Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills are on the heels of a tough loss.
The Bills are also in a battle for the AFC East with the Miami Dolphins.
How is Bills Mafia feeling about the season at this point?
DraftKings Sportsbook doesn’t think Denver will get the big road win. The Broncos are a touchdown underdog to Buffalo on Monday Night Football. The total sits at 47.5. The under might be the safe bet here with how the Denver defense is playing and how its offense is running the ball.
To preview Monday’s game, we go behind enemy lines to get a feel for the Bills heading in Week 10 with Matt Byham from Buffalo Rumblings. Here are my answers to his questions for those who want to check them out.
MHR: How is Bills Mafia feeling about the season after the first 9 games?
Matt: That meme with the cartoon dog sipping coffee, confident that everything’s fine — that’s pretty much an apt description for the current state of Bills Mafia. Buffalo’s just one game above .500. They’re 2-4 in one-score games, and the offense seems to struggle operating out of anything other than up-tempo looks.
The stats lead one to believe the team’s doing well, but they lack the explosive element so prevalent in previous seasons. Many are ready to see offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey head out of town, while others think it’s the fault of head coach Sean McDermott. But coaches don’t play. The offense moves the ball well, and scores touchdowns at a good clip, but watching the team live makes you believe every stat this season is a lie. Something’s off. Many things, to be honest — and it’s due to the last five weeks. Their turnover ratio is currently 14:14, but in the last five games, they’ve turned the football over 10 times, while taking it way just four. In their first four games: they turned the ball over four times, and created 10 on defense. The special teams is terrible, making poor decisions that hurts field position, and the defense struggles to hold teams back long enough — unable to get turnovers — while the offense sputters until the fourth quarter.
No one ever likes to lean on injury as an excuse, but it’s a pretty significant issue for the Bills. Cornerback Tre’Davious White is gone for the season, having torn his Achilles. Then against the Jacksonville Jaguars, linebacker Matt Milano and defensive tackle DaQuan Jones were lost to injury. Both are on in-season Injured Reserve, with the potential to return — but that’s anything other than certain, with Milano suffering a broken leg (and perhaps more), and Jones tearing his pectoral muscle(s). Those players represent three key defenders lost, perhaps the most important, at each level of Buffalo’s defense.
But the injury fun doesn’t end there. Of course, edge rusher Von Miller (you should know him) is still working back up to speed off last season’s ACL tear. Then there’s essentially every other cornerback to discuss. Key to that unit after White is the loss of CB2 Christian Benford, who continues to find injury — this time a midseason hamstring situation. Last season’s first-round pick, Kaiir Elam, has been a nonfactor this season, but now he’s on IR dealing with a foot injury. So the Bills went and made a trade for Rasul Douglas to offset some of the losses and improve the play in the defensive backfield. He played his first snaps last week after six days of prep and did well. It’s likely we see him a lot on Monday night, and it’s possible that 35-year-old cornerback Josh Norman starts at CB2.
But wait, there’s more! Starting safeties Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer are both injured. Hyde will miss this week at least, while Poyer should play despite a shin injury. Stefon Diggs has some sort of a back injury. Okay, I’ll stop there. We’re nowhere near done, but you get the point. As it’s been stated, the Bills lead the league in the amount of salary cap dollars on IR.
MHR: What has been the biggest surprise at this point?
Matt: I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t the team’s record through nine games. But that’s the easy way out here. Yes, their record of 5-4 isn’t what most people had penciled in, and not at all what Bills Mafia were expecting. Buffalo has dropped some very winnable games, each of them the one-score variety.
Apart from their record, I’d say I’m most surprised by the play of linebacker Terrel Bernard, the second-year defender who took over the MIKE role vacated by Tremaine Edmunds. I didn’t trust that the Bills had a sound plan to replace Edmunds, choosing to roll with in-house options instead of looking elsewhere for bona fide talent. Edmunds was a bit of a unicorn in terms of size and ability, but it appears the team was ready to move on from him — at least due to what it would have cost to keep Edmunds. During this year’s NFL Draft, the team selected linebacker Dorian Williams in Round 3 — to the confusion of most. He didn’t profile as a MIKE, and sure enough, his destiny was to back up Matt Milano.
Every linebacker currently with the Bills profiles as a smaller athletic type of defender, similar to Milano. Due to that, it was difficult to see how anyone could fill Edmunds’ role, enhanced by his unique profile. And then, things went terribly wrong during the offseason and training camp. Bernard had the edge to start but soon developed a hamstring injury that kept him on the sideline most of training camp and every preseason game. His replacements were terrible, and panic began to set in with the fans. Bernard was ready for Week 1 and he never looked back, a true hidden gem of a linebacker adept at applying pressure, keeping contain, and playing the pass with aplomb. After only a couple of starts — his first in the NFL, Bernard was making people forget about Edmunds, and doing things for Buffalo that Edmunds never accomplished. Now, he’s dealing with a head injury (concussion), and his status for Week 10 is in doubt. That could mean trouble with the Bills trotting out the rookie Williams and the less-than-stellar Tyrel Dodson.
MHR: How will Buffalo attack the Broncos on offense? And what will the Bills try to do defensively?
Matt: I honestly don’t know. If taken to task for a guess, I’d say they’re going to try and limit mistakes early, utilizing a short game that features plenty of looks to Diggs and rookie tight end Dalton Kincaid. Dorsey is likely to try getting Allen in rhythm, which might mean more play-action looks — something that worked to perfection against the Las Vegas Raiders. But knowing that Denver struggles against the pass, I have a feeling Allen will eventually try and find plenty of chances to hit both Diggs and Gabe Davis deep. Despite the team’s insistence on establishing the run, I believe this is the wrong team to attack on the ground.
On defense, they need to re-establish pressure without using too many exotic blitzes. It appears Payton’s using the Drew Brees method with Russell Wilson, which means the ball gets out quick and underneath. With the Bills’ personnel issues at LB, I really don’t know what to make of their plan. I do believe Denver will try to exploit the middle of the field, and if they succeed, you could see Buffalo run more dime looks, bringing a safety down as a pseudo-linebacker. Given all the injuries on defense, it’s going to be interesting. McDermott now calls the plays on defense, and he loves to bring pressure from every angle. Because the team has started so slow, it’s possible McDermott’s even more aggressive this week, in an effort to set the tone.
MHR: What is your best for Monday’s game at DraftKings Sportsbook? And will the Bills cover?
Matt: I’m still struggling to get a good feel for how thing might play out. Again, lots of key injuries for the Bills, the Broncos are very healthy and fresh off a bye, and they’re playing well now. As the home team, the spread makes sense to me. As for covering the spread? It depends on what version of the Buffalo Bills shows up Monday night. If it’s the team that blew the fins off the Dolphins, they’ll feast on the Broncos. If it’s their more recent selves, they could struggle to find a lead, and might be in a real fight to try and win at the end of the game.
MHR: What are your expectations and predictions for Monday’s game?
Matt: This is a must-win game for the Bills. If they lose, the playoffs become a very unsure thing. If they win, things look much different. All of their losses have come against AFC teams. That’s less than ideal. I’d like to see Buffalo come out fast and aggressive, playing as though it’s a win-or-go-home playoff game. If they can score early and often, it would allow the defense to finally play with a lead and, in turn, function as a more aggressive group to the delight of Sean McDermott.
Prediction? Bills win, because they’re undefeated at Highmark Stadium this season — and they know the stakes just got real.