There are three weeks left in the regular season and the Bills are heating up right in time as they remain alive in the playoff hunt. They're heading west in Week 16 to face the Chargers who are riding a two-game losing streak.
Here are seven things to know about Saturday night's game.
1. A look at the playoff picture
Slowly but surely the Bills are climbing their way up the playoff standings. That pace is not on them, they've been taking care of business. It's just the teams we are cheering for to lose to help out the Bills have won several games over the last couple of weeks.
Here's how it all shakes out ahead of Week 16.
- Baltimore Ravens (11-3)
- Miami Dolphins (10-4)
- Kansas City Chiefs (9-5)
- Jacksonville Jaguars (8-6)
- Cleveland Browns (9-5)
- Cincinnati Bengals (8-6)
- Indianapolis Colts (8-6)
- Houston Texans (8-6)
- Buffalo Bills (8-6)
That's a whole lot of 8-6 teams clogging up the last few playoff spots. The Bills have to work their way up to at least No. 7 to be in the postseason.
According to the New York Times playoff simulator, the Bills currently have a 70% chance at making the playoffs. If they beat the Chargers, it goes up to 76%. And if they lose, it drops to 36%.
We are obviously cheering for a Bills win here but we also need to be cheering for other teams this weekend. Put on your Cowboys hats because Bills Mafia needs to root for Dallas to beat Miami because if the Dolphins drop one game before Week 18, the Bills will have a chance at the division.
The Bengals will face the Steelers on Saturday at 4:30. We are cheering for the Steelers so the Bengals drop in the rankings. The Colts will play the Falcons on Sunday at 1:00—we want an Atlanta win in this one. And, we also want Browns to beat the Texans on Sunday so that Houston falls in the standings.
This is the short version of who we need to root for, but you'll be able to find an article that dives into all of this and more on our website before the games begin on Saturday.
2. Beware of interim coaches in their first game
Buffalo will face a Chargers team with a new leader on Saturday as Los Angeles parted ways with former head coach Brandon Staley last week. Chargers outside linebackers coach Giff Smith has been named the interim head coach.
Smith has been coaching in the NFL since 2010 but hasn't yet had a head coaching opportunity. Coincidentally enough, Smith started his NFL coaching career with the Bills. He was here from 2010-2012 as Buffalo's defensive line coach. Smith has been with the Chargers since 2016 and has had two roles — defensive line coach and outside linebackers coach.
The Chargers have lost five of their last six games and are looking for their new HC to drum up some juice. When it comes to interim head coaches coaching in their first game, it's hard to know what to expect. According to Fox Sports, interim head coaches are 16-12 in their first game since 2010.
"There'll be some unknowns as you go into the game, and in particular the first game," Sean McDermott said. "It's always tough. It's always a challenge. And then somewhat of a newer quarterback on top of that with very little film. It'll be a challenge. I'm sure they'll be fired up and we've got to travel out west on a short week."
Easton Stick is now their guy at QB with Justin Herbert being ruled out for the rest of the season due to a finger injury. Stick made his first start for the Chargers last week when Staley was still the head coach. The Chargers lost that game 63-21 to the Raiders but Stick was able to get things going in the third quarter. He was 23 of 32 (71.9%) for 257 passing yards and had three passing touchdowns and one interception. Stick finished with a 113.7 passer rating.
3. Shutting down another elite pass rusher
The Bills will go from having to deal with Micah Parsons to Khalil Mack. No rest for the weary, right?
The good thing here is Buffalo's offensive line did a great job of not letting Parsons get to Josh Allen as he finished with just two tackles and no sacks or quarterback hits. Buffalo's offensive line wasn't just impressive in Week 15, they've been solid all season. The OL unit is allowing one of the lowest quarterback pressure rates in the NFL this season. They've also allowed only 19 sacks, which is the least in the NFL.
Like Parsons, Mack has double digit sacks. He ties for third most in the league with 15 sacks and ties for second with five forced fumbles. The offensive line will have their work cut out for them once again.
"Every week in the NFL, the d-line is absolutely stacked and there's always people that are going to be able to present issues," interim OC Joe Brady said. "But I just think it's the mindset and approach of our guys. That they do a great job of preparing and understanding how to approach the blocks or in the case of Micah (Parsons) yesterday about how much he moved around. And a guy like Khalil Mack, when you got 15 sacks, you have to understand where he is at any given time and making sure you're trying to get four hands on him or whatever you have to do."
