1 Offensive line needs a bounce-back performance.
The Buffalo Bills got all they could handle up front last Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles. The Bills’ offensive line should get a similar challenge in Week 15 against Washington. The Redskins’ front seven has earned the nickname “Capital Punishment,” with Bills coach Rex Ryan calling them “one of the most physical teams in the league.” Nose tackle Terrance “Pot Roast” Knighton is a 350-pound run-stuffer in the middle of the Redskins’ line, while edge rusher Ryan Kerrigan has 7.5 sacks. The Bills’ offensive line played arguably its worst game of the season against the Eagles, with guards Richie Incognito and rookie John Miller in particular having tough days. The big guys up front can’t let Washington control the line of scrimmage, or else Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor will be forced into obvious passing situations. That has spelled disaster for the Bills so far this season.
2. Jordan Reed will be a challenge for the Bills’ safeties.
Buffalo has faced its share of good tight ends this season, and will get another one Sunday in Reed, the third-year pro from Florida. Despite missing two games because of a concussion (the fourth of his career), Reed is second among tight ends with 67 catches this season, which have gone for 694 yards (seventh) and seven touchdowns (tied for fourth). The Bills have faced New England’s Rob Gronkowski twice this season, as well as Cincinnati’s Tyler Eifert and Kansas City’s Travis Kelce. Those three players have combined for 17 catches for 249 yards and three touchdowns. Whether it’s Bacarri Rambo or Corey Graham, whoever draws the defensive assignment of Reed on Sunday will need to be at their best.
3. Cash in those chances.
The Redskins are generous in giving up points after turnovers, allowing an NFL-leading 106 on 21 giveaways. The Bills have scored just 47 points off takeaways this season, and none in the past four games — although two of their interceptions in that time allowed the team to run the clock out to seal a victory. Cashing in short fields will be a key for the Bills’ offense, as will taking care of the ball against a Washington defense that has recorded multiple takeaways in seven games this season.
4. Kirk Cousins getting it done at home.
Washington’s quarterback has been a different player at FedEx Field, leading his team to a 5-2 record, compared to a 1-5 mark on the road. In those home games, Cousins has 12 touchdowns and two interceptions and a 111.5 passer rating, while on the road he’s thrown just six touchdowns and nine interceptions for a 74.6 rating. Cousins’ biggest improvement has come in throwing fewer picks. His interception percentage per attempt of 2.4 this season ranks 18th in the NFL and is nearly half of his 4.7 percent coming into the year.
5. Don’t pack it in.
Even though the Bills’ playoff hopes are on life support, as long as they have a pulse, the team shouldn’t need any added motivation. The scenario the Bills need to get in – win out, two losses by Pittsburgh and a loss by the New York Jets to New England – is not implausible. Washington has gone 0-7 against the AFC East since 2010 – the only team in the NFL without a win against a single division over that span – so a close game should be expected. Perhaps because of the nature of the questions they were asked, Bills players sounded resigned to looking toward 2016 this week. They can’t show up Sunday and play like that, too.
Washington’s playoff hopes are alive and well in the putrid NFC East. Amazingly, they have failed to win even two straight games since October of last season. The Bills’ roster is more talented, but that’s been the case several times this year and it hasn’t mattered. It’s hard to shake the feeling the Bills have checked out.
Redskins 24, Bills 20