The game may be blacked out in Western New York, but that doesn’t mean the Broncos vs. Bills contest isn’t important. With a win here and a loss by Oakland, the Broncos will clinch a playoff berth – their first since 2005. The Bills lead the series 18-15-1, and they won their most recent matchup in 2008. The Broncos are coming off of a loss to the Patriots, but it’s the Bills that are on a greater downward slide with seven consecutive losses. Here’s a breakdown of the matchup:
Broncos: The Broncos can run all day long on the Bills. The Bills weakness plays into the greatest strength of the Broncos. The team is leading the league in rushing with 163.1 yards per game. They had that total in the first quarter against the Patriots last week. The key for the Broncos is to hold on to the ball. Tim Tebow has shown that he can be as much a threat in the air as he is on the ground. However, the team’s three second quarter turnovers dug them an early grave against the Patriots. The Broncos are -7 in turnover differential. When playing away from home, converting in the red zone is the most important aspect for an offense. The Broncos are converting 48.4% of the time when deep in their opponents territory.
Bills: The Bills are not a bad offensive team by any means. They are 13th in rushing and 15th in passing. They have a lot of individual talent on their roster with Stevie Johnson and C.J. Spiller. Ryan Fitzpatrick is a solid QB and he gets the ball out of his hands quickly. He’s only been sacked 19 times this season. The only other QB that has played in 14 games and has been sacked less is Matt Hasselbeck with 15 sacks. Fitzpatrick is prone to throwing picks. He leads the league with 19 interceptions on the season (He has 22 TDs).
Broncos: Even if the Broncos can’t sack Fitzpatrick, applying pressure to him is key. He will make the mistakes if the Broncos pass rush is effective. That will be key in saving on the veteran secondary. Brian Dawkins and Andre Goodman will be coming back from injuries and they will be going up against a young and talented receiving corp. The Broncos are 20th against the rush and against the pass. They are also 6th in sacks.
Bills: For the Bills it will be all about stopping the rush. They are 29th against the rush and 16th against the pass. This is where the Broncos can milk the clock by slowly moving the chains. A big run here and there will open up the play action pass and Tebow can take shots down the field to let Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas make plays on the ball. The Bills are 12th in interceptions, but they have absolutely no pass rush. They’re 32nd in sacks. Nick Barnett leads the team in tackles, No. 3 overall draft pick Marcell Dareus leads the team in sacks (6), and George Wilson leads the team in interceptions (4).
Broncos: You better believe that Lonie Paxton, Britton Colquitt, and Matt Prater worked their tails off this week after a failed extra point attempt last week. Making the Bills work a long field will be important.
Bills: The Bills are 4th in the league in kick return average. Brad Smith and C.J. Spiller are dangerous return men. Punter Brian Moorman is one spot behind Britton Colquitt in punting average with 48.4 yards per punt.
Broncos: John Fox has told his team that they hold their destiny in their own hands. He took his team out to Buffalo a day early to get acclimated to a new time zone and the early kickoff. The Broncos are 5-2 on the road this season so Coach Fox’s approach seems to work.
Bills: Chan Gailey is 9-21 as the Bills coach yet his job isn’t on the line right now. It helped that he started 5-2 before being hit with injuries. Poor draft after poor draft has hurt this Bills team and puts them a long ways from being a contender in the AFC East.
Prediction: Broncos – 31 Bills – 20.