Here comes the home stretch. The Bills play three in a row at home starting this Sunday against the Steelers. As Buffalo gets set to host Pittsburgh, here are the top seven storylines going into the week:
1. CAN BUFFALO RECOVER FROM THE MELTDOWN IN OAKLAND?
A 15-point second half lead got away very quickly last Sunday in Oakland. It was a collapse that the Bills cannot afford to dwell on as they get ready for their final playoff push.
Bills players had Tuesday off to focus on the present and the future and forget about the latest loss. But questions remain about the mental state of the roster after letting such an important game slip away.
Rex Ryan was asked this week about his team's mental state.
"I have no idea," he said. "I can just tell you this: we've lost a couple of games now that we expected to win – that we were in control of. [The] Miami game and obviously the Raiders game stick out that you want to close teams out, and we haven't gotten that done. We've gotten it done in some of our games, but we came up short in those two games for sure."
Coming up short anymore would spell the end of Buffalo's playoff hopes.
2. CAN THE BILLS BLUNT PITTSBURGH'S OFFENSIVE FIREPOWER?
The Steelers have a bona fide "Big Three" on offense, maybe the biggest three in the league. Veteran QB Ben Roethlisberger is 3-0 against the Bills in his career. Roethlisberger has 25 touchdowns this season, and he's three away from 300 career TD tosses, which would tie John Elway for the ninth-most in NFL history.
WR Antonio Brown is two catches away from his fourth straight season with 90 receptions. And RB La'Veon Bell has run for 100-or more yards in three consecutive games.
It's a tough assignment for the Bills on defense. But the Steelers offense is not quite as prolific on the road as they are at home. Pittsburgh has gone 3-3 on the road so far this year, averaging 20.3 points per game away from home. At Heinz Field, they are 4-2 and averaging 28 points scored per game.
3.**KEEPING ONE EYE ON THE SCOREBOARD DURING THE PLAYOFF PUSH
Buffalo's flickering playoff hopes all hinge on their ability to win their final four games. But that won't stop fans from watching the scoreboard this Sunday.
In the one o'clock kickoffs, the Bills need the Arizona Cardinals to knock off Miami. The Dolphins are one game ahead of Buffalo in the AFC Wild Card Race and they come to Orchard Park in two weeks.
Houston and Indianapolis meet up at one o'clock and the Bills should probably concede the AFC South to the Texans and focus on Indy, which also has a 6-6 record. And pick your poison when Denver plays at Tennessee while the Bills are on the field. Buffalo is two games behind the Broncos for a wild card spot and the Titans, like Buffalo, are 6-6 overall; 3-5 in the AFC.
4. CAN WE GET A HAND HERE?
The Steelers are trying to nail down a wild card spot also, making this matchup critical for both teams. But it's pretty clear Pittsburgh owes the Bills an assist.
Buffalo's win over the Jets on January 3, 2016 not only knocked New York out of the postseason, but it put Pittsburgh in. The Steelers organization sent a thank you gift of Primanti Brothers sandwiches to One Bills Drive.
Not very likely any sandwiches or chicken wings will be changing hands after this game.
5. IS A BIGGER SHAQ ATTACK IN THE WORKS THIS WEEK?
Buffalo's first round draft pick will line up for his seventh NFL game this week after missing the first six with his shoulder injury. And the last few weeks, Shaq Lawson's snap count has been on an uptick for the Bills.
He got 21 defensive snaps against both the Bengals and the Jaguars, but that count went up to 32 last Sunday in Oakland. As he develops more confidence in his surgically repaired shoulder, and the coaching staff develops more confidence in him, look for Lawson to make more of an impact as the weeks go along.
Lawson says he's adjusting to being asked to do a little more as the season goes along.
"Each week my role has been going up starting with the Patriots game," Lawson said this week in an appearance on The John Murphy Show. "Each week my role has been different and they've been using me in different packages."
6. REINFORCEMENTS ON THE HORIZON?
The early portion of Buffalo's practice week will be dominated by injury news, especially regarding some key players. Rex Ryan said Monday he's hopeful that starting CB Ronald Darby will be ready to go. He's out of concussion protocol after one week. WR Robert Woods has a chance to return from his knee sprain. "He's doing better. We'll see what happens there," Ryan said.
And the Bills expect TE Charles Clay to return to work after missing last Sunday's game for the birth of his first child.
7. HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS
In the 57 seasons of Buffalo Bills football it's never happened before—three straight regular season games at home in December.
It's a boon for retailers selling scarves and hand warmers. And the Bills are hoping it's a boost for their chances as well. Sunday's game against Pittsburgh is the first of the three-game home stretch. And Rex Ryan is looking for help from Bills fans.
"Our fans, we're going to lean on them," Ryan said this week. We're going to count on our fans to be there for us and be a huge factor for us."