Meaningful Bills football in December. Fans of this millenium don’t know too much about that, except for fans that remember that dreadful game in 2004 against the Pittsburgh Steelers. And ask any fan, and they won’t want to talk about that one, when all Buffalo needed was a win against Pittsburgh and could not get it done against the backups in the Steel City in a win-and-in situation. The 2014 Bills have accomplished something that has not been done since that year, which is a non-losing season. It would also be their first winning season since that 9-7 campaign. And then if they got to 10… well let’s stick to this week. The Bills head to the West Coast to take on the Oakland Raiders at the O.co Coliseum in a late 4:25 p.m. matchup. This isn’t the prime matchup, as the Colts and Cowboys play as well on CBS (I heard they’re pretty good). Nevertheless, this is week 2 of the “playoffs” for the Bills, as another loss eliminates them from January football. So here are the three keys to Sunday’s matchup:
1) Don’t overlook the Raiders
Yes they are 2-12. Yes they are last in rushing yardage per game (73.8), total yards per game (283.5) and points per game (15.2). And yes they have rookies leading both sides of the ball with Derek Carr at quarterback and Khalil Mack at linebacker. But this is still the National Football League and no game can be overlooked. The win at home against the 49ers is looking less and less impressive as San Francisco has lost three games in a row (including that one to the Raiders two weeks ago) and fallen out of the NFC West playoff picture. But Oakland has also defeated the Kansas City Chiefs at home on a Thursday night, and they are looking for a playoff berth as well, sitting at 8-6 with the Bills and the San Diego Chargers. The Chargers play the 49ers on Saturday night. With New England and a possible playoff berth looming over them next week, it is important to take care of the task at hand and beat a team they should beat before worrying about the big game.
2) Can the Bills establish a run game?
In the two games that Oakland has won this season, the Raiders have allowed 96 and 97 yards on the ground respectively. That was against Jamaal Charles and Frank Gore of the Chiefs and Niners. How will Fred Jackson and possibly C.J. Spiller do against this defense? Well that could determine the outcome of the game. Anthony Dixon has done very well in Spiller’s absence, averaging 4.2 yards per carry on 95 carries this season along with a touchdown. Fred Jackson has also done well, which should come to no surprise to fans. The now-staple to the Bills rushing game has averaged 3.9 yards per carry this season and has scored a pair of TDs to aid Kyle Orton. He also has 56 catches for 404 yards and a touchdown. In six of their eight wins this season, the Bills have ran the ball for over 100 yards. They only hit triple digits in one loss this season, which was when they ran for 111 against Kansas City. If the Bills can get over that century mark, the defense should do enough to keep Oakland off the board and get the Bills to 9-6.
3) Take care of the football
As simple as it sounds, this has been the difference in most of the games for Buffalo this season. In their six losses, the turnover differential for the Bills has been -2. In games that they have had multiple turnovers, they are 2-4. Most of it has fallen on Orton as well, as he has been inefficient these past three weeks. In his first seven starts, he threw three interceptions. In his last three, he has had five picks, with two against the Browns and Broncos, and then another against the Packers. In the eight wins the Bills have tallied, the differential is +12. The defense has carried them this far, and they will continue to carry them throughout the rest of the season. But it is up to the offense to take care of the football so that the defense can be menacing but not tired.
The Raiders are bad offensively, and the Bills are one of the best defensive units in the league. Offensively they should find some sort of mojo and not score a ton, but they won’t have to.