Here are my five takes on the Buffalo Bills' game against the Jacksonville Jaguars Sunday at New Era Field:
1. Leave no doubt from the outset that the better team is playing at home. The Jaguars are bad. Really bad. Rex Ryan tried his hardest to build them up, but it's no use. He called them the "best two-win team" he has ever seen, but there's nothing about the Jaguars that says "best."
They've earned every bit of their way to 2-8 and should be headed for a top-three draft pick.
Therefore, it's up to the Bills to impose their will and get rolling early, as they did in last Sunday's victory against the Cincinnati Bengals (and against other opponents). This time, however, they can't let up as they have repeatedly. This time, the defense shouldn't wait to do its best work in the second half.
The Jaguars cannot be allowed to build upon whatever remote sense of enthusiasm they might feel for a post-Thanksgiving Day game with their season having less going for it than a well-picked-over turkey carcass.
2. Give Mike Gillislee a healthy amount of carries. Regardless of whether LeSean McCoy tries to push himself into action after Sunday night's thumb surgery, the Bills shouldn't hesitate to make extensive use of his understudy.
This doesn't shape up as a game the Bills need McCoy to win. The prudent move would be to give him at least another week to heal, so that he's ready for the far more challenging opponent the Bills face a week from Sunday in the Oakland Raiders.
Gillislee gives them a more than adequate replacement. He averaged 5.1 yards per carry against the Bengals, allowing the Bills to have a solid rushing attack even with McCoy missing the entire second half.
3. Marcell Dareus puts together two dominant games in a row. Time for the big guy to get some traction.
He looked more like his old self against the Bengals. He had four tackles, a half-sack, a quarterback hit and a pass defense. He showed good quickness, strength, and athleticism. There were no lingering effects from his groin and hamstring injuries that, along with a four-game suspension, caused him to miss eight of the previous nine games.
Now, Dareus needs to take control of the line of scrimmage, something he is being paid handsomely to do. He has to show his troubles, psychological and physical, are behind him and the Bills can count on him through their desperate stretch run.
4. The secondary's big game can't be an anomaly. Ryan has cause to pat himself on the back, something he's never shy about doing. Knowing the potential explosiveness of the Bengals' passing game, he called out his secondary last week, saying opponents had no fear in challenging the Bills with deep passes.
Stephon Gilmore responded with two interceptions, nearly taking the first for a touchdown. Ryan went out of his way to call it Gilmore's best game in Ryan's time as the Bills' coach.
Gilmore deserves credit, but the fact Andy Dalton was forcing throws after losing his best receiver, A.J. Green, to a torn hamstring only two plays into the game can't be overlooked. Nor can Gilmore being beaten by Tyler Boyd for a touchdown.
The Bengals also were making enough plays through the air in the first half to produce a pair of touchdowns. The Bills' defense did shut down in the second half, but it's fair to say the secondary still has some tightening-up to do.
The Jaguars do have some talented receivers of their own that the Bills can't allow to make game-breaking plays, as was the case when the teams met in London last year. This should, in fact, be another game where the Bills come away with multiple interceptions. Blake Bortles is a mechanically unsound, reckless quarterback, and should have no business beating the Bills with his throwing arm.
5. Tyrod Taylor makes better use of Charles Clay and Nick O'Leary. Given that wide receiver Robert Woods is likely out with a knee injury, the Bills need other pass-catchers to step up.
And no one should be stepping up more than Clay, who averaged all of 4.6 yards on five receptions against Cincinnati. Some of that is on Clay, but a lot of it is on Taylor for not finding him when he was open for longer gains. That has often been the case since the start of last season.
Given the holes the Jaguars leave in their secondary with various zone coverages, Taylor should have ample opportunities to hit both of his tight ends for high-impact plays and even a score or two. In looking to solidify his case as the Bills' long-term answer at quarterback, Taylor can't afford to squander those chances.