The Chargers aren't just getting pressure from Mack as the team has 44 total sacks, which is good for sixth best in the NFL. Even though they're pressuring the QB, they rank near the bottom in the NFL in points allowed per game (24.6 points per game, 27th) and are coming off a game where they allowed 63 to the Raiders.
4. Will the Cooking continue?
Running back James Cook had a career game against the Cowboys with two touchdowns, 179 yards on the ground and 221 yards from scrimmage. The offensive line deserves a lot of credit as well for the job they did opening holes up for Cook. In fact, Cook was only contacted at or behind the line of scrimmage once out of his 25 rushes and averaged 4.2 yards per carry before contact (ESPN). That screams the offensive line had a magnificent game.
The question that remains is will the cooking continue?
That definitely depends on how they want to attack the opposing defenses left on the schedule, but Cook provides a threat to defenses and that'll be something they have to respect. Sean McDermott said it was great to see his team win that way late in the season.
"You need to be able to play that way down the stretch because of weather or they're taking away your fast ball," McDermott said. "I just believe it philosophically, holistically you've got be able to show that you can do that, be a two dimensional offense or in this case a one dimensional offense via the run."
After their 266 yards on the ground, the Bills now rank sixth in the NFL averaging 132.3 rushing yards per game. The Chargers defense is allowing an average of 113.9 rushing yards per game (18th) and 4.2 yards per carry (17th). LA's pass defense ranks quite lower than their run defense as they're allowing an average of 261.4 passing yards per game (30th), 7.7 yards per pass attempt (28th) and has allowed 24 passing touchdowns (27th).
So, the Bills may lean into attacking through the air because of the yards and touchdowns the Chargers have given up so far this season. If they plan to keep handing or throwing it to the hot hand in Cook, here's the challenge for him and his offensive line according to interim OC Joe Brady.
"Regardless of the success we had in the run game yesterday, we're gonna have to bring it and have that same approach when we come in the building tomorrow and know that we're going on the road," Brady said. "Records don't matter this time of the year, stats don't matter at this time of the year. It's the NFL, and we're gonna have to bring our A-game to be able to win this game on Saturday. And so I think that that's the biggest thing moving forward."
5. There's just something about Josh Allen and Cali
Josh Allen was born and raised in California so it just makes sense that his numbers have been great when he plays in his home state.
Allen has only played in California once in his career but brought home the dub. QB1 faced the Rams in Week 1 of the 2022 season and beat LA 31-10.
In that game, Allen was 26 of 31 (83.9%) for 297 passing yards and averaged 9.6 yards per pass attempt. The QB had four total touchdowns and finished with a 112 passer rating. I think we can all agree that seeing a 4-TD performance again on Saturday would be awesome.
Former Super Bowl champ and Bills standout LeSean McCoy, FOX host Colin Cowherd, former Bills RB Fred Jackson, NFL Network reporter Judy Battista and others shared these opinions on Buffalo's decisive win at Highmark Stadium on Sunday.
6. Can the Bills keep their elite record going in December and January?
The Bills have been pretty elite in December and January as of late. The crew has a 16-2 record in regular season games in the months of December and January since 2020.
Sean McDermott thinks part of this has to do with the schedule they have in place.
"You try and make sure that the guys have a schedule that's conducive for them playing their best down the stretch," McDermott said. "I think probably more than anything, too, it's very dialed in at this time of year. Not that they're not normally, but I think most teams this time of year are very dialed in and then just fundamentally continue to improve every week."
Allen has had 40 passing touchdowns and 49 total touchdowns during that span, which leads the NFL. Heading into the game against the Cowboys, the Bills were averaging 30.9 points per game and only allowing an average of 17.9 points per game in those Dec/Jan games. That is the second best in the NFL over that span, and those averages only got better after their win against Dallas.
7. Week 16 is on Peacock
If you're not living in Buffalo, you won't be able to find Saturday's game against the Chargers on NFL Network, CBS, Fox, etc. You'll actually find it on Peacock.
If you don't have Peacock, this is your friendly reminder to download it before Saturday evening. You can head to peacocktv.com and get started with a monthly or yearly plan. A monthly plan is currently $5.99 and a plan for the year is $59.99.
Those who live in Buffalo are in luck because WGRZ (NBC) will air the game locally.