When the Bills run: Ball security was presumably a big focus for Devin Singletary during the week. The rookie fumbled twice against Miami, mistakes that were largely forgotten because the Bills were able to recover both times. The Bills have been remarkably lucky with fumbles, recovering 10 of the 15 times they’ve put the ball on the ground on offense.
Singletary also needs to improve on first-down runs. After gaining 22 yards on the first play from scrimmage against the Dolphins, he had 10 first-down carries that produced just 19 yards. It’s hard to run the ball consistently when first down produces so little.
Veteran Frank Gore gained just 27 yards on 11 carries. The Bills don’t seem inclined to give T.J. Yeldon a shot, so they’re going to need more from Gore in a secondary role to Singletary.
Quarterback Josh Allen had his longest run of the season, perfectly executing a fake handoff to Singletary before taking off down the right side. It was reminiscent of some of his open-field runs from last season.
The Broncos rank 11th in the league against the rush. Safety Kareem Jackson is strong in run support.
When the Bills throw: Allen is up to 163 consecutive pass attempts without an interception. That’s hard to imagine after watching the first month of this season.
In the last six games, Allen has a quarterback rating of 96.4, and has thrown 10 touchdowns against just one pick. In that time, John Brown has emerged as a No. 1 receiver. He leads AFC wide receivers in receiving yardage with 817 – a total that is most in franchise history for any player in his first 10 games. Brown figures to draw coverage from Broncos star Chris Harris.
One of the biggest matchups Sunday will be up front. Right tackle Cody Ford is expected to play the whole game for the Bills with Ty Nsekhe dealing with an ankle injury. Lined up across from Ford will be Broncos star Von Miller, who has the ability to single-handedly wreck an offensive game plan. Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll needs to protect Allen, and that might mean giving Ford some help.
When the Broncos run: Denver has a pair of capable runners in Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman. They have already combined for 1,056 yards and seven touchdowns. Lindsay has a slight advantage in carries (134 to 101) and has a better yards per carry (4.9 to 4.0), but the Bills can’t sleep on either running back. Lindsay made the Pro Bowl last season as an undrafted rookie, the first offensive player in NFL history to do that. Denver averages 113.1 yards per game on the ground, so we should find out if the Bills’ run defense is actually fixed or if the Dolphins were a one-week reprieve.
When the Broncos throw: Quarterback Brandon Allen has completed less than 50% of his passes in the two games he’s played since taking over for the injured Joe Flacco. Allen, though, has a respectable average of 7.3 yards per attempt and has throw three touchdowns against one interception.
Second-year wide receiver Courtland Sutton is developing into a star. He has 11 catches of 25-plus yards this season, which is tied for second in the NFL. Sutton’s on pace for nearly 1,300 yards. He can expect to see plenty of Bills No. 1 cornerback Tre’Davious White.
Both of Denver’s running backs have good hands. Freeman has 28 catches for 195 yards and Lindsay has 27 for 168 yards.
Rookie tight end Noah Fant has just 27 catches for 360 yards and a pair of touchdowns. The Bills have been excellent at defending tight ends, giving up 29 catches for 296 yards and one touchdown against the position all season.
Special teams: It hasn’t happened often, but the Bills are going up against a team with a special-teams unit ranked lower than theirs, according to Football Outsiders. The Broncos are 31st in Football Outsiders’ rankings, largely because their coverage units are struggling. Denver gives up 10.4 yards per punt return and 29.8 yards per kick return, totals that rank 30th and 31st, respectively. That could mean Bills returner Andre Roberts is in store for a big day.
The Bills’ coverage units aren’t much better, allowing 10.0 yards per punt return and 23.8 yards per kick return, figures that rank tied for 28th and 21st, respectively. The Bills will miss cornerback Siran Neal (concussion) if he isn’t able to play. Neal has turned into the team’s best coverage player.
Punter Corey Bojorquez has had consecutive strong games, while kicker Stephen Hauschka rebounded nicely in Miami after a miserable showing in Cleveland. Buffalo ranks 26th in special teams, according to Football Outsiders.
Coaching: Both Sean McDermott and Daboll have tried to downplay the impact the offensive coordinator's moving upstairs to the coaches’ booth had on the offense last week, but the results speak for themselves. Streamlining things for Allen produced one of his best games as a pro. It’s hard to imagine Daboll moving back downstairs after a game like that.
McDermott also hit the right notes in telling his quarterback to play “fearless.” There appeared to be a lot going through Allen’s head, and simplifying things made a big difference.
Broncos coach Vic Fangio has his team playing hard, but they haven’t figured out a way to close things out. The challenge for Fangio this week is motivating his team after a heartbreaking loss to the Vikings ended any real hope of a run at a playoff spot.
Both teams are used to playing close games – the Bills have just been much better in them.
Prediction: Bills 20, Broncos 16