1. Keep giving Sammy Watkins plenty of opportunities. Cornerback has been a weak spot for the Cowboys since Orlando Scandrick tore his ACL during training camp. Scandrick is Dallas’ best defensive player, and has proven difficult to replace. The Cowboys went more than a full season without a cornerback registering an interception until Terrance Mitchell picked off the Jets’ Ryan Fitzpatrick last week. Starters Morris Claiborne and Brandon Carr have both battled injuries this season. Watkins, meanwhile, is making a push toward his first 1,000-yard season. He needs 173 yards over the final two games to get there. With Robert Woods out for the year, the Cowboys will likely double-team Watkins on every play in an effort to force Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor to go somewhere else with the ball. But Taylor has to try and keep Watkins involved.
2. Dallas’ O-line has paved way for McFadden. Since losing Tony Romo to a broken collarbone twice this season, the Cowboys’ passing offense predictably went in the tank. Dallas ranks 29th in passing yards per game (205.2) and dead last in interception rate (4.32 percent), going 1-9 in games started by either Brandon Weeden or Matt Cassel. Not surprisingly, they’ve made the switch to Kellen Moore for this week. One area the Cowboys are competent on offense, however, is running the ball. Led by three Pro Bowlers on the offensive line (left tackle Tyron Smith, guard Zack Martin, center Travis Frederick), veteran Darren McFadden has gained 898 yards on 208 carries.
3. A battle of weaknesses. If you’re coming to Ralph Wilson Stadium on Sunday, don’t expect to see much pressure on the quarterbacks. Both the Cowboys and Bills have struggled to establish much of a pass rush this season. Dallas ranks tied for 23rd in the NFL with 27 sacks. Rookie Randy Gregory has earned more playing time recently, but is still looking for his first sack, while embattled edge rusher Greg Hardy has 5.5 sacks this year. Dallas has gotten a boost lately from DeMarcus Lawrence, who has six sacks in his past six games. That’s more than anyone on the Bills, who have just 20 sacks, which ranks 30th in the league.
4. Get it done if it’s close. Taylor’s failures to pull games out in the fourth quarter this season have hurt the Bills, but Dallas is even worse in the fourth quarter. The Cowboys are just 2-6 in games decided by eight points or less this season, a winning percentage of .250 that is 31st in the NFL. Dallas has blown four fourth-quarter leads this season. The Bills, meanwhile, aren’t much better in close games, with a 2-5 record in games decided by eight points or less. Buffalo has blown one fourth-quarter lead.
5. Get a look at the young guys. Bills coach Rex Ryan said the right things about playing to win the final two games of the season, but the reality is the outcome doesn’t matter. If anything, the team would be better served losing to get a higher draft pick. More important for the Bills is to use these two games as an opportunity to evaluate younger players, to see if they can play a role in the coming seasons. Right tackle Cyrus Kouandjio, tight end Nick O’Leary, wide receiver Dez Lewis, nose tackle T.J. Barnes and linebacker Kevin Reddick are among the young players who could use more of an evaluation.
Outlook: Both teams have talented rosters and have been disappointed by seasons that have fallen far short of expectations. The biggest reason that happened in Dallas is Romo’s injury. Their quarterback situation is substantially worse than Buffalo’s at the moment, which should be the difference Sunday.
Prediction: Bills 24, Cowboys 20.