The Buffalo Bills understand the importance of their upcoming game against the Oakland Raiders. With only five weeks left to play, the Bills likely need to get to 10 wins to have a shot at the playoffs — considering how their conference record relates to the rest of the teams vying for the final spot.
The Bills have won each of their last two games, which brought them up to a 3-4 conference record — which is still behind the teams ahead of them in a tiebreaker scenario. Luckily for them, their remaining five contests are all against AFC opponents, but the wins have to start coming.
And perhaps their toughest remaining game on the schedule is this weekend, when the Bills take on the Raiders on the road Sunday. Do they stand a chance in this game?
Five things to watch for in the Bills contest against the Raiders:
1) Run, LeSean, run (Gillislee, too)
- If the Buffalo Bills are going to pull off the upset and defeat the Oakland Raiders, it will be in large part because of them winning the ground game on offense. The Bills have been featuring their rushing attack all year long, but there are so many factors that lead to the conclusion that this game could lead to the biggest disparity of run-to-pass that they’ve had all season long. First, and most obviously, there’s the Bills’ penchant for the running game and the fact that they feature one of the league’s most dynamic running backs in LeSean McCoy — and now his more-than-capable backup Mike Gillislee is back in action for the Bills this week. Secondly, the Raiders have been one of the worst teams in stopping the run all season long, and one of their top run-stuffing defensive linemen, Stacy McGee, has been declared out for the contest. Based on their interior linemen and the inside linebackers that the Raiders employ, there exists a clear opportunity to run between the tackles for the Bills and for quite a bit of yardage. Throw in the fact that the Raiders top two cornerbacks are both healthy and playing at a relatively high level, and the Bills receivers are as banged up as any positional group on the field, and it all leads to one conclusion: the Bills will need to run their way to a victory against the Oakland Raiders.
2) Khalil Mack could take over
- We know what the Bills must do offensively, but the Bills have a legitimate problem to deal with when their offense is on the field. Former UB standout and current NFL All-Pro Khalil Mack will be lined up over right tackle Jordan Mills for much of the game, and that is legitimate concern for the Bills on Sunday. Mack is playing as well as any player in the league, and Mills has been a liability for four of the last five games. The Bills need to issue help to Mills on the outside in the form of a tight end, or to overload the offensive line to the right side with Cordy Glenn. Mack is a powerhouse against both the run and the pass, which makes stopping Mack from taking over the game the priority.
3) Hughes the best hope for Bills pressure
- While Mack is the Raiders best hope, the matchup for Bills pass rusher Jerry Hughes is the one that brings the most optimism for them to actually get to Derek Carr in the backfield. Hughes will be going up against Austin Howard, who some Bills fans may remember for not surrendering much of anything to Mario Williams in all their matchups over the years when he was with the Jets. Against speed, though, Howard struggles, which means Hughes has a great chance to do some work against the Raiders. The trouble is, the rest of the Raiders offensive line is quite good — and they’ve only allowed a total of 12 sacks all season. Hughes will need to win his one-on-one matchup, especially considering another mismatch for the Bills.
4) The intriguing Raiders WRs vs. Bills CBs matchups
- The Bills will be without Ronald Darby when they take on the Raiders, and that’s a huge development considering the talent and overall health of the passing attack they’re going up against. Against Jacksonville, Darby — after some struggles this season — seemed to be playing with the same confidence that he had a year ago before suffering a concussion in the first half. The Bills have been using rookie Kevon Seymour in his place at left cornerback, which would make it the first time that he will play an extended amount of snaps on the outside this season. Seymour, a player that the Bills will be interested in seeing if he can be a long-term option as a starter, will mainly be lining up against the productive Michael Crabtree. If he falters at all, the Bills would then turn to veteran Corey White, who has struggled in extended appearances at left cornerback. That leaves the super-talented Amari Cooper against Stephon Gilmore, who has quietly played extremely well over the last two weeks following a rocky, up-and-down first half of his season. The Raiders won’t hesitate in trying to get both players involved, as they have all season long. Gilmore will be tested, and Seymour may even be targeted.
5) Dareus’ presence is huge for Bills in this game
- As it was previously stated, the Raiders boast a one of the best offensive lines in the league. Left tackle Donald Penn, left guard Kelechi Osemele, and center Rodney Hudson have been playing as well as anyone you’ll find, which will make it a chore for the Bills defensive line. However, having Marcell Dareus in the lineup makes it into an even fight. Due to the presence of Dareus, it facilitates other players — whether it be Kyle Williams, Jerry Hughes, Lorenzo Alexander, Leger Douzable, or Adolphus Washington into getting one-on-one matchups. Dareus has been so dominant in his three games this season, that the Raiders will be forced to pay him special attention — even with a player like Kyle Williams right next to him. Against Jacksonville center Brandon Linder, who is having a great 2016 season, Dareus tossed him around and made him seem like a low-level starting player. That’s the type of talent he has, and what the Bills will need to potentially win the game and tilt the matchups in their favor.
OUT: WR Robert Woods (knee), CB Ronald Darby (concussion), WR Percy Harvin (migraines)
QUESTIONABLE: LB Lorenzo Alexander (ankle), OT Cordy Glenn (back), S James Ihedigbo (ankle), WR Sammy Watkins (foot), TE Charles Clay (knee), G Richie Incognito (neck), DL Marcell Dareus (abdominal), RB Mike Gillislee (hamstring), S Sergio Brown (hamstring), G John Miller (shoulder), WR Marquise Goodwin (wrist)
OUT: LB Shilique Calhoun (knee), DL Darius Latham (ankle), DL Stacy McGee (ankle)
QUESTIONABLE: CB David Amerson (knee), WR Michael Crabtree (ankle), C Rodney Hudson (knee), RB Latavius Murray (ankle), G Kelechi Osemele (knee), LB Perry Riley (hamstring), LB Malcolm Smith (hamstring)
Prediction: Raiders over Bills
- Despite their differing records, I believe the Raiders and Bills are two evenly matched opponents. So close, in fact, that I’ve been wavering as to which team will win all week long. That said, the reason why I’m picking the Raiders is mainly tied to three reasons. The first is Khalil Mack. I believe he is such a mismatch for the Bills that he can help flip the game in their favor, and potentially tear down the Bills hopes of having a productive day through the air with a hobbled group of wide receivers. Second, the cornerback/safety combinations of the Bills are begging to be tested by the high-powered passing attack, and I believe they’ll have some success in doing so — whether it be against the rookie Seymour, or one of the safeties (White, Ihedigbo, Meeks) that will line up in the backfield. I do think that the Bills will have quite a bit of success on the ground which will certainly aid their efforts, but if the Raiders build a lead in the second half, they can’t only rely on the rushing attack to help get them back in the game. The Bills will need Tyrod Taylor to have a game like he did against the Seahawks, and leave the Bengals and Jaguars performances behind him. The trouble is, there isn’t much of a working history in the Bills’ favor of that with Taylor as the quarterback. The Bills certainly have some advantages in this game, but all in all, I think the Oakland advantages tips them into their favor for a victory.
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