The Buffalo Bills are on a tear. Their defense hasn’t had a bad game yet, and the offense has been explosive three weeks in a row. Josh Allen followed up his ugly opening night performance with enough pizzazz to make him the new betting favorite for MVP.
The Bills also are favored to beat the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday, but unfriendly circumstances could impede a fourth-straight victory. The game is on another continent, and the Bills’ defensive lineup is in flux without cornerback Tre’Davious White and edge rusher Greg Rousseau, cornerback Christian Benford and safety Jordan Poyer on the injury report.
The Athletic’s Matthew Fairburn and Tim Graham tackle the biggest questions facing the Bills on Sunday.
The Bills have a “home” game this week in London against an opponent that plays there at least once a year and has been waiting there a week. How will the Bills handle this disadvantage?
Fairburn: I’m not convinced it’s a disadvantage. The Jaguars have been away from home a long time and had to change hotels this week. They’re on the road here, too. When they’re getting to the stadium on Sunday, their minds may start wandering to that flight home on Sunday night. Either way, this will be an interesting case study, because the Bills aren’t treating this dramatically differently than they would a normal road game. They’re leaving earlier, but they’re flying through the night on Thursday and staying away to practice in an effort to acclimate their body clocks. Having attempted the same strategy myself, I can say it’s not the most pleasant experience. Either way, I’m not convinced the travel logistics will have a major impact on this game.
Graham: While not completely apples and oranges, I look back at how successfully the Bills dealt with the November snowstorm that forced them to relocate their home game against the Browns to Detroit. The Bills won that game, returned to defeat the Lions four days later and then beat the Patriots to go 3-0 on the road in the span of 12 days. The Jaguars clearly have a built-in advantage here, but the Bills strike me as an organization that takes such hardships in stride, blocks out the little obstacles and just plays ball.
How should the Bills address losing Tre’Davious White to the torn right Achilles? The two-time Pro Bowler was starting to look like his old self after tearing his ACL in November 2021.
Fairburn: The Bills’ defense under Sean McDermott has been at its best when the secondary is clicking as a cohesive unit. Losing White hurts in that regard, but that’s why having a player like Jackson who is familiar with the system and the players around him helps. Kaiir Elam may end up getting a chance if either Benford or Jackson were to get hurt, but the Bills have shown how they feel about Elam by making him a healthy scratch for the first four games of the season. He could rebound from that, but the Bills should also be looking outside the organization to bolster the depth here.
Bills CB Tre’Davious White out for season with torn Achilles
Graham: When the Bills lost White before, Jackson started the rest of the way and played admirably opposite Levi Wallace. Jackson and Benford don’t feel like too much of a difference to me aside from Benford’s lack of experience. I asked Sean McDermott on Monday how comfortable he was with the cornerbacks still in the program, and he gave a diplomatic answer. He said they’d explore all options, but that he was confident in the players they already had and made it a point to include those on the practice squad. Brandon Beane certainly has been checking other rosters for proven cornerback help, but he also hates parting with premium draft capital.
What should the Bills do about edge rusher Von Miller’s return from the physically unable to perform list? The defensive line has played remarkably well without him.
Fairburn: Patience is key here. The Bills didn’t sign Von Miller so that he could pile up sacks in October. They have the luxury of a deep defensive line room that is playing lights out right now. Presumably Kingsley Jonathan would come out of the lineup when Miller is ready to go. And if the Bills wanted to go with a heavier defensive line they would need to consider sitting Shaq Lawson, too. It’s a good problem to have for a defense that already leads the NFL in sacks. But the Bills don’t need to rush into a decision.
Why the Bills don’t need Von Miller to be ‘Macho Man’ in return from ACL injury
Graham: Buffalo’s defensive line is so good that I’d still take my time with Miller. The unit has sensational chemistry. Although he did confess to being depressed over not playing and he is getting paid a lot, there’s no reason to play Miller just because he’s allowed to return. I’m not saying Miller would disrupt the D-line’s success. He’s a veteran who’s seen it all and done it all and has been around these guys for almost two years. But who do you sit for him? Somebody from a different position group? Rousseau’s foot injury (he didn’t practice Wednesday) could make the decision easier for McDermott. Maybe Rousseau and Miller can split the workload, but that doesn’t solve the question of who not to issue a uniform.
How ready are you to say Josh Allen has figured it out?
Fairburn: I’m just about ready. Ultimately what Allen needs to prove will never come in September or October, and he knows that. He needs to play his best against the toughest defenses with the season on the line in January. But he’s made that Monday night meltdown seem like a distant memory. He rebounded with back-to-back efficient games against the Raiders and Commanders and then had an electric five-touchdown showing against the Dolphins. He’s also done all of this without putting himself in harm’s way very often the last three weeks. There’s always fear that some of those habits he showed against the Jets could creep into his game, but this has been an impressive turnaround.
Graham: Two AFC Player of the Week Awards in three games is impressive. And I can reconcile the notion Robert Saleh simply has Allen’s number. But other quarterbacks don’t melt down against the Jets like Allen did. While the occasional implosion happens to even legendary throwers, Allen descends into a dark place against the Jets, one of the NFL’s most beatable teams. Rattled against a great defense on the national, primetime stage on Sept. 11 with the New York City skyline in the distance … Sure, nerves will get the better of many men; that’s no great sin. But what kind of opponent and what kind of emotional pressure must Allen endure if he reaches the Super Bowl? I want to see him deal with more over a longer period before I can forget what I saw at the Meadowlands.
— Buffalo Bills (@BuffaloBills) October 4, 2023
The Bills have reclaimed their place as one of the top teams in the AFC. So outside of the Chiefs, which AFC teams are going to present the biggest problem for the Bills?
Fairburn: At the beginning of the season, the AFC looked like it was going to be a gauntlet. It’s looking a lot shakier after four weeks. The Jets aren’t a factor because of their quarterback play. The Jaguars haven’t gotten rolling on offense. The Bengals aren’t going to be the Bengals until Joe Burrow is healthy. The Chargers have found their footing after an 0-2 start but aren’t in the same class as the Bills. The Chiefs and Bills look like the two best teams in the conference, and I’d say the Ravens and Dolphins are the most serious contenders among the next tier. But we just saw what the Bills did to the Dolphins, and McDermott has had success against Lamar Jackson in the past, too.
Graham: After seeing what the Bills did Sunday, the Bills deserve to be near the top of every power poll out there. They dispatched the Dolphins with such ease that they returned to AFC East supremacy — the Jets disaster notwithstanding. Nobody in the AFC South looks like a serious problem, and the AFC North has been a schmozzle of blerg aside from the Ravens, who lost to the Colts just two weeks ago. The Chargers can answer pressing questions after this weekend’s bye, with their next two games against the Cowboys and Chiefs. But the most intimidating AFC teams to me at the moment are Kansas City and Buffalo, and I don’t know if there’s a third.
(Photo: Timothy T Ludwig / Getty Images)