Here are my five takes on Sunday’s game between the Buffalo Bills and Oakland Raiders at O.co Coliseum:
1. Forget about last week’s victory against Green Bay and the Raiders’ 2-12 record. It will be so easy for the Bills to enter this game feeling overconfident. Their defense dominated one of the NFL’s most prolific offenses last week and spent two weeks making the best quarterbacks in the game look bad. The Raiders didn’t get to where they are by accident. They have had some absolutely putrid performances, and the Bills need to avoid being convinced this will be an easy game. Should the Bills win handily? Yes, but that doesn’t mean they can afford to assume that will be the case. They need every bit of the focus they demonstrated (at least on defense and special teams) against the Packers.
2. Kyle Orton has one of his stronger outings of the season. OK, it’s time for the veteran quarterback to show that he’s capable of giving this offense something other than the substandard performances that have dominated his 10 starts since replacing EJ Manuel. Given the Bills’ defensive dominance, a decent showing from Orton would go a long way. He has to go through an entire game where throws that are way off the mark and indecision under duress are kept to a minimum. It’s not only important for the Bills’ ability to keep their slim playoff chances alive, but it’s also vital to their decision-makers’ ability to determine what they have at quarterback beyond this season. Orton is almost assuredly going to finish the year as the starter, and he needs to make these final two games count. He must capitalize on his chance to step up his game against one of the worst teams.
3. Run the ball effectively. With or without C.J. Spiller, the Bills should have a strong day on the ground. The Raiders have the 25th-ranked run defense in the NFL, and the Bills should be able to pound the ball effectively. The best way to take any will that might be left from a team playing out the string is to dominate physically. Buffalo’s defense figures to take care of that when it’s on the field. The offense needs to do the same. And it can. Offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett can’t be stubborn about constantly seeking chunk plays through the air. He should be able to create some good balance, which, in turn, should open the door to many big-play opportunities via the pass. And if Spiller, who is on the active roster for the first time since suffering a broken collarbone in October, plays, the Bills’ running game will have an explosive dimension that should keep the Raiders’ defense on its heels.
4. The offensive line handles one-on-one matchups with Khalil Mack. As they do with every opponent, the Raiders will move the standout rookie from the University at Buffalo around to get him in as many matchups as possible where he faces one blocker. Buffalo’s offensive line has had its struggles, but there are some signs of progress. This would be a perfect time for this unit to step up and perform as effectively as it did in dealing with other top pass-rushers such as Miami’s Cameron Wake, Denver’s Von Miller, and Green Bay’s Julius Peppers.
5. Doug Marrone doesn’t let go of the momentum from last week. The head coach, in particular, was viewed as the biggest winner from the victory against the Packers. Many observers, locally and nationally, believe it assured him of a third season at the Bills’ helm. But all of that could quickly vanish if his team comes out flat after traveling across the country to face a club that is nothing but a spoiler. Marrone doesn’t have to get the Bills into the playoffs – which would take help from other teams – but he does have to guide them to a solid finish with no embarrassments. That clearly figures to be much harder a week from Sunday in Foxborough.