After the Buffalo Bills return from their bye week, they will be greeted by back-to-back home games and a golden opportunity to get their season back on track after losing at Cincinnati.
But those games at New Era Field are against Tampa Bay (2-2) and Oakland (2-3), two teams with talented rosters if not the records to show for it so far in 2017. Both clubs are led by two of the better young quarterbacks in the NFL.
The Buccaneers’ Jameis Winston is at the controls of the NFL’s third-best passing attack while Oakland’s Derek Carr, who led the Raiders to a 12-4 record a year ago, is expected to return this week from a back injury and face the Los Angeles Chargers.
That means all those EJ Manuel fans out there won’t get to greet the former Bills starter and Raiders backup. Then again, if Carr’s back acts up?
No question Buffalo will be facing Oakland at a good time. The Raiders’ offense has tailed off from sixth to 30th in yardage and seventh to 16th in points scored without a healthy Carr and receiver Amari Cooper struggling.
Tampa Bay is a different story.
Winston, the 2013 Heisman Trophy winner, went pass for pass with Tom Brady last week in a 19-14 loss and has a strong stable of receivers in Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson, Adam Humphries and tight ends Cameron Brate and rookie O.J. Howard. It makes for a great matchup against Buffalo’s strong secondary, led by safety Micah Hyde, who leads the NFL with four interceptions. The Bills have the top-scoring defense at just 14.8 points per game.
Offense remains Buffalo's New York Times crossword puzzle.
The Bills have the NFL’s 29th-ranked passing attack at 165 yards per game so while taking advantage of Tampa Bay’s 31st-ranked pass defense seems juicy, it’s not likely, not with Tyrod Taylor missing his two top receivers in Jordan Matthews (thumb) and Charles Clay (knee).
Buffalo does plan to spend its bye figuring out how to get its running attack in gear; the Bills have led the NFL in rushing two years running but rank 16th this season. LeSean McCoy is averaging a full two yards less per carry.
And there’s this: The Buccaneers have the league’s No. 8-ranked run defense, forcing teams to throw on them 63 more times than they’ve run the ball.
Buffalo’s once-stable line has been an issue with left tackle Cordy Glenn injured, forcing rookie Dion Dawkins into action. Last Sunday against Cincinnati, starting right guard John Miller was replaced by veteran free agent Vlad Ducasse. That move made nobody's radar screen.
Flying in the face of the one-game-at-a-time mantra, here’s our weekly look at the rest of the Bills’ schedule:
Oct. 22, Tampa Bay (2-2). Last week: lost to New England 19-14. This week: at Arizona (2-3). Jameis Winston went pass for pass with Tom Brady and didn’t throw a pick. Bucs, who should be above .500 after facing slumping Arizona, will be a tough test at home for Bills.
Oct. 29, Oakland (2-3). Last week: lost to Baltimore 30-17. This week: host L.A. Chargers (1-4). The Raiders are on a three-game losing streak but could get QB Derek Carr back this week. When Amari Cooper’s hands return is anybody’s guess.
Nov. 2, at NY Jets (3-2). Last week: beat Cleveland 17-14. This week: host New England (3-2). The Jets were outgained 419-212 by winless Browns and still won. Trip to Foxboro will be reality check for Josh McCown and Co.
Nov. 12, New Orleans (2-2). Last week: bye. This week: host Detroit (3-2). Drew Brees will be well rested for his showdown with Matt Stafford. The two gunslingers have 17 touchdowns and one interception combined. Stafford will play with thigh and ankle injuries.
Nov. 19, at L.A. Chargers (1-4). Last week: beat New York Giants 27-22. This week: at Oakland (2-3). Ex-Bills offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn picked up his first win last week and is catching AFC West rival Raiders at a good time. Chargers run defense has to improve.
Nov. 26, at Kansas City (5-0). Last week: beat Houston 42-34. This week: host Pittsburgh (3-2). With rookie running back Kareem Hunt and return man Tyreek Hill, Chiefs’ speed and explosiveness is scary.
Dec. 3, Dec. 24, New England (3-2). Last week: beat Tampa Bay 19-14. This week: host New York Jets (3-2). NFL’s worst defense feeling better after holding Buccaneers to two touchdowns. Patriots offense is ranked No. 1 in yards at 419.4 per game.
Dec. 10, Indianapolis (2-3). Last week: beat San Francisco 26-23. This week: at Tennessee (2-3). Andrew Luck-less Colts giving up an NFL-high 31.8 points per game, but were still good enough to beat winless 49ers.
Dec. 17, Dec. 31 Miami (2-2). Last week: beat Tennessee 16-10. This week: at Atlanta (3-1). Dolphins get a rested Matt Ryan and Julio Jones (hip) who lost to Bills last time out.
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