By David McDonnell
In Buffalo right now, snow is piling higher than a Disney Christmas film and during the week Von Miller woke up to find his car buried under about two feet of snow.
But just as we were starting to rub our hand in anticipation of an NFL snow game, the No Fun League struck again and moved the game to a covered Ford Field in Detroit.
I’m not a meteorologist but with heavy snow storms on the scene in November, surely we will have one snow game before the end of the season. So for now, let’s keep trucking with three selected games from the Week 11 fixtures.
Browns v Bills
Who would have believed three weeks ago that the Buffalo Bills could be sitting third in the AFC East division, after successive losses to the Jets and the Vikings? Interestingly they are still the Superbowl favourites in the bookies but it must be concerning to Sean McDermott that they are coming out the wrong side of closely-contested matches.
After losing in unforgettable style to the Vikes last Sunday, this week they are under pressure to bounce back.
So this is my take on why the Bills are struggling of late.
On offence, they can’t run the ball successfully and this is having a number of knock on effects.
One, Josh Allen is now passing that ball almost twice as many times as they are attempting to run the ball and because of that they are becoming more predictable. It negates their use of play-action to get big chuck plays down the field as teams are not coming down to pack the box.The Bills did recruit Nyheim Hines from the Colts to their running-back room but so far it hasn’t had the desired effect.
Two, it has been a factor with Josh Allen throwing interceptions as he is now throwing into more congested traffic in the backfield. The two picks by Patrick Peterson last Sunday means that Allen has thrown six interceptions in the last three games and losing the turnover battle 2-4 was a major factor in contributing to their last two defeats.
Three, because they don’t have a running back excelling in the rushing attack, one thing I have noticed recently and I think teams have caught on as well is that Allen almost always runs on third and fourth down, especially late in the game. Call it a superman complex if you will, but it seems that he trusts himself more to get past the marker through his own athleticism and force of will rather than throw to his receiving corp.
When it works as it certainly did earlier in the season, it looks spectacular and it was very much one of the reasons why he was the early MVP candidate. At the moment it is clear that although passed fit to start, he is playing banged up. In hindsight Buffalo probably should have started with Case Keenam last weekend but I understand why the coaches and players in Buffalo rolled the dice with Allen.
In my opinion, the Bills have great depth on defence but have been missing a number of starters, especially their defensive backs, who were taken to the cleaners by the Vikes. To sum up, Buffalo couldn’t stop the run and they couldn’t stop the pass. Kirk Cousins looked like Joe Montana as he threw for 357 yards with Justin Jefferson catching for 193 yards and a touchdown. All this while Dalvin Cook ran for 119 yards and another TD.
So why are they still Superbowl favourites?
For one thing, they haven’t been able to put their best selection of defensive backs on the field but in another week or two that is likely to be the case. Captain Tre’Davious White is not in the squad this weekend but it only seems a matter of time until he is back from a long-term injury, while first round pick Kaiir Elam and safety Jordan Poyer are likely to feature having both missed the loss to Minnesota.
They are also missing Tremaine Edmunds and Gregory Rousseau, both good against the run and with ability to rush the passer and their loss could be felt against one of the best offensive lines in all of football at Cleveland, who also possess the best running back in the league not named Derek Henry in Nick Chubb.
This match-up between the Bills D-line and the Browns o-line should be worth the entrance fee alone and what makes this game more intriguing than it looks on the calendar.
The Browns have been playing akin to Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde over the last three weeks. Their best performance of the season came against the Bengals on Monday Night Football in Week 8 and they followed this up by allowing the Miami Dolphins 480 yards from scrimmage last Sunday.
I wonder if Deshaun Jacksion’s return to training had an effect as he undoubtedly would have taken snaps away from Jacoby Brisscett in the lead up to the game and perhaps put questions about whom the other players should look to as the leader of the offence.
Who knows which Browns will get in Ford Field?
Cleveland is very healthy on offence. Their plan should be to run the ball behind their impressive offensive line and try to wear down the banged up Bills. I think this would be their best chance of keeping the score tight and then try to win the game in the fourth quarter.
Especially after losing a high-profile roller-coaster last weekend and the manner in which things unfolded, I am again giving them the benefit of the doubt to Buffalo. I expect them to get back to winning ways this weekend. However, should they fall to the Browns, I doubt they will still be favourites in the bookies next week.
Jets v Patriots
This is another cracking match-up as the 6-3 Jets travel to face the Patriots in Foxboro, a venue where they haven’t been victorious since the 2010 play-offs. This is highly embarrassing for a team that has played there every year since.
Not only that but should the formbook continue, the Jets will have lost 14 consecutive games against their most hated divisional rivals.
I have a feeling Sunday may be the day Gang Green gets this monkey off their backs, which might sound strange considering the Patriots beat the Jets in New York only two weeks ago.
So let me explain!
In that recent loss, Zach Wilson was the villain on the day as he got intercepted three times, but as i mentioned recently I love the way he throws the ball and I just see enough green shoots in him to believe that he is a young player, who could blossom into an NFL superstar.
In my opinion, the recent loss to the Pats provides Wilson with lessons to improve his game and in time he could see it as a blessing in disguise. For me this is an ideal opportunity in which to show progression with his decision making and also his attention to detail, as he was punished twice last time out with turnovers that I consider lapses in concentration.
I also want to make clear, I am not burdening the fate of the game, solely on Wilson’s shoulders because I think he can be a good player. No, I think this Patriots team is limited on offence but have been good at running against most opposition. Where I believe this Jets team is best is in their run defence and Quinnian Williams has become a wrecking ball against the rush and also been good at
helping the D line get after the opposing QB.
It is also Mac Jones first home game, since the Pats fans cheered loudly when he was replaced by Bailey Zappe a few weeks back. What I like about Jones is he is smart and confidently manages a game, which is what the Pats ask of him to do. But just like Wilson he has struggled for consistency in his sophomore season and he is in a tricky situation for any young player to be in with the outward discontentment from his own supporters. There are many reasons for the difficulties in the Pats passing game but I would put a lack of blue chip talent at receiver and play-calling at the top of my list as to why they are struggling in the passing game, before I would point the finger at Jones at quarterback.
I’m going for an upset win for the Jets in New England. There I said it.
Cowboys v Vikings
The third game that will be good to watch is the Cowboys travelling to Minnesota to tackle the 8-1 Vikings.
The Vikes are coming off the greatest regular season win that i can remember and sometimes it can be hard to figuratively keep your feet on the ground after reaching such heights. The one thing that they have in the locker that will be a problem for the Cowboys is their pass-rush, who have excelled and if Dak plays to the level he did against Green Bay last time out, then the Boys will be in trouble.
But I like the Cowboys for this game because their need is greatest. The Cowboys need to win to keep up their play-off hopes in a hotly contested NFC East division. They were having an excellent season and their defence should be able to do a lot better than Buffalo did last week in getting after Cousins, who is flying high now but we have seen from him so many times how inconsistent he can be week-to- week.
For Dallas to win, Dak needs to step up and control the game on offence. With Ceedee Lamb coming off his best game of the season and Tony Pollard also going well, I think they are well-placed to take on a Minnesota team that still haven’t yet convinced me of their merits.