BUFFALO, N.Y. [WKBW] — As the Bills look to get back in the win column they begin a stretch where they play three of their next four games at Highmark Stadium. At 7-6 the Bills control their own destiny in the AFC playoff picture but need to finish the season strong. Will that begin Sunday against the Carolina Panthers? Our team shares their predictions ahead of Sunday's game:
If the Buffalo Bills can't beat the Carolina Panthers they don't deserve to be a playoff team.
Despite their inconsistent play as of late, the Bills still find themselves in a position where they can control their playoff destiny. If they win all four games, they'll be playing in the postseason. Realistically, they'll also likely earn a playoff spot if they win three of their next four games. But for a team that hasn't won back-to-back games since October, that's certainly not a guarantee.
Regardless of who's at quarterback for the Bills, they'll need to contain the Panthers' high-powered pass rush led by Haason Reddick and Brian Burns. Reddick leads the team with 10.5 sacks while Burns has eight. As a team, the Panthers have 32 sacks, nine more than the Bills .
Bills left tackle Dion Dawkins was asked about preparing for quick players like Burns and said this week he needs to eat salads and skip over the steaks. Whatever works I guess.
As for the Bills offense, this is a big opportunity for wide receiver Gabriel Davis with Emmanuel Sanders likely sidelined with a knee injury. When called upon this season, Davis has stepped up and he's confident he can keep growing as a player.
Gabriel Davis thanked Josh Allen after the Bucs game for trusting him on the 4th and 4 play on the game-tying drive.— Matthew Bové (@Matt_Bove) December 16, 2021
Davis is ready for more big moments and is confident he’ll be up to the task #BillsMafia @WKBW pic.twitter.com/TdTd9KfA3c
"So everyone wants to be out on the field making plays because they know the time and the work they've put in, but I'm just blessed for the opportunity so I can finally go out there and show what I can do," Davis said. "I feel like there are guys all around the league that are kind of in similar situations, and kind of that wait your turn kind of situation. For me, that's what it was and I respected it and I can make the most of it, because, that's my job and that's my role."
Look for Davis to keep the production rolling and Cole Beasley to be more involved than he has in recent weeks. Carolina has some nice players but with Christian McCaffrey sidelined and struggles at quarterback, the Bills should be heading to New England with a chance to close the gap atop the AFC East.
Bills 26, Panthers 21
Season record: 8-5
Last weekend I chose the Bills to win on our weekly Leading the Charge show, but come Sunday when our predictions article came out, my mind changed as I ultimately went with the Buccaneers.
Hint: my mind isn't changing this weekend.
The Bills are the superior team in this matchup and regardless of Josh Allen's status, that doesn't change. In last weekend's 2nd half against the Bucs, the Bills finally looked like the Super Bowl contender we all thought they'd be. It was a spark they needed, and it showed a glimpse of what this team can do when they're executing and capitalizing.
When you look at this Panthers team, they've been inconsistent and disastrous-like at times since starting the season 3-0. They've had a hard time being consistent, they've had a hard time scoring, and they've had a hard time getting anything going despite their opponent. The defense has been a bright light, especially their pass rush so this Bills offensive line will be tested in keeping their QB on his feet, and opening up the air game.
The Bills defense, while preparing for two quarterbacks in Cam Newton and P.J. Walker, will also be keying in on the pass rush themselves as the unit hasn't been as efficient as they've wanted to be. Coach Sean McDermott said it's a big emphasis and they need to "100% improve", but he's also acknowledging the patience they need to have with this group.
"Greg Rousseau who's starting for us at defensive end, you look at AJ Epenesa a second year player, Boogie Basham a first year player, Ed [Oliver] is still considered young overall in this league - so there's some youth there," he said on Wednesday. "But at the same time, a critical part of the defense is to be able to affect the quarterback with your front four. It's gotta show up, in particular more than it did this past weekend."
The Bills should win this one, and there's not a lot of doubt in my mind they'll accomplish that.
Bills: 27, Panthers: 17
Season record: 9-4
Did anyone think that the Bills would have to pay this much attention to rooting interests around the rest of the AFC at this point of the year? Because I didn’t. But here we are.
This is Buffalo’s last chance to keep full control of their own playoff destiny. To jump the Patriots, they’ll need help. But closing the year strong and getting to the bar that was set for them at the start of the season starts with Carolina. And starting it against them is a gift.
The biggest question of the week seems to be answered: Josh Allen will play unimpeded by the foot he sprained last weekend. Even if he couldn’t have, and Trubisky was under center, the former Chicago Bear would’ve been the best signal caller on the field.
Carolina’s offense is in shambles. Christian McCaffrey is out. Sam Darnold is eligible to be back, but it’s a three-headed guessing game at quarterback for the Panthers. No matter who it is, Buffalo’s defense should be able to have its way and set up the offense with short fields.
The one area of concern would be if the Panthers’ one-two punch off the edge of Brian Burns (8.0 sacks) and Haason Reddick (10.5 sacks) run rampant. Even if they do, complementary football by the better team should get this one done.
Bills: 24, Panthers: 13
Season record: 8-5