BBD Staff Writer: Eric Samulski
Hopes were raised for Buffalo Bills fans as the team had a chance to make a run and claim the final playoff spot in the AFC by putting together a late-season win streak. The playoffs are now even more of a long shot, however, after the Bills gave a potential win away—twice—at the end of the fourth quarter and in overtime against the Atlanta Falcons last week.
Buffalo’s mentality should turn toward finishing the season on a positive note and building momentum as a young team. After a loss in Toronto, the team heads to Tampa Bay on to take on a Buccaneers team full of players and coaches fighting to keep jobs.
In truth, the Buccaneers are better than their 3-9 record. They lost to the New York Jets on a costly personal foul penalty by Lavonte David that set up the Jets’ game-winning field goal one play later. They suffered a two-point loss to the 9-3 New Orleans Saints, three-point defeat at the hands of the 7-5 Arizona Cardinals and a three-point loss to the 11-1 Seattle Seahawks on the road. Tampa Bay’s schedule has been much tougher than the Bills, and having won three of their last four games, the Buccaneers are ripe to test the fragile Bills when the two teams meet Sunday for their respective Week 14 game.
EJ Manuel’s continued development
The Bills need to focus on growth. Nowhere is that more important than at the quarterback position. EJ Manuel has been unable to put back-to-back strong games together, and despite Marrone and his coaching staff claiming that they encouraged Manuel to take more chances, Manuel spent most of the Atlanta game checking down or throwing inaccurate passes.
He is still Buffalo’s quarterback of the future and has shown enough flashes this year to make Bills fans believe the talent is there for him to be truly successful. He needs to make plays more consistently, however, if fans are going to believe he is the one that can take the Bills back to the playoffs. He has an easy schedule coming up, so if he can’t do it against these teams, it is going to be another offseason of uncertainty under center for the Bills.
Vincent Jackson’s health
Vincent Jackson, Tampa Bay’s No. 1 wide receiver, has been limited in practice this week with a hamstring injury according to Tampa Bay’s injury report. If he plays this Sunday, he is unlikely to be at 100 percent.
Jackson’s health is crucial, given that he is Tampa Bay’s most dominant offensive player. He has 61 receptions for 963 yards and five touchdowns. Jackson has commanded considerable attention from defenses, and Tampa Bay rookie quarterback Mike Glennon has been locked in on him consistently, so losing him for the game or having him play inefficiently would be a major blow to Tampa Bay’s hopes of solid offensive production.
A change at the tight end position?
Tight end Scott Chandler’s future with the team was already uncertain before his costly fumble in overtime against Atlanta. Earlier this week, the Bills signed Tony Moaeki, an athletic 26-year-old tight end who had solid production in the 2010 and 2012 seasons for the Kansas City Chiefs, but missed the entire 2011 season with a knee injury and has not yet played this season due a to shoulder injury.
According to Chris Brown of BuffaloBills.com, the Bills are “trying to force feed (Moaeki) as much of their playbook as possible so as to more effectively evaluate how well he can fit in Buffalo’s offensive scheme.” The Bills could be looking to get Moaeki on the field as soon as possible to see what they have going forward in their new addition.
Matchups to Watch
Stephon Gilmore vs. Vincent Jackson
Assuming he is healthy, Jackson will be a tough matchup for Bills cornerback Stephon Gilmore, who has struggled in his second season to take advantage of the promise he showed late in his rookie season. A large, physical target who can go up and get a pass at the point of attack or break a long play in space, Jackson is one of the NFL’s best receivers. Gilmore’s sophomore season has been hurt by a preseason wrist injury, which has forced him to play with a heavily-taped wrist and has sapped him some of his typical physicality, but it is taking him too long to get back on track.
Buffalo’s No. 2 cornerback Leodis McKelvin is turning in a career year, but Gilmore needs to step up his game, especially this week against Jackson.
Stevie Johnson vs. Darrelle Revis
Tampa Bay cornerback Darrelle Revis, the NFL’s best player at his position, versus any wide receiver will always be a key matchup. This one is especially interesting, given the veteran leadership roles both he and Bills wide receiver Stevie Johnson have.
Last week’s overtime loss to the falcons, a killer to the Bills’ playoff hopes, was the type of loss that can break a young team. Going on the road to take on a team with something to prove is never an easy way to follow that up.
However, I think the Bills have enough veteran leadership and talent on both sides of the ball to respond. I think Tampa Bay’s limited offensive weapons, and Buffalo’s ability to make plays on both sides of the ball, could lead to a close win.
Bills 23, Buccaneers 20