The Buffalo Bills will try and improve their playoff standing when they take on the Denver Broncos this afternoon on CBS. The Bills (7-5) have three teams ahead of them in the AFC Wild Card pecking order while the Broncos (9-3) have an outside shot of wrapping up a playoff spot, depending on the outcome of numerous other games
Buffalo is part of a six-pack of 7-5 teams currently jockeying for the second Wild Card spot with San Diego (8-4) claiming the other. The Bills are behind the Dolphins (better winning percentage in divisional play) and Chiefs (better winning percentage in conference games), thanks in part to losses to each the past two weeks. Buffalo’s remaining slate is not easy with Green Bay on tap next week and back-to-back road games on opposite sides of the country (Oakland then New England) to finish things up. The Bills need to win just to keep pace with the pack, but face a tough test this afternoon against a Broncos team that’s undefeated at home.
Buffalo Bills at Denver Broncos
Kickoff: 4:05 p.m. ET
TV Channel: CBS
Spread: Denver -10
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Buffalo’s Key to Victory: Get Offensive
The Bills rank among the top 10 in the NFL in the four major defensive categories. They are second in scoring defense (18.1 ppg) and fifth in both total (312.4 ypg) and passing (216.1 ypg) defense. Buffalo also leads the league with 48 sacks and has collected 20 in the past four games alone. All of this is well and good, especially going against a Peyton Manning-led Denver offense that’s fifth in both yards (413.9) and points (30.1) per game, but the Bills will still need to find a way to score some points. After all, the Broncos are 6-0 this season at Sports Authority Field at Mile High, averaging 35.3 points per game. Buffalo is 17th in the league in scoring at 17 points per game and has scored more than 35 points just twice. Both of those games were against the 2-10 Jets. The Bills have done a little better job putting points on the board on the road (21.8 ppg), but Denver’s low-water mark at home so far is the 24 it scored in a Week 2 win over Kansas City. Since that game, the Broncos have put up 41 on the Cardinals, 42 on the 49ers, 35 on the Chargers, and 39 on the Dolphins. Buffalo’s defense is capable of limiting any team’s offense, but it will be difficult for them to completely shut down Manning and the Broncos. And that’s just part of the battle, as the Bills’ offense will still need to cobble some scoring drives together and do so against a Denver defense that has given up less than 23 points per game at home.
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Denver’s Key to Victory: Stay Balanