Where There’s a Bill, There’s A Way

The Denver Broncos, after decimating the Kansas City Chiefs 29-16 on NBC’s Sunday Night Football, and getting a solid from the Green Bay Packers, are now in solid position looking at the Superbowl odds for at least a bye in the first round of the AFC playoffs.

With that said, the Buffalo Bills, at 7-5, and fresh off of a 26-10 decimation of Cleveland last Sunday, make a foray out to INVESCO Field at Mile High Stadium this weekend for what could easily be the game of the day in the AFC.

I do not believe this to be  a trap game for the Broncos, because they have a lot on the line, as if they defeat Buffalo and the San Diego Chargers upset the New England Patriots, they are the #1 seed in the AFC for the time being. Thus, there is plenty on the line for both teams, but with that said, Buffalo is an imposing and highly worthy opponent for the current AFC West leaders.

The Bills are not flashy, but their defensive statistics are highly impressive, as profootballfocus.com alludes to here, giving the defensive line, for Sunday’s performance, a highly propitious grade: .

In any case, this is the type of performance that has been par for the course for the Bills all season, as they are #2 in scoring defense (18.1 points allowed per game), #5 in net yardage (312.4 yards per game), #5 in passing yards (216.1 yards per game), #7 in rushing yards (96.3 yards per game).

In addition to this, the Bills’ 48 sacks are tops in the NFL, 6 more than second-place Philadelphia with 42 sacks so in any case, they have been highly effective in applying pressure on the opposing signal-caller.

Now, to me, this is something simply amazing, among the NFL’s top 12 sack artists are three Bills defenders, including defensive end Mario Williams (12 sacks), defensive tackle Marcell Dareus (10 sacks) and defensive end Jerry Hughes (9.5 sacks), so the colloquial  term, “Bills Mafia,” (applied to both fans and the defense) greatly applies here.

Putting pressure on the quarterback often results in the Bills feasting on mistakes made my opposing offenses as they are a healthy +9 in turnover ratio, fourth in the NFL, trailing only Green Bay, Houston and New England in that department.

Cornerback Leodis McKelvin (4 INT’s) and safety De’Norris Searcy (3 INT’s) have been particularly effective in the secondary, confirming that there are no weak spots on this defense. Other standouts include defensive back Corey Graham (11 passes defended) and linebacker Nigel Bradham (56 tackles, 5 passes defended, 2.5 sacks).

This game also brings  a return to the Mountain Time Zone for Bills kicker Dan Carpenter (a native of Helena, Mont.) who has made 27 of 31 field goals (87.1 percent, 13th in the NFL) who will likely benefit from getting to kick in the rarefied air at 5,280 feet.

The defense compensates in many instances for an offense that Bills fans themselves have told me is “below pedestrian” in my interactions with them this week through various social media platforms.

However, after taking over for an ineffective E.J. Manuel in Week 5, which turned out to be a 17-14 win over the Detroit Lions at Ford Field, former Broncos signal-caller Kyle Orton has gone 5-3 in his first eight starts.

Additionally, Orton has tossed for 2,000 yards, 13 TD’s and 5 INT’s while completing 64.3 percent of his passes. As always, he does more good things than bad but cannot escape the fact that he is not an elite signal-caller like the Broncos’ Peyton Manning.

The Bills are led on the ground by tailbacks Fred Jackson (89 car, 351 yards, 2 TD’s) and Anthony “Boobie” Dixon (86 car, 357 yards, 2 TD’s) and the passing game is bolstered by receivers Sammy Watkins (51 rec, 695 yards, 5 TD’s) and Robert Woods (49 rec, 550 yards, 3 TD’s).

The Bills’ secondary will, of course, be tested by Manning, who has an NFL-best 36 touchdowns against just only 9 interceptions, still throwing more than four touchdown passes for every interception so even in a “below-average” game for him as many fans believed the Kansas City game was, he is playing at a high level.

As the season progresses, he will only be further blessed if the revitalized running game with C.J. Anderson (335 rushing yards, 2 total touchdowns) is able to produce as it has the past couple of weeks. Since a 22-7 loss to the St. Louis Rams November 16, the Broncos have run for 207.5 yards per game the last two weeks.

During Sunday night’s broadcast NBC’s Cris Collinsworth said that if the Broncos can run the ball like this, they’ll almost be impossible to stop so those in the know have also made definitive statements about this team’s potential moving forward.

The passing game is, of course, still dangerous as it is 2nd in the NFL, posting 304.4 yards per game, and the offense averages 30.1 yards per game, fifth in NFL annals and Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas have remained crucial factors, while Julius Thomas, a participant in Thursday practice for the Broncos, may return to the lineup for Sunday.

Demaryius and Sanders have both remained in the NFL’s Top 10 in various important receiving statistics, as Demaryius is second in NFL annals in receptions (88) and receiving yards (1,255), as well as receiving yards per game (104.6), while Sanders is tied for third in receptions with Atlanta’s Julio Jones (82), fourth in receiving yards (1,152) and fourth in receiving yards (96.0).

Additionally, Julius, with his 12 touchdowns, is tied for the NFL lead with Seattle Seahawks tailback Marshawn Lynch and Kansas City Chiefs tailback Jamaal Charles, this despite being out for the past two weeks with an ankle injury so perhaps the Broncos will make him a focal point of the offense once again.

Meanwhile, the kicking game brought both positive and negative components to the Broncos at Kansas City as newly-signed kicker Connor Barth made all five field goal attempts he had in the game. This was no small feat as the cross winds at Arrowhead Stadium sliced through the field of play but he was still able to get the job done. Nevertheless, the Chiefs’ worst starting field position all game long was at their own 24 because of Barth’s inability to get any touchbacks. It will be an interesting case study to see if Barth, kicking at elevation for the first time Sunday, can get some touchbacks. If not, the kicking game will represent a serious problem moving forward.

However, the biggest thing going for the Broncos the past couple of weeks is the running game and defense playing much better, as despite giving up 23 points per game on the season, they have only given up 31 points in the past six quarters, or 5.1 points per stanza so the effort is getting better as time goes on.

Star defenders Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware continue to bring the heat (a combined 21.5 sacks on the season) while strong safety T.J. Ward has stepped his play up the past two weeks as has safety Rahim Moore, who forced a key fumble Sunday night to help the Broncos stem a potential comeback against Kansas City.

With all of this said, I just do not think the Bills have the firepower to beat the Broncos, but this will be a closely contested game and if Denver turns it over, all bets are off. You can find this game on your local CBS affiliate if you get the late game as part of the network’s regional coverage of the NFL this weekend.