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Saturday Preview: Carolina Panthers vs. Buffalo Bills

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The often joked about (but quite possible) Buffalo Bills farm team, the Carolina Panthers, will make their way up north this weekend for a game in Orchard Park. Since Sean McDermott took over in 2017, the Bills have used Carolina to poach front office and on-field talent. It makes some wonder if the “Carolina Bills” would be a more appropriate name for the franchise that is often looking to former players and coaches that Sean McDermott has worked with. Any leftover warm feelings towards the organization will have to be put aside as the Bills are in must-win mode. Let’s take a look at the matchup.

The Last Five

Panthers 9 Bills 3 (2017)
Bills 24 Panthers 23 (2013)
Bills 20 Panthers 9 (2009)
Panthers 13 Bills 9 (2005)
Bills 25 Panthers 24 (2001)

The Bills and Panthers have only played seven times and the Bills lead the series 5-2. I don’t recall a recent game between these two where both teams would be considered good. Their last game was Sean McDermott’s first loss as coach of the Buffalo Bills, a 9-3 defeat back in 2017. One of the most exciting games was the 2013 game, which was E.J. Manuel’s first career win as he lead the team down the field for a last second touchdown pass to Stevie Johnson. What a difference eight years makes, huh? So long ago, but yet it seems like yesterday.

What To Watch For: Buffalo Bills

Have They Arrived?

Over the final 30 minutes of regulation last week, we saw the Buffalo Bills that we have been waiting to see since last season. The Bills offense, defense, and special teams were dominant in the second half against the defending champs. They shut down Tom Brady and tore through the Bucs’ defense. While their comeback bid fell short, the players seem to think they finally found “themselves” and their identity that has been missing for the entirety of this year.

If the Bills have arrived, it is just in time for their final playoff push. They are playing another lackluster opponent this week. Anything besides a dominant win will once again have the world believing what the team has showed for much of the year: that they are more “pretenders” than “contenders”.

Allen’s Health

There was never much concern about Allen’s availability this week, despite leaving Raymond James Stadium in a walking boot last Sunday. Allen vowed to play through the pain and that is exactly what he will do, with the team announcing he is in line to start. The Bills need Allen to be on the MVP level he showed in the second half last Sunday. So his health will be something to take note of down the stretch and into the playoffs, if the Bills are to make it.

This injury has the possibility to linger for Allen, especially considering how physically he plays the game. Despite how much their offense clicked last week, do we see Brian Daboll call a more conservative game for Allen knowing that he is just a week removed from the injury? It might be a wise thing to do.

Just Win

Let’s be honest, no fan questioned if the Buffalo Bills were going to make the playoffs entering this season. There wasn’t a question of “if” the team would have a home playoff game, but ”how many” home games would they have. It was “how early in the season” would the Bills lock up the #1 seed in the conference.

Now let’s actually be honest, the Bills could very well miss the playoffs this year. The 2021 season could go down as the most disappointing in team history. The Bills told us after the bye the team had to start “stacking wins”. They haven’t.

We all want to see a three-phase dominant win on Sunday. But, at this point for Sean McDermott and his team, the only thing they should care about is that the scoreboard has at least one more point for them than the Panthers by 4 pm on Sunday. The Bills need to do whatever it takes to get back in the win column and give themselves the best chance to make the postseason.

What To Watch For: Carolina Panthers

Earlier this week, Matt Rhule said the Panthers would be using two quarterbacks against the Bills: Cam Newton and P.J. Walker. As the saying goes, “if you have two quarterbacks, you don’t have a quarterback”. The Bills can expect to see Cam for the majority of the game as he does give the Panthers a better chance to win than Walker.

The Bills should also have a good idea on how to defend Newton because of McDermott’s familiarity with him, both as Carolina’s DC and having faced him twice last year when he was starting for the Patriots. The Panthers bringing back Newton has not gone as planned for the team. Carolina is on a three game losing streak and at risk of missing the playoffs for the fourth straight season.

Ball Security

The Carolina Panthers have started Sam Darnold, P.J. Walker, and Cam Newton this year, but one issue remains: ball security. None of those three quarterbacks have more touchdown passes than interceptions. The Panthers are ranked 28th in turnover differential this year, having committed a turnover in 11 of their 13 games so far. When the turnover storm comes around, it tends to pour for Carolina, as the Panthers have two or more turnovers in 7 of those 11 games. The Bills have one of the best secondaries in the league and the Panthers aren’t sure who their starting quarterback should be. It wouldn’t be a stretch to think that ball security might be an issue again on Sunday.

DJ Moore Injury

The Panthers’ best offensive weapon is wide receiver D.J. Moore. Moore is listed as questionable for this game with a hamstring injury, having been a limited participant in practice all week. If Moore can go, it will provide a huge lift for an offense that is in search of playmakers. Moore is 62 yards away from recording his third straight 1,000 yard season. Moore’s production is more impressive after learning that the their next leading receiver, Robby Anderson, has just 372 yards. Moore has been doing it on his own without production for him teammates to lighten his load. Without Moore on Sunday, the Carolina Panthers could find themselves struggling to move the ball consistently.

Prediction: Bills 36 Panthers 16

The more I dove into this week’s matchup, the more I was persuaded that the Bills will win this game easily. The Panthers are reeling, going 2-8 since their 3-0 start. They are dealing with some injuries on both sides of the ball and have no real answer at quarterback. The Bills seemed to have found their identity in their overtime loss to the Buccaneers. Unless Allen’s foot injury flares up during the game, I think we see the team pick up where they left off last week.

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