Here are my five takes for Sunday's game between the Buffalo Bills and Tennessee Titans at Nissan Stadium in Nashville.
1. As early season games go, this one is reasonably important.
To put it another way, a loss could prove more than a little damaging to the Bills' playoff aspirations. If the Bills are to be taken seriously as a postseason contender, they must take care of business against a club that, at best, figures to be in the middle of the AFC pack.
Buffalo's defense is strong enough to carry the load, as it has for most of the season, and allow the offense and special teams to do just enough to squeak out a third consecutive road victory.
But that presumes the Bills' offense doesn't function as a disaster in waiting, which was the case with the four turnovers that decided last week's 16-10 loss against New England. Ditto for their special teams, which were nothing short of horrendous against the Patriots.
The Titans' offense will have something to say about what happens. Running back Derrick Henry is capable of having a strong day, and Tennessee has yet to have a turnover this season.
Two losses in a row to conference opponents won't exactly make for the most relaxing bye week.
2. The Bills' quarterback situation appears less than ideal.
If Josh Allen ends up being cleared from concussion protocol, even as late as Saturday, Sean McDermott said he would have no hesitation starting him. That means the coach would be willing to take a chance on the young gun who might very well have not gotten the full load of starting snaps in practice. The Bills list Allen as questionable and said he was a full participant in Friday's practice after being limited the previous two days.
NFL teams playing Sunday have until 4 p.m. Saturday to make final pre-game roster moves. The Bills have an open roster spot after releasing offensive tackle Conor McDermott Thursday, so it's possible they could activate quarterback Davis Webb from their practice squad if Allen were inactive Sunday.
Allen has taken part in non-contact individual drills during the portion of this week's workouts open to the media. However, McDermott won't reveal the specific extent of Allen's work in practice, citing concussion protocol as a reason he isn't allowed to publicly discuss any activity. Allen also isn't permitted to speak with the media, per concussion protocol rules.
Matt Barkley supposedly has taken first-team reps, although it's unclear if he has shared some or any with Allen. If so, that could potentially impact his preparation if he's called on to start.
Of course, it makes sense for McDermott to keep as thick a cloud as possible on who will start at quarterback. Forcing the Titans to prepare for Allen's mobility and Barkley's mainly pocket-passer style qualifies as at least a slight competitive edge.
It also makes sense for the Bills to be as committed to the run as possible, especially with Frank Gore showing no signs of slowing down at 36 years old. Rookie Devin Singletary is listed as questionable with the hamstring injury that has kept him out the past two games, but the Bills don't need to push him into the lineup. The bye will give him an extra week to heal and be ready for the final 11 games on the schedule.
3. The Titans' defense will pose a massive challenge.
Not only does Tennessee have plenty of talent on that side of the ball, it also has the scheming of coach Mike Vrabel, who learned from the very best – Bill Belichick – when Vrabel played linebacker for the Patriots.
The Titans will throw numerous variations of fronts and coverages at whoever plays quarterback. If it's Allen, that could prove problematic, because the Pats did a superb job of confusing him and repeatedly causing him to see things that weren't there on the way to throwing three interceptions.
The Titans also will no doubt duplicate the Patriots' containment-oriented approach, with a "spy" available to track Allen's every move and force him to be hesitant about running, throwing or both. Tennessee also will likely have plenty of pressure packages available for the not-so-mobile Barkley.
4. The special-teams meltdowns have to stop. Now!
So far, the decision to hire Heath Farwell as a rookie special-teams coordinator isn't looking all that great. Although it might not necessarily be fair to blame him for all or even most of the problems in the kicking game, the fact remains that the many shortcomings in that area last season factored heavily into the dismissal of veteran coach Danny Crossman.
Sticking with shaky Corey Bojorquez at punter continues to be ripe for second-guessing, especially after having a kick blocked and returned for a touchdown last Sunday. Stephen Hauschka also needs to recapture the consistency that once made him as dependable a kicker as any in the NFL.
With the Bills having established a clear trend toward playing tight, defensive-dominated games, special teams are likely to remain a major factor in the outcomes. They must find a way to get them fixed immediately.
5. There's reason to question whether McDermott's messages are getting through.
Few coaches preach longer or harder about taking care of the football. Yet, the Bills keep giving it away or nearly do so. In two of their three wins, their turnovers forced them to rally for victories. That formula didn't work against the Patriots, even with their offense playing as poorly as it has in a long time.
The time has come for McDermott's players – especially Allen – to heed the warnings. There's simply too much at stake for a coach to hope that the ball-security concept finally registers. If this proves to be another game where the Bills do more giving than taking, there should be some hard assessments made during the bye about how to correct that.
Here is what you need to know for Sunday's game.
TV: CBS. Announcers: Spero Dedes (play-by-play), Adam Archuleta (color analyst).
Radio: Bills Radio Network. Buffalo-WGR 550 AM; Toronto-Fan 590 AM; Rochester-WCMF 96.5 FM and WROC 950 AM; Syracuse-WTKW 99.5 FM and WTKV 105.5 FM. Announcers: John Murphy (play-by-play), Eric Wood (color analyst).
Series history: The Titans lead, 28-18-0.
Bills injury report: Out: TE Tyler Kroft (ankle), LB Corey Thompson (ankle). Questionable: QB Josh Allen (concussion), RB Devin Singletary (hamstring), OT Ty Nsekhe (ankle), FB Patrick DiMarco (concussion), S Dean Marlowe (concussion), WR Robert Foster (groin), CB Taron Johnson (hamstring).
Titans injury report: Out: RB David Fluellen (knee), OG/OT Kevin Pamphile (knee). Questionable: DE Cameron Wake (hamstring).
Point spread: The Bills are a 3-point underdog at footballocks.com.
Did you know: In 16 consecutive games, the Bills have held opponents to below 400 yards in total offense. That's the NFL's second-longest streak behind the Los Angeles Chargers at 17.
Next: A little R&R as the Bills enter their bye week. Their next game is Oct. 20 against the Miami Dolphins at New Era Field.