Which players need to step up in order for Buffalo to win on Sunday?
The Buffalo Bills are 9-3 and in first place in the AFC East. This is the latest the Bills have been in first place in the division since 1995, which is also the last time the team won the AFC East. I’m sure we’ve all seen that aggravating graphic by now that tells us that even the Indianapolis Colts—who moved to the AFC South when it was created in 2002—have won the AFC East more recently than Buffalo.
The Bills can take one giant leap closer to erasing that drought with a victory on Sunday night. In order to do so, their key players need to continue playing as well as they did on Monday night in Buffalo’s 34-24 win over the San Francisco 49ers. At the suggestion of Chuck-Wagon, I’ve removed Josh Allen this week (he’s been on the list each week since the start of the 2019 season…except for last year’s season finale).
Which players are we watching this week? Here’s our list.
RB Zack Moss
After showing an untimely case of fumblitis last week, Moss found himself anchored to the bench for much of the game. Head coach Sean McDermott noted that Moss was benched because of his first-quarter fumble that gave the 49ers the ball at Buffalo’s five-yard line after the Bills’ defense had just stonewalled the 49ers on a 4th-and-goal from the one. Moss was given one carry later in the game, but he didn’t do much in the contest. Last year, it was Devin Singletary who fumbled twice in a big December primetime game—Buffalo’s game at Pittsburgh—but McDermott kept giving the rookie opportunities. Moss will have a chance at redemption this week, and I’ll be interested to see how he reacts to his first real adversity as a pro. Moss has been a reliable pass protector and a better-than-expected receiver thus far, and while he hasn’t done much as a runner, he has averaged 4.1 yards per carry on his 71 total runs.
WR Stefon Diggs
Buffalo’s top wideout has already broken the 1,000-yard barrier, as he has a total of 90 catches for 1,037 yards and four touchdowns already this year. To show just how incredible Diggs has been this year, he could sit out for the next four games, and his reception total would be tied for fourth in franchise history. Diggs’s 2020 output is just the 22nd 1000-yard receiving season in franchise history. Even as teams try to roll coverages his way, Diggs is so dangerous that you can’t stop all of his options—if you play off, Josh Allen takes the easy money and hits Diggs underneath, and if you play tight, then Diggs burns you downfield. Diggs has been exactly what the doctor ordered for a Buffalo offense in need of a true No. 1 receiver this year. In the national spotlight against an 11-win team, Diggs has the potential to step up and show the nation exactly what he’s doing in Orchard Park.
RT Daryl Williams
With T.J. Watt lining up primarily at left outside linebacker, it will be Williams tasked with stopping arguably the league’s best pass rusher. Sure, Pittsburgh could move Watt around the formation—and without pass rushing standout Bud Dupree, whose torn ACL will cause him to miss the rest of the season, it’s more possible—but Watt does most of his damage from the defensive left side of the formation. Look for the Bills to give Williams plenty of help in the form of running backs and tight ends, especially veteran Lee Smith, who basically doubles as a sixth offensive lineman when he’s in the game anyway. If Williams can at least slow Watt, then the Bills’ offense will be able to establish rhythm and dictate the course of the game.
LB Matt Milano
How healthy is he? Is he ready to deal with James Conner out of the backfield? What about tight end Eric Ebron? Milano will be put to the test just a week after coming off of injured reserve. He did manage to play on Monday night, but he was used sparingly, as the Bills went with Tremaine Edmunds and A.J. Klein more often than not. Defensive coordinator/assistant head coach Leslie Frazier said that he was happy with how Milano progressed, and the coaching staff has been known to ease players into the lineup after long injury layoffs. A healthy Milano changes this game entirely, so if he can play at his best, then Buffalo is in good shape to take away Pittsburgh’s underneath targets.
CB Levi Wallace
They can’t all be Tre’Davious White, but Wallace has been a prime target throughout this season across from his All-Pro teammate. Wallace has started eight games and played on at least 87% of the defensive snaps in every game he’s finished healthy, yet he only has three pass breakups on the season. Wallace does have one interception, but he’s allowed 32-of-50 targets to be completed for a whopping 456 yards and two touchdowns. That’s an average of 14 yards per completion to go with a 64 percent completion rate against. With a veteran quarterback in Ben Roethlisberger on the other side, he’ll be looking for Wallace on almost every play. It will be up to the third-year man to make Roethlisberger regret it before he starts looking elsewhere.