It’s back to the regular season grind for the Bills, with six games left to define their 2018 season. They’ve got new faces in the lineup, a new influx of speed, and the likely return of a rookie starting quarterback this week.
Here are the top storylines for this week’s Bills-Jaguars matchup:
1. RETURN OF THE ROOKIE?
It looks like first round draft pick Josh Allen is ready to return to the starting lineup this week after spending the last four games on the sidelines. The Bills used the bye week to give Allen an extra week of recovery for his sprained elbow, and he used it, staying in Buffalo during the bye and continuing his rehab.
Allen began the practice week noting how he’s fully comfortable with his elbow and the throws he’s called upon to make.
“I’m making throws where I don’t have to second guess, putting the ball where it needs to be, and when I’m making each throw, there’s no grabbing or pulling in there and it feels comfortable and fluid,” he said Monday. “Maybe two weeks ago I might’ve had a few throws where [I think] I don’t want to make this throw yet. Now, I definitely think it’s full game and every throw is on the table.”
2. WHAT DOES THE SPEED MEAN TO THE BILLS?
It started before the Jets game and continued during the bye—the concerted effort to add speed to the Bills lineup, especially on offense.
Promoting Robert Foster off the practice squad, claiming Isaiah McKenzie off waivers, signing Deonte Thompson—all three moves made to enhance the speed at Buffalo’s wideout position.
“Brandon and I talked a couple weeks ago, and we thought we were lacking in the speed department on offense,” Head Coach Sean McDermott said this week. “That’s been an emphasis the last couple of weeks. You saw some of that against the Jets. That just opens things up a little bit, not only for the passing game, but at times, the running game. That’s not the only part of what we’re doing right now, but that’s some of what we’re trying to get on the field at this point.”
This week, the question becomes what do the Bills do with that speed once it’s on the field.
Can McKenzie do more than return work? Can he contribute more in the passing and run game?
Can Foster improve on his early chemistry with Josh Allen? The two spent last week during the bye getting plenty of throws in as Allen continued his rehab.
Can Thompson regain some of his timely playmaking mojo from his earlier stints on the roster?
Most importantly, can the new speedsters in the lineup give Josh Allen a better chance at success?
3. GOOD START FOR MCCOY AND THE RUN GAME – BILLS NEED MORE
The Bills finally got meaningful production from LeSean McCoy and the rushing attack against the Jets in game 10 of the season.
It’s late in the season, but finding more output from McCoy, Chris Ivory, Marcus Murphy and the offensive line should be job one for the offense this week. A strong rushing attack was supposed to be the cornerstone for Buffalo’s offense this season, so that Josh Allen wouldn’t have to shoulder the load of producing yards and points.
McCoy found his way against the Jets and the offensive line got a boost from the physical play of rookie guard Wyatt Teller. But more is needed down the stretch.
4. TWO TOP DEFENSES BATTLE THIS WEEK
Buffalo’s new speed and newfound production in the run game will run up against one of the top defenses in the league this week. In fact, two of the top four defenses in the league will go up against each other this week in Orchard Park.
The Bills rank second in the NFL, giving up 302 yards per game. They’re especially strong against the pass – the number one pass defense in the league.
Jacksonville is ranked fourth in the NFL in defense, with the third-ranked pass defense. Yards and points could be at a premium this week.
5. JAGS REELING?
A six-game losing streak in a 16-game NFL regular season is a disaster. And the way the Jaguars got to six in a row makes it worse.
They blew a 16-0 lead with 17 minutes left in the game and lost to the Steelers 20-16 last week. Jacksonville tight end James O’Shaughnessy says this latest loss packs the biggest punch.
“This one hurts the most, by far, not even close,” he told reporters in the Jaguars locker room.
After last year’s deep run in the AFC playoffs, the Jaguars were considered by some to be a contender this year.
Not now. They have the same win-loss record as the Bills. They’ve got a struggling quarterback who seems to have lost the confidence of his coaches. And they’ve got a coaching staff under fire for its conservative offensive approach.
6. RAMSEY THE EMOTIONAL FLASH POINT
Jaguars cornerback Jalen Ramsey is one of the best defensive backs in the game. And in his third year, he’s made a name for himself for his trash talking.
But he was chastened by the Jaguars brutal loss to the Steelers on Sunday. “I’ve been battling with my emotions,” he said after the game, “trying to hold them in.”
Ramsey was sensational on the field against Pittsburgh with two interceptions. There was a pregame ESPN report that said league sources believe the Jaguars will entertain trade offers for the volatile CB in the offseason. And that kind of firestorm around Ramsey is likely to continue this week.
Back in August, Ramsey delivered blistering criticism of almost every NFL QB in a GQ magazine profile. And he saved some of his harshest criticism for Bills rookie Josh Allen.
Think his statements will come up during the week?
7. PLAYOFF REMATCH
It seems so long ago, that January 7 Wild Card Playoff matchup between these two teams. Buffalo had little to offer offensively in a 10-3 loss to the Jaguars. The Bills have a total of 10 starters from that game still in the starting lineup — four on offense, six on defense.
The Bills have a new quarterback, new offensive coordinator, a much-improved defense, and a still-struggling offense from that game. And neither team has much of a chance of playing any playoff football this season.