The Buffalo Bills have re-established New Era Field as a tough place to play for opponents.
A perfect 4-0 record at home is a big reason the Bills are currently in a playoff position in the AFC.
“It’s a special place to play,” coach Sean McDermott said. “It’s a place where our guys embrace playing at home. It’s a very comfortable situation for us that way. It’s a nice environment for a home team and a challenging environment otherwise.”
The Bills themselves will be challenged Sunday when the NFC South-leading New Orleans Saints visit, bringing a six-game winning streak with them.
“We’re going to have our hands full and we’ve got to prepare to play well,” McDermott said.
Here is how the Bills and Saints match up:
When the Bills run: After two steps forward for the running game coming out of the bye, it was one step back in Week 9 against the Jets. All 25 of LeSean McCoy’s rushing yards against New York came after contact, which shows the offensive line couldn’t stop anybody. McCoy ranks 24th among qualified running backs by the analytics website Football Outsiders. He has been successful on 42 percent of his carries, according to the website, which ranks 19th in the NFL. There should be an opportunity for the running game to get right Sunday, though. The Saints have given up nine runs of 20-plus yards, which is tied for the most in the NFL. Overall, they rank 19th against the run, allowing 116.1 yards per game. EDGE: Bills.
When the Bills pass: How will Kelvin Benjamin fit in? That’s one of the biggest questions facing the Bills, who in addition to having a new No. 1 receiver might also get tight end Charles Clay back. That will be two much-needed weapons for quarterback Tyrod Taylor, but it won’t matter unless the offensive line – which gave up seven sacks in Week 9 – can greatly improve on that performance. Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore is in the running for Defensive Rookie of the Year (along with the Bills’ Tre’Davious White). Lattimore is handling the job of defending No. 1 receivers on his own. Safety Kenny Vaccaro is having a Pro Bowl season, while defensive end Cameron Jordan (seven sacks) is supplying the pass rush. He’s the leader of New Orleans’ suddenly formidable defense. EDGE: Saints.
When the Saints run: Rookie third-round draft pick Alvin Kamara leads all qualifying running backs with 6.0 yards per carry. He’s been absolutely explosive with the ball in his hands. Kamara is used in a variety of roles, including as a receiver (he’s second on the team with 37 catches), as is starter Mark Ingram, who has 541 yards rushing and 31 catches for 192 yards. Ingram has six runs of 15-plus yards, which ranks in the top 10 in the NFL. The Ingram-Kamara duo allowed New Orleans to trade Adrian Peterson to the Cardinals. Buffalo’s rush defense was gashed by the Jets in Week 9. The whispers about the team missing Marcell Dareus will get louder if that type of effort continues. EDGE: Even.
When the Saints pass: Here’s a fun stat, unearthed by Ch. 4’s Josh Reed – Saints quarterback Drew Brees has 478 career touchdown passes, but none of them have come in the two games he’s played in Buffalo. Los Angeles and New Orleans are the only other two opponent cities he hasn’t had a touchdown pass in. I wouldn’t bet on that streak continuing. Brees is completing 71.6 percent of his passes this season, the best in what is sure to be a Hall of Fame career. He’s averaging more than 8 yards per attempt, and has been sacked just eight times in eight games. Top target Michael Thomas has 50 catches for 545 yards and two touchdowns, while Ted Ginn Jr. can take the top off a defense, averaging 17.1 yards per catch. Brees has thrown just four interceptions, and can challenge his career-low of seven set in 2004. His average time to attempt a pass is just 2.38 seconds, according to analytics website Pro Football Focus, the fourth quickest in the league. That doesn’t bode well for a Buffalo pass rush that is having trouble getting home in recent games. EDGE: Saints.
Special teams: The Bills have risen to sixth in Football Outsiders’ special-teams rankings thanks to another quality performance in Week 9 against the Jets. Receiver Andre Holmes is taking on a bigger role seemingly every week. He has four tackles over the past two games. Both the Saints’ coverage units are bad. Opponents are averaging 27.1 yards per kick return, which ranks 31st in the NFL, while opposing punt returners are averaging 11.4 yards per attempt, which ranks 27th. Saints kicker Will Lutz and punter Thomas Morstead have both been solid this season, but will kick in the cold weather for the first time Sunday. The Saints returned a blocked punt for a touchdown last week. EDGE: Bills.
Coaching: Sean Payton has a Dick Jauron hat trick – three straight seasons finishing 7-9 – on his resume, but a Super Bowl title has helped him survive that. So far this season, it’s looking like a good call by the Saints to keep Payton around. The defense finally looks to have turned a corner under coordinator Dennis Allen after years of miserable results, while the offense has been efficient, if not quite as explosive as usual. The Bills have had a long break to sit on their ugly Week 9 effort against the Jets. McDermott has done a good job keeping the team even-keeled in good times and bad. The next month will be critical to Buffalo’s playoff hopes. EDGE: Saints.
Prediction: Saints 28, Bills 26.