When the Bills run: Negative plays have killed the running game this season. According to pro-football-reference.com, the Bills have 73 rushing attempts that have gone for no gain or lost yardage. That is tied for second most in the NFL with the Jets, just one behind the L.A. Rams’ 74. Buffalo’s average of 3.8 yards per rush ranks tied for 22nd in the NFL. If the Bills are ever going to fix the running game, it has to start Sunday. The Chargers rank dead last in the league against the rush, allowing 135.1 yards per game. Nose tackle Brandon Mebane has started every game, but is a weak link inside for Los Angeles. His run defense grade, according to Pro Football Focus, is the worst on the team. EDGE: Bills.
When the Bills pass: The change to Nathan Peterman at quarterback sent shock waves through Western New York this week. His mop-up appearance against the Saints in Week 10 was good, as he completed 7 of 10 passes for 79 yards and a touchdown. Cleary, though, this is a move based off of much more than just that. Peterman will be expected to get the ball out of his hands much quicker than Tyrod Taylor did, which will be a good thing heading into a matchup with the Chargers, who have a pair of excellent edge rushers in Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram. Los Angeles lost cornerback Jason Verrett in the season opener, but Trevor Williams has been an adequate replacement. EDGE: Chargers.
When the Chargers run: Melvin Gordon must be drooling after watching tape of the Bills’ last two games. The Chargers’ third-year running back ranks 10th in the NFL in rushing with 553 yards on 147 carries, an average of 3.8 yards per rush that is identical to the Bills’ LeSean McCoy. Gordon will be looking to get back on track after being held to just 27 yards on 16 carries against Jacksonville in Week 10. He’ll have a good chance to do so if the Bills can’t reverse a troubling trend from the last two weeks. Buffalo has allowed 492 yards and nine rushing touchdowns in back-to-back losses. The coaching staff has preached a back-to-basics approach to fixing the problem, saying the “gap integrity” has to improve. EDGE: Chargers.
When the Chargers pass: Los Angeles quarterback Philip Rivers’ status for the game is up in the air after it was reported early in the week that he is in the NFL’s concussion protocol. Rivers hasn't missed a start since taking over the starting role in 2006. Kellen Clemens would replace Rivers as the starter. Rookie running back Austin Ekeler is a threat as a receiver out of the backfield. He caught a pair of touchdowns last week against the Jaguars and is steadily earning more playing time. No. 1 wideout Keenan Allen hasn’t scored a touchdown since the season opener. The Bills’ passing defense is ranked 21st in the league, but it’s statistical improvement over the last two weeks is tied to the defense’s inability to stop the run. Teams don’t need to throw when they can run it instead. The pass rush with Shaq Lawson and Jerry Hughes continues to sputter. Buffalo’s 14 sacks are tied for 28th in the NFL, just one more than the 13 Oakland and the New York Giants have. EDGE: Chargers.
Special teams: If there was a bright spot for the Bills against New Orleans in Week 10, it was the special teams. Buffalo has been consistently solid every week, and is seventh in Football Outsiders’ special teams rankings. The Chargers, meanwhile, are bad in nearly every special teams category. They’ve used a pair of kickers – settling for now on Nick Novak – and rank 30th in kickoff return average at 17.9 yards per attempt. They also are 30th in opponent kickoff return average, at 27.0 yards per attempt. One bright spot is punt returner Travis Benjamin, who has a return for a touchdown and is averaging 8.7 yards per attempt. Football Outsiders ranks the Chargers’ special teams 31st in the NFL. EDGE: Bills.
Coaching: Anthony Lynn downplayed any added significance to going against the Bills, but it’s hard to believe the Chargers’ coach won’t be extra motivated going against the team that passed on him last offseason. Lynn has had trouble in close games. Five of the Chargers' six losses have been by eight points or less. Sean McDermott has largely escaped criticism with the Bills, but the last two weeks have not been good. McDermott’s team has been outclassed in every way. Making a quarterback change after his defense gives up 47 points and six rushing touchdowns is shifting blame. Credit McDermott for being unafraid to make a bold move, but if the shift to Peterman fails to produce the desired results, prepare for the coach to take heat the likes of which he hasn’t felt yet. EDGE: Bills.
Prediction: Bills 24, Chargers 23.