ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — Coaches love to remind us they never look at their team’s schedule in chunks. They serve up the, “We take them one game at a time,” line as if the rest of us can’t possibly comprehend the logic of focusing only on the here and now.
Of course, we can. We simply choose not to because it’s far more interesting to look ahead. They deal with the pressures and scrutiny that go with coaching. We get to do the fun stuff.
And if coaches are being totally honest, they would admit they, too, look beyond the game at hand. Their actions say so loud and clear. What they show and which players they play are always influenced, in some way, by future opponents. Sometimes, it’s a case of taking a minimal approach against a poor team as means of preservation for a better one. Sometimes, it’s a case of sprinkling in schematic adjustments just for the take of forcing another club to spend time preparing for them.
But coaches want to keep everyone else, especially their players, with the eye on the immediate prize.
In the case of the Bills, it’s impossible to look at Sunday’s game against the Indianapolis Colts without looking at the three games that follow: at New Orleans on Thanksgiving night, at Highmark Stadium on Dec. 6 for a Monday Night Football clash with the New England Patriots, and at Tampa Bay on Dec. 12.
This four-game stretch figures to go a long way toward determining the complexion of the Bills’ season. Whether the widely held assumption they’ll win another AFC East championship becomes a reality is on the line here. So, too, is whether they will end up with a first-round bye and home-field advantage through the playoffs.
The Colts will present the biggest challenge the Bills’ outstanding defense has faced since the Oct. 18 loss at Tennessee. On that night, Derrick Henry, the best running back in the NFL, trampled Buffalo’s D and helped the Titans to a 34-31 victory.
On Sunday, the Bills face Jonathan Taylor, the second-best running back in the league and a player capable of doing plenty of trampling of his own. He ranks third in the NFL with nine rushing touchdowns, he leads the league with 1,240 yards from scrimmage and is second only to Cleveland’s Nick Chubb with 5.8 yards per carrying among backs with 50-plus rushing attempts.
Quarterback Carson Wentz is capable of delivering game-breaking plays with his arm. He and Josh Allen are two of the five players in the league with three-plus touchdowns and zero interceptions on deep passes outside the numbers. Wentz has a passer rating of 128.6 on such throws.
The quick turnaround for the Saints game will, in itself, be difficult for both teams and require a streamlined game plan because of the lack of practice time. The Patriots are 7-4 and looking more and more as if they’ll push the Bills hard for the division crown. And then there are the Bucs and – yup – Tom Brady, who has spent the bulk of his career beating the Bills.
A 4-0 run is entirely possible and perhaps needed to give the Bills their best chance of overtaking the Titans for conference superiority. If the Bills come out of this with three wins – which is probably more likely – that, too, would put them in the solid shape of the final four games of the regular season.
Again, those of us who don’t coach or play don’t have to take them “one at a time.”