1. LeSean McCoy vs. Kiko Alonso looking like a win for the Bills.
McCoy’s return to Philadelphia has been the dominant storyline leading up to Sunday’s game. While his comments off the field about not shaking former coach Chip Kelly’s hand made for splashy headlines, the focus Sunday will be on McCoy’s ability to show the Eagles up close why they made a mistake in trading him. The stats do that nicely on their own, as McCoy ranks ninth in the NFL with 792 rushing yards, despite missing two games because of injury. His replacement with Philadelphia, DeMarco Murray, ranks 23rd in the league with 569 yards, and is averaging just 3.5 yards per carry, to McCoy’s 4.6. Overall, the Bills rank fourth in rushing, while the Eagles are tied for 11th. McCoy’s explosiveness is a big reason for that. Since the Bills returned from their bye in Week Nine, McCoy has averaged 97.6 rushing yards per game and also caught 16 passes for another 126 yards. Before the Bills’ bye week, McCoy ranked 42nd out of 54 qualified running backs in Pro Football Focus’ “elusive rating,” which charts missed tackles and yards after contact, with a score of 28.0. Since the bye, he has a rating of 47.8, which is 14th out of 44 qualified backs. The player McCoy was traded for, linebacker Kiko Alonso, has made just one start for the Eagles. He missed five games with a knee injury and has 20 tackles.
2. Kelly’s “hyper-speed offense” still presents a challenge.
The Philadelphia Eagles’ offense hasn’t revolutionized the NFL the way many fans hoped it would when Kelly brought his up-tempo system from Oregon to the professional ranks back in 2013. But it will still does present a challenge for opposing defenses. The Eagles are running a play every 22.48 seconds, according to statistics kept by the website Football Outsiders, the fastest pace in the NFL. The Eagles’ time of 23.76 seconds per play when the game situation is “neutral,” which Football Outsiders defines as not dictated by the score or time remaining in the game, is more than 4 seconds faster than any other team. “There’s times when you see how effective it can really be and it just gets you on your heels, gets you discombobulated,” Bills coach Rex Ryan said of the Eagles’ offensive scheme.
3. Continue to take care of the football.
Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor has put up several impressive stats this season, none more so than his touchdown-to-interception ratio of 17-to-4. Taylor hasn’t been picked off since Week Four against the New York Giants. He’ll need to continue that streak against an Eagles defense that has the third-most takeaways in the NFL with 23. Philadelphia has 14 interceptions, one of which safety Malcolm Jenkins returned 99 yards for a touchdown last week against Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. The Eagles have also forced 15 fumbles, recovering nine of them. Those takeaways have resulted in 67 points, which ranks fifth in the NFL.
4. Play keep away from Darren Sproles.
The Eagles have the top punt returner in the league in the diminutive Sproles. The 11th-year veteran leads the league with an average of 12.9 yards per return, and is also the only player with two touchdowns on punt returns. One of those came last week against the Patriots, when Sproles went 83 yards to the house. He’s got the ability to make game-changing plays as a returner, so Bills punter Colton Schmidt and the team’s coverage unit will need to be at their best. Schmidt did that last week when he punted six times for a net average of 45.3 yards. Most impressively, the Bills did not allow a single yard on punt returns. That speaks to both Schmidt’s hang time and the ability of the gunners to get down field in position to make a tackle. For the season, the Bills are allowing 8.9 yards per punt return, which ranks 19th in the NFL.
5. Keep making it hurt in the red zone.
The Bills are slightly above average inside the red zone, scoring touchdowns 57.7 percent of the time when they get inside the opponent’s 20-yard line. That number could improve Sunday, because the Eagles’ red zone defense is abysmal. Philadelphia has given up 31 touchdowns in the red zone this season, tied for second most in the NFL. Their percentage of touchdowns allowed, 68.9, is 32nd in the NFL. When the field shrinks, the Bills have to come away with touchdowns instead of field goals.
The Eagles are very much alive in the race for the division title in the putrid NFC East and should be flying high after an upset of the Patriots in Week 13. That win feels like a bit of a mirage, however, considering they scored twice on special teams and once on defense. The Bills, meanwhile, carry the momentum of a season-saving win over the Texans into Sunday. For all the talk about taking it one game at a time, the Bills surely know they might need to run the table to make the playoffs.
Bills 27, Eagles 17