Here are my five takes for Sunday's game between the Buffalo Bills and Washington Redskins at New Era Field.
1. For their self-confidence, the Bills need to make short work of the Redskins.
Whether that's even possible is anyone's guess. The Bills have only come close to making short work of one opponent this season, the New York Giants, and that wasn't exactly a case of being on cruise control the whole way.
Coach Sean McDermott will tell you, as he no doubt has told his players, that the margin doesn't matter as long as the Bills come away with a victory. Still, the fact his team has had to work for pretty much everything it has gotten (against mostly losing opponents) to reach 5-2 has created plenty of questions about whether they're a legitimate postseason contender. Those questions have a way of seeping into the players' psyche.
Facing the 1-7 Redskins at home, the Bills will be expected to demonstrate why oddsmakers have them as a heavy favorite. Moreover, there will be a whole lot of anticipation over how convincingly they'll atone for their ugly 31-13 loss against the Philadelphia Eagles last Sunday ... or if they'll atone at all.
The Bills' flaws are being more heavily scrutinized than ever, especially after they chose to stand pat at the NFL trading deadline last Tuesday. Although it made perfect sense to not overpay for the offensive playmaker for which many of their fans are clamoring, there still will be harsh judgment if the team fails to get on a roll with the current roster.
2. The front seven must show that it's capable of holding up against the run.
After the embarrassment of allowing the Eagles to run for 218 yards, the Bills' defensive linemen and linebackers have to prove they can actually prevent an opponent from trampling them. The Redskins will attempt to force them to do so with what likely will be a run-oriented scheme featuring an aging but still effective Adrian Peterson.
Bill Callahan, the Redskins' interim head coach, made his bones as an offensive line coach. His signature is power football, and he will remain committed to such an approach, especially with rookie quarterback Dwayne Haskins making his first NFL start.
The Bills' interior defensive line simply can't permit itself to be pushed around as easily as it was last Sunday. That means making a stand on the Redskins' opening possession, or at the very least, not being on the wrong end of a sustained march.
Haskins is unlikely to throw a whole lot, but when he does, the Bills have to make it exceptionally difficult for him.
3. Halfway through his second season, Josh Allen has to start taking some significant steps.
It's fair to say that no one, including the Bills, has a firm grasp of exactly what Allen is all about as a quarterback. He has done enough struggling, especially with continued accuracy issues on longer throws, to raise reasonable doubts that he's the franchise player a seventh overall draft pick must show he's capable of becoming at this point.
If anything, Allen looks to have taken backward steps. He has been slow on some reads, seemingly waiting for receivers to gain significant separation before his release. Or, out of frustration, he'll make poor decisions and force the ball into coverage.
Allen also runs far too much. Some of that is on him, as part of his default setting when he doesn't see what he likes in the secondary. Some of that is on offensive coordinator Brian Daboll, for calling quarterback runs that add to Allen's exposure to potential injury. The Bills need to remember that it wasn't that long ago that Allen suffered a concussion.
4. Get the running game going and STICK WITH IT!
One of the more confusing aspects of the Bills' performance against the Eagles was that, on an extremely windy day, they didn't stay married to their rushing attack from the start. The day after the game, Daboll told reporters he had planned to get the ball into the hands of rookie running back Devin Singletary more, but some of those were screen passes that didn't materialize for various reasons.
The Bills should be more fundamental with their offensive approach and have Allen hand the ball to Singletary and Frank Gore … and keep handing it to them until the Redskins demonstrate they can stop the run.
Not only will that help drain the Redskins of whatever fight they might have left, particularly on the road, but it also will do plenty to help slow down a solid pass rush and give Allen a bit more secure pocket.
5. This is an excellent test for the Bills' coaching staff.
There were multiple reasons to second-guess what the coaches did against the Eagles. Besides Daboll's play-calling, there also was the fact McDermott threw a challenge flag that could have wiped out a touchdown had he not let it go after the snap, and alignment issues that contributed to problems with stopping the run along with the Eagles' physical dominance.
Those areas need to be cleaned up, especially challenges, which has been a major shortcoming for McDermott.
The Bills also need to do something about the fact they are averaging more than eight penalties per game. It is far too deep into the season for that to be a problem.
Here is what you need to know for Sunday's game.
TV: Fox. Announcers: Chris Myers (play-by-play), Daryl Johnston (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 Bills lead the series, 8-6. They're looking for the sixth win in their first eight games for the first time since 1993.
Bills injury report: Out: LB Maurice Alexander (knee). Questionable: CB Levi Wallace (shoulder), OT Cody Ford (elbow), S Kurt Coleman (hamstring).
Redskins injury report: Out: QB Case Keenum (concussion), TE Vernon Davis (concussion), RB Chris Thompson (toe), S Deshazor Everett (ankle), S Montae Nicholson (ankle). Questionable: DT Treyvon Hester (elbow).
Point spread: The Bills are a 9.5-point favorite at footballocks.com.
Did you know: A pair of running backs with more than 13,500 career rushing yards apiece play in the same game for the first time in the NFL when the Bills' Frank Gore (15,170) and the Redskins' Adrian Peterson (13,701) line up for their respective teams.
Next: After three straight home games, it's off to the other end of Lake Erie, where the Bills face the Cleveland Browns at First Energy Stadium next Sunday.