It’s been quite a week, hasn’t it? After the Buffalo Bills’ stunning upset on the road over the Minnesota Vikings, fans are buzzing. Rookie quarterback, Josh Allen was sensational in his first start away from New Era Field and the defense appears to have shaken off the rust that we saw in weeks one and two.
It doesn’t come as a surprise that after the fan base had figuratively stepped off the ledge after the team fell to 0-2, they’ve now completely shifted gears in terms of their outlook on the 2018 season. Some even feel that if the Bills can escape Lambeau Field with a victory, they could be contenders in the AFC.
I mean, come on, Buffalo just came off of an unlikely win, the Patriots are on the ropes, the Dolphins are paper tigers and the Jets just lost to a team that hadn’t tasted victory since 2016. It’s not like we’ve seen this movie before, right?….
As exciting as last week was, maybe we should hold off on sewing the championship banner. The team is still 1-2 and there’s a lot of football left to be played. If history tells us anything, there will still likely be growing pains as the year progresses and the Bills’ young stars continue to develop. Take last week for what it was, an improbable victory over a team that is supposed to compete for the NFC title. Nothing more, nothing less.
Tomorrow, the Bills will be faced with a similar situation. Despite a rocky start to their season, the Packers are still very much a contender in the NFC North, and ever since Aaron Rodgers came to town so many years ago, they have always been a tough out at Lambeau Field. Let’s take a look at some of the key factors in this Week 4 matchup.
Is Rodgers Fully Healthy?
This is the key to everything in this contest. If Rodgers isn’t 100-percent on Sunday, the reinvigorated Bills defense may just have a chance to shut down Green Bay’s high-octane offensive attack.
Last week, the 14-year veteran went 27/44 for 265 yards and two touchdowns in a 31-17 loss against the Washington Redskins. Not a bad stat line for someone who missed a majority of practice while battling a leg injury that he sustained in Week 1 against the Chicago Bears. Though he was still limited at practice this week, he will likely be ready to go on Sunday.
For the first time this season, the Bills’ pass rush showed signs of life last Sunday as they got to Kirk Cousins four times while effectively shutting down the Vikings ground attack. It will be interesting to see if Leslie Frazier’s group can stay on track. Though the Bills defense was above-average last season, they certainly weren’t consistent. Another blowout loss, and things start to look real dreary again.
At the end of the day, Rodgers isn’t the type to throw interceptions, so if Buffalo wants to win this one, they’ll need to put pressure on Rodgers early and often. That, and make sure they stop a ground attack that averaged 5.8 yards per carry last week.
Can Josh Allen Repeat?
Against what was thought to be the most vaunted defense in the league last week, Allen had himself a day, going 15/22 for 196 yards and one touchdown. He also jumped over some guy, which was awesome, obviously.
On paper, the Packers front is nowhere near as formidable as the Vikings. In fact, just two weeks ago, they allowed Minnesota to score 29 points en route to the league’s second tie game of the season. Yes, the same Minnesota team that only managed six points against the Bills.
Now, we realize that the whole rock, paper, scissors logic simply doesn’t work in the NFL, but you get the idea. Long story short, Allen proved last week that he would be undaunted by seemingly insurmountable odds. There wasn’t a gambler in his right mind who would have picked the Bills to win straight-up. Allen didn’t care. He marched into U.S. Bank Stadium, stayed focused, and executed Brian Daboll’s plan of attack with efficiency. It’s all you can ask of a rookie signal-caller.
Lambeau is another tough venue, but given Allen’s mental composition, that pressure won’t get in his head. It’s not like the time Jeff Tuel and his patented “deer-in-headlights” look tiptoed into Arrowhead to get slaughtered. No, this kid has guts, and he is a gamer. Say what you will about his ability to read the field, hit receivers in stride, etc, but there is no question that he wakes up every morning believing that he’s going to win. On an underdog squad like the Bills, that’s what you need under center.
Shady’s Back (Tell a Friend)
To put it plainly, the beginning of the season has been rough for Lesean McCoy. No, we’re not just talking about the fact that he averaged 31 rushing yards per game over the first two weeks. We’re not talking about the rib injury that he sustained against the Los Angeles Chargers that caused him to miss the Vikings game. We’re talking about the domestic violence allegations that have been brought against him.
To this point, the organization has been pretty clear about the fact that they do not believe that McCoy is responsible for the accusations that have been thrown out by his ex-girlfriend. The 30-year-old running back sure doesn’t seem worried either. Last week, he was Allen’s biggest cheerleader on the sidelines, lending veteran advice and working the headset all game long. Even when he’s not playing, he is still one of the Bills’ biggest weapons on offense (catch a ball, Kelvin!).
To be fair to his relievers, Chris Ivory and Marcus Murphy weren’t terrible last week, but certainly not spectacular (although, Ivory did have 70 receiving yards on the day). With McCoy back in the lineup, Buffalo simply has another all-purpose threat for their first-year quarterback to lean on as he continues to grow and adapt on a game-by-game basis.
The organization (and the fan base) better hope that nothing new emerges in this domestic violence situation. If it does, and the NFL decides to take action, McCoy’s absence will be felt, not just on the field, but on the sidelines as well. For now, let’s just enjoy the fact that Shady is back.
This one is tough. The homer in me wants to predict a Bills win against a semi-hobbled Aaron Rodgers and a less-than-intimidating defense, but this game is still on the road in a historically loud venue. It really all depends on the Bills’ defense and their ability to shut things down on the ground, and simply mitigate damage through the air.
It’s a decently favorable matchup, but I think the Packers rebound this week. That’s not to say that the Bills will play poorly, but Green Bay takes this one.
Editor’s babble: Congratulations to Anthony Sciandra (@SciandraSports) for being promoted to contributing writer for hockey’s @diebytheblade. We are blessed to have Anthony contribute to our blog. Thanks to Anthony, my fellow UB alum ;) #UBhornsUP.