It's the last stop in the NFC before the Bills dig into the meat of their conference schedule. For just the 11th time in 44 years, the Bills do battle with the New Orleans Saints this Sunday as Buffalo starts the second half of its' regular season schedule. Buffalo has gone 2-1 against the NFC South so far this year, with wins against the Bucs and the Falcons and a loss at Carolina.
Here are the top seven storylines as the Saints get set to march into Buffalo:
1. CHRISTMAS COMES EARLY FOR TYROD AND THE OFFENSE
The Bills have a bright, shiny new toy to play with on the offensive side of the ball, and it looks like they'll get one of their favorite old offensive playmakers back as well.
Kelvin Benjamin is scheduled to make his Buffalo debut this week. Coming over in the trade with Carolina last week, Benjamin brings his 32 catches and two touchdown receptions to Bufffalo. Back in week three, Benjamin left the Panthers game against the Saints in the second quarter with a knee injury and he only wound up with two receptions for eight yards in that game.
Tight End Charles Clay is on schedule to return to the Buffalo lineup this week after missing three games with a knee injury. Clay has become one of Tyrod Taylor's favorite targets this year and he and Benjamin have the potential to provide a boost to Buffalo's passing game – currently ranked 30TH in the NFL.
2. TAYLOR TAKING STEPS FORWARD
One of the most encouraging trends of the last month has been Tyrod Taylor taking steps forward in his development. Taylor has made more plays from the pocket in recent weeks and the threat of him picking up first downs on the ground has been a major component of his better play.
Against the blitz, Tyrod has the highest passing rating in the league at 132.8. He still doesn't turn it over (just two interceptions in the first eight games) and he's completing passes at a 65-percent clip.
Adding Benjamin and returning Clay to the offensive lineup can only be a boost for a quarterback who looks like he's peaking.
3. CONSISTENCY COMING IN RUN GAME?
The foundation for the Bills offense was supposed to be the run game. But the Bills have been unable to generate consistent production running the football over the last month. They squeezed out only 82 yards at Cincinnati but followed that up with big games against the Bucs and the Raiders, before falling to just 63 yards on the ground at the Jets.
They've worked through a change at right guard and an injury to LT Cordy Glenn and are looking to start the second half of the season with their old, familiar ground game featuring Shady McCoy. It could happen this week against the Saints run defense—which ranks 29th in the NFL.
4. TIME FOR THE DEFENSE TO REBOUND
The Bills defense goes up against one of the NFL's gold-plated QBs this week and New Orleans' Drew Brees has the Saints attack rolling. They're the second ranked offense in the NFL – only New England has racked up more yardage this year.
And the Bills defense has suffered a noticeable decline in the last month. After allowing just 13.5 points per game the first four weeks, Buffalo has surrendered 23.8 points per game in the last four. They've dropped to the 22nd ranked defense in the NFL.
Buffalo managed to weather the storm over most of the last month, with the defense faltering, by piling up the takeaways. But without those takeaways, the Bills were in trouble last week against the Jets.
Compounding the challenge for Buffalo is the matchup with Brees, who is completing 72-percent of his passes, with 13 touchdowns and four interceptions this season. He's only been sacked eight times in eight games.
"I don't think he's a guy you can stop," Bills Head Coach Sean McDermott says about Brees. "I just think he's a guy you hope you're able to manage what he does."
5. TOP ROOKIE CORNERBACKS ON BOTH SIDES
There were five cornerbacks drafted in the first round of last April's NFL Draft. Ohio State's Marshon Lattimore was at the top of the list—11th overall to New Orleans. LSU's Tre'Davious White was the last one to go—27th overall to the Bills.
This week, Lattimore and White line up on opposite sides of the field in Orchard Park. White was the AFC Defensive Rookie of the Month for September. Lattimore was the NFC Defensive Rookie of the Month in October.
They have both been outstanding in their first half-seasons. Both have been ball hawks and generated big takeaways for their teams.
6. SLOW STARTERS ON GAME DAY/FAST START TO THE SEASON
The Bills went scoreless in the first quarter of last week's game and they're stuck on a total of six points scored in the first quarter of their first eight games (no touchdowns).
"I told the players I feel bad about the way we've started in some of the games," Offensive Coordinator Rick Dennison said this week. "I have to watch it four times, as opposed to two. I'll just keep watching, getting all the input I can from all the staff, and trying to get into a routine, a rhythm early in the games."
On the plus side, if the Bills should beat the Saints Sunday, they'd improve their overall season record to 6-3, the best start by a Bills team since 1999.
- SAINTS AIN'T PLAYING IN A DOME THIS WEEK**
It's tough to poke holes in New Orleans' six-game win streak. Three of those six wins have come on the road.
But the Saints have yet to line-up in a cold weather game this year. They beat the Packers three weeks ago in 52-degree temperatures at Lambeau.
This Sunday, the forecast calls for a high around 43 degrees at kickoff in Orchard Park. And CBS.com reports that since 2006, when Drew Brees signed on with the Saints, they've played 11 regular season games in temperatures at 45-degrees or less. New Orleans record in those games? Four wins and seven losses.
The Saints haven't won a game in sub-45-degree temperatures since 2014. So if you're coming to the game, throw on an extra hoodie. And hope the Saints forget to do the same.