forward. Percy won't just be a decoy for us."
With the Bills playing in cautious on Sammy Watkins possible return, look for Harvin to play an even bigger role in Buffalo's offensive attack this week.
4. RED ALERT ON GREEN
The Bengals have one of the league's most talented and dynamic playmakers at WR in veteran A.J. Green. He's third in the NFL with 66 catches, four of them for touchdowns. He's second in the league in receiving yards with 964.
And yet, when the Bengals beat the Bills in Orchard Park last October, Green was limited to 4 catches for 36 yards and no touchdowns. Since then, he's only had two games with fewer catches.
When asked how the Bills did that last year, Head Coach Rex Ryan was succinct.
"We double-teamed him all game," Rex said. Look for more of the same.
5. LOTS OF POINTS, NOT ENOUGH WINS
The Bills are in the top ten in the NFL in points scored, averaging 28 per game. And they've scored 25 points in each of their last three games, all of them losses.
The Elias Sports Bureau says that's tied with the 2016 Green Bay Packers for the longest losing streak in NFL history in which the losing team has scored at least 25 points in each of those games.
Pretty obvious – offense has not been the problem.
- BYE WEEK BLUES**
The Bills get the Bengals with Cincinnati coming off a road Monday night game. And Buffalo has had the bye week to self-scout and get prepared for this game.
In franchise history, Buffalo is 16-11 in games following the bye. But Rex Ryan's record after the bye is not as impressive. He's just 2-6, including a 33-17 win over the Dolphins following the bye last week.
7. PLAYOFF PUSH IS ON
Two desperate teams with playoffs on their minds will meet Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium.
The Bengals have been to the postseason for the last five years. But with a 3-5-1 record so far this year, that streak is in jeopardy.
The Bills have a famous streak of their own—16 years without a playoff appearance. With seven games left, Buffalo will need to win at least six or possibly seven of their remaining games.
Ten wins usually means playoffs. Rex Ryan acknowledges that:
"That's always been the number that you put out there, that generally 10 gets you in. But our focus has to be on Cincinnati and that's it. You can't worry about getting to 10 wins. Shoot, we have to worry about getting five wins, so I think that's where we have to look at."