Game Preview: Minnesota Vikings vs. Buffalo Bills
Halfway through the season, the Buffalo Bills are still the #1 seed in the AFC. You wouldn’t have known that by getting the pulse of the fanbase this week, though. After another ugly loss to a division rival and an injury to Josh Allen, there were times this week when it felt like things were unraveling over at One Bills Drive. The feelings from last week will quickly dissipate with a Bills win on Sunday. So let’s dive into something we only get every four seasons: a rare Vikings-Bills matchup.
The Last Five
Bills 27 Vikings 6 (2018)
Bills 17 Vikings 16 (2014)
Vikings 38 Bills 14 (2010)
Bills 17 Bills 12 (2006)
Bills 45 Vikings 39 OT (2002)
The Vikings lead the overall head-to-head 8-6, but the Bills have four the last five matchups. The last two are notable for Bills fans: the Sammy Watkins buzzer beater game and Josh Allen’s first career win. The latter game featured first “Allen Hurdle” which has now become a national phenomenon. There is a very good chance this week is known as the ”Keenum game” when we look back in four years.
What To Watch For: Buffalo Bills
Allen or Keenum – The biggest question mark going into this game is at quarterback. Will Josh Allen, listed as day-to-day, be able to play while nursing his elbow injury? Or will the Bills have to turn to Case Keenum? As of Friday, Allen hasn’t practiced and had just been seen at practice in an elbow brace. If Allen does play, he has to be better. The last six quarters of football we have seen from Allen has been the worst we have seen in years. Allen has four interceptions in the last two games; two in the red zone, and all of them equally puzzling from the MVP-candidate. If Case Keenum is forced into the lineup, you couldn’t have written a better script.
The Bills traded for their backup quarterback, something teams rarely do, to ensure that they had one of the best backups in the league if Allen missed time. If he plays, Keenum’s first start would be against his former team, with the other half of the “Minneapolis Miracle”, Stefon Diggs, lining up with him once again.
The Plan at WR2 – One of the many things that have caught Bills fans’ ire this week has been the play of Gabriel Davis, and the overall lack of production out of Buffalo’s WRs (not named Diggs). Davis’ drops have been noteworthy and a talking point this week; he currently ranks 7th in the league with a 10.5% drop rate. The word all offseason was that Isaiah McKenzie was primed to take over in the slot. While he has had some nice plays this year, he is struggling to gain separation. Preseason standout Khalil Shakir stepped up when he was called upon in the Steelers game, but has been quiet since.
The Bills’ WR woes only add fuel to the Odell Beckham Jr. rumors. While we might not get the best reading this week with Allen injured, WR2 is a position where the Bills will have to see elevated play if they want to achieve the goals they have for themselves this year.
Run Game – The Jets have a fantastic defensive line, so it is understandable why the Bills didn’t turn to Singletary and the run game when Allen was struggling last week. Instead, they used Allen’s legs as their running game threat. And, while it worked for some big plays, the Bills know that they must improve their ground game going forward. Sean McDermott spoke once again this week about not being one dimensional and the importance of the run game.
This week, the Buffalo Bills would love to get the run game going and prove that they can win football games in other ways when the situation calls for it. The Vikings rank 10th in the league, surrendering an average of 111 rushing yards per game. Oddly enough, with the timing of Allen’s injury, their passing defense is one of the worst in the league — ranked 27th. But the injury to Allen might make the Bills reconsider their plan of attack for this week.
What To Watch For: Minnesota Vikings
Justin Jefferson – As much as I hate to admit it because I feel like it justifies the Vikings’ insane decision to trade Stefon Diggs, Justin Jefferson is one of the best receivers in the NFL. Halfway through the season, Jefferson already has 867 yards on 59 receptions. While he is below his 10-touchdown pace from last year, Jefferson has the ability to blow a game wide open. He will draw a tough assignment this week, as the Bills hope to get CB Tre’Davious White back for the first time in nearly a year. Jefferson vs. White will be a battle to watch all day, and will go a long way in determining the winner of this game.
Cook Ready To Cook – After watching the Buffalo Bills run defense on tape from the past two weeks, Dalvin Cook must be licking his chops. He is off to a slower start this year than many anticipated, but is still a threat to make a play whenever the ball is in his hands. Cook is coming off of his second worse game of the year, averaging only 2.76 yards per rush against Washington. Cook is due for a breakout game. The combination of facing his younger brother for the first time and a struggling Bills run defense could result in the breakout day that Viking fans and fantasy owners have been hoping for.
Due For a Loss? – The Vikings have been incredibly good in one score games this year. They are 7-1 on the season and have won six games in a row. Here’s the kicker: all six wins on their current streak have been by one score. The Bills know more than anyone that sometimes one-score wins and losses can be fluky. After sneaking by some teams in the past few months, the Vikings might be due for a change in fortune.
Bills 23 Vikings 17 This prediction is based on Case Keenum starting the game in place of Josh Allen. Regardless of quarterback, I think the Buffalo Bills have assembled a roster strong enough to beat this lucky Vikings team. Assuming he plays, I think White’s return will be noticeable on the defensive side. Additionally, I think the Bills will have more success running the ball and Keenum will connect on enough passes for the Bills to win this one.
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