Friday Preview: Buffalo Bills vs. Denver Broncos

Sixty minutes. That is all that separates the Bills from their first AFC East title since 1995. Thanks to their performance up to this point, the Bills are in a position that many teams crave: controlling their own destiny. One win in their final three games will earn them the division title and a home playoff game. One loss in the Dolphins’ final three games does the same for the Bills, but of course, every team wants to finish it off on their own, and that is exactly what the Bills will look to do Saturday evening. Let’s take a look at the matchup for the Bills.

The Last Five

Bills 20 Broncos 3 (2019)
Bills 26 Broncos 16 (2017)
Broncos 24 Bills 17 (2014)
Bills 40 Broncos 14 (2011)
Bills 30 Broncos 23 (2008)

It always surprises me how few times the Bills play certain teams, especially being in the same conference. These two teams have only met four times this decade. History favors the Bills in their head-to-head matchups with the Broncos. The Bills lead this series 22-16-1 all-time, and Sean McDermott is 2-0 against Denver in his career.

What To Watch For: Bills

Takeaways on the rise – Lock has the highest bad throw percentage in the league at 25% and the lowest on-target percentage at 68%. Since a quarter of Lock’s passes are considered “bad”, the Bills will want to force the Broncos into as many passing situations as possible. They can achieve this by getting off to a fast start on offense and putting the Broncos down multiple scores early in the game, something that the Bills have done many times to their opponents this year. If the Bills can do that and force Lock to throw the ball more times than the game plan calls for, then you can bet the Bills defense will have some opportunities to continue forcing turnovers. Drew Lock said this week that if his reads take him to Tre’Davious White and he needs to throw the ball then he won’t second guess throwing in White’s direction. Sounds good to us, Drew!

Altitude – A lot is made of the altitude when teams travel to Denver to take on the Broncos. Empower Field at Mile High, where the Broncos call home, stands at 5,280 feet above sea level, hence the name mile high. Too much might be made of the elevation, as the Broncos have accumulated an average 10-12 record at home the past few years, including a 2-4 record this year. The science behind it lies within the concentration of oxygen. At sea-level, the concentration of oxygen is 20.9 percent, which is where the human body performs at maximum efficiency. Naturally, when you increase elevation, the lower the concentration gets. Despite the subpar record at home, the Broncos tout the location of their stadium indicating that it presents, “numerous physical and mental challenges that are always part of an opponent’s game plan.” The game-changer for the Bills: Josh Allen. Allen is no stranger to the high elevation, as he played his college ball in Laramie, Wyoming. The elevation there? 7,165 feet. That is 1,885 feet higher than where Allen will play on Sunday.

AFC East Title – While Josh Allen will continue his case for the greatest season by a Bills quarterback, and Stefon Diggs will break Eric Moulds’ record for receptions in a season on Saturday evening, if the Bills win, the only storyline that will come out of this game is the AFC East title. The 2020 Bills season has been very cathartic for the Bills franchise, as they are slowly knocking down barriers that alluded them for so long. 300-yard passer? Check. Beating the Patriots? Check. Win on Monday Night Football? Check. Beat an elite AFC team? Check. Up next is the hurdle that seemed nearly impossible before Sean McDermott and Beane arrived in town. With a win against Denver, the Bills will leave Colorado with a home-playoff game locked up. Considering how far away this franchise was just a short time ago, this would be the biggest storyline to come out of this football game.

What To Watch For: Broncos

A New Lock – I have been listening to a lot of national sports radio this week, and Drew Lock has been getting a ton of love. Broncos fans think this a game that they have a legitimate shot at winning because of the play of Drew Lock. Lock is coming off of the best game of his career, posting a 21/27 280yds and 4 TD stat line. He was named the NFL FedEx Air Player of the week for his performance against Carolina. The problem with Drew Lock is that his performance last week was much more of an outlier than a trend in the right direction. As mentioned above, Drew Lock has a tendency to struggle with his accuracy down the field. Nearly 18% of Lock’s passes travel 20 or more yards downfield, a category that he leads the league in. The problem is, he has the lowest quarterback rating in the league for passes that travel 20 or more yards. One might question the Broncos’ approach for continuing to force something on offense that isn’t yielding the best results. This game will tell us a lot about Lock’s progression, as he tries to build on last week’s performance.

Hurtin’ Secondary – Decimated wouldn’t even begin to describe the Denver Broncos secondary right now. For starters, previous starting CB, AJ Bouye, is currently suspended for his use of PEDs, and Bryce Callahan is on IR with a foot injury. While Broncos fans were thrilled to see Drew Lock’s performance against the Panthers, the win came at a cost for their defense as they lost two more cornerbacks to serious injuries in the win. Both Duke Dawson and Kevin Toliver tore their ACL’s in Sunday’s win. Dawson also tore his LCL and sprained his MCL in a non-contact injury. Competitive advantages aside, those are gut-wrenching injuries for professional athletes, and you have to feel for them. The Broncos will start rookie Michael Ojemudia, De’Vante Bausby, a former undrafted free agent, Will Parks, a converted safety, and Nate Hairston, a practice-squad player into their lineup. Out of that crew, rookie Ojemudia has the most experience this year for Denver. If the Broncos win this football game, it will be because an entire cornerback unit came off of the bench to stymie Josh Allen, Stefon Diggs, Cole Beasley, and Gabriel Davis.

Two-Headed Rushing Attack – The best route for the Broncos to pull off an upset tomorrow is through the ground game, following the pattern that has been shown to work against the Bills this year in their three defeats. Since the bye week, the Bills’ run defense has been much stronger, playing a key role in their win last week against the Steelers. Even with the recent strong performances, this issue could creep back up for the Bills at a moment’s notice. The Broncos will look to get their two-headed rushing attack of Melvin Gordon and Phillip Lindsay going early, taking the pressure off of Drew Lock. Surprisingly, the Broncos only average 117 yards per game on the ground and neither of them has had the best of seasons, with injuries keeping a lid on their explosiveness. Even this week, both players continue to be banged up with both being listed on their injury report. Still, when you have players that can break open a game with one play, it demands the attention of the opponent. The Broncos will be looking to feed these two early and often.

Prediction

Bills 39 Broncos 21 Some fans are thinking this be could be a trap game for the Bills, but after taking a deeper dive into this team, I just don’t see the Bills losing this football game. Over the last four seasons, Sean McDermott and Leslie Frazier have rarely lost to below-average quarterbacks. That, combined with the injuries to the Broncos’ secondary, has me thinking this game could get away from Denver quickly. The Bills are riding high this week, getting hours of airtime in the media with back-to-back wins on the national stage, which vaulted them into the AFC contender discussion. I bet the Bills fly home with a 25-year burden off of their backs; and if that happens, I’d also be willing to bet they will be greeted at the airport by fans who have been there every step of the way.

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