Following the win they needed to collect, the Buffalo Bills now are in hurry up mode to do what they need to in order to end the playoff drought at 15 years. They’ll still need some help, but, the simplest way to do that is by winning the rest of their games — easier to be written, than done.
However, that all starts on Sunday on the road against the Philadelphia Eagles, the first of three consecutive games against the bumbling NFC East. What are some of the major things to keep an eye on for this game?
Five things to watch:
1) Shady’s return to Philly
- It all started off with a bang on Wednesday. Chip Kelly, the morning before the Bills practice even started, told Buffalo media that he would like to shake McCoy’s hand at some point on Sunday. McCoy eloquently responded “Chip can’t shake sh*t.” It’s just more fuel to add to McCoy in his first game back in Pennsylvania since being traded by the Eagles this offseason. According to his teammates, McCoy has been talking about this game all year long, and Sammy Watkins said that he has no idea what the running back is going to do on Sunday, but that he “can’t wait to see it.” McCoy will have to try and keep his emotions in check, but, he’ll have a big opportunity to make the Eagles pay with a big-time performance. The Eagles have sixth-worst run defense in the NFL, allowing 124.7 yards per game, and 4.3 yards per carry.
2) Matthews vs. Robey
- This all goes away if Jordan Matthews, who was a late add to the injury report in the week as ‘questionable,’ is unable to play against the Bills. However, the Eagles offer little through the air, but their most consistent target through the year has been Matthews — and the 6-foot-3 wideout isn’t just your average player at the position. Matthews lines up primarily as the slot receiver, creating multiple mismatches from a size perspective for his opponents at nickel corner. There may not be a bigger matchup disparity for Matthews in the NFL than the one he could face against the Bills. The receiver will be up against nickel corner Nickell Robey, who is listed at 5-foot-7 by the team, but is closer to 5-foot-5, or 5-foot-6. The Bills will need to provide Robey with some help, with it likely coming from the safety over the top.
3) Beware Sproles, Philly punt return
- Even though he’s 32-years old, the Eagles still depend on running back Darren Sproles to open things up for the offense in multiple ways. He’s at his most dangerous when lined up deep for the punt return. The Eagles boast an average special teams unit in totality, but in punt return, they are the most effective unit in the league, according to FootballOutsiders.com. Like last year, Sproles is right near his highest punt return average, gaining 12.9 yards per attempt. And again, like last year, Sproles has two punts returned for a touchdown. Down one of their main special teams players Ron Brooks, there could be some motivation for the Bills to kick away from Sproles and instead opt for going out of bounds. On offense, Sproles has become engrained in the passing attack. The runner has matched last year’s total of receptions (40) and has 292 yards and a touchdown along with it. With a key injury to Nigel Bradham, the Bills will need to organize a plan of attack for the still effective Sproles.
4) Good day for no Gilmore
- The Bills are hurting on the defensive side of the ball, and will be without their top cornerback Stephon Gilmore due to a shoulder injury he suffered against Houston. If Gilmore is only out the one week, he unknowingly picked the best day possible for him to miss a start. The boundary receivers for the Eagles, to be polite, have left a lot to be desired in 2015. Philadelphia trots out players like Josh Huff, Riley Cooper, and Nelson Algholor as their boundary receivers, and combined, the trio have less receptions (52) than Jordan Matthews does on the season (61). Without Gilmore, that means Leodis McKelvin will make his first start at corner since breaking his ankle in 2014. This should also be the right sort of day for Ronald Darby to get back on track, following two straight poor performances.
5) Attacking Bradford
- Jordan Matthews, Darren Sproles, and Zach Ertz are the three main players that can really hurt the Bills, but all three of those players will be rendered moot and ineffective if they can do one thing that has evaded them for much of the year: getting pressure on the quarterback. Despite teams not getting to Bradford to a large degree in 2015 (the Eagles have allowed only 28 sacks in 12 games), the quarterback’s below average season have left a lot of points, and yards on the field. He has just 13 touchdowns to 10 interceptions, and has been described as “jumpy” even with time in the pocket. If the Bills can unleash Jerry Hughes, their safeties, and even Mario Williams to get after Bradford, he could be forced into a mistake or two — as he is prone to do.
OUT: CB Stephon Gilmore (shoulder), LB Nigel Bradham (out), CB Ron Brooks (concussion), HB Karlos Williams (shoulder)
QUESTIONABLE: G John Miller (ankle)
PROBABLE: T Seantrel Henderson (illness), TE Charles Clay (knee), WR Chris Hogan (knee), DE Mario Williams (hand)
QUESTIONABLE: WR Jordan Matthews (hamstring)
PROBABLE: HB Kenjon Barner (ankle), QB Sam Bradford (left shoulder), S Walter Thurmond (elbow), TE Zach Ertz (hip), CB Eric Rowe (ankle), DE Cedric Thornton (ankle), DT Bennie Logan (knee), T Lane Johnson (shoulder), HB Ryan Mathews (concussion)
Prediction: Bills over Eagles
- The Eagles have been one of the most interesting teams in football over the past three years, but it’s really incredible how mediocre their roster has become. The Bills are the superiorly talented team, and it’s really not even close. The Bills have an advantage on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball, but the Eagles punt return unit can flip the game around on the Bills. If they let McCoy, Tyrod Taylor, and Sammy Watkins go to work on offense, they shouldn’t have a problem with picking up the victory they so desperately need. The two X-factors for the Eagles: Jordan Matthews and Darren Sproles. If the Bills can limit their overall effectiveness, they’ll get back to a winning record — something they haven’t had since November 23.
**Season-long record predicting Bills games: 7-5
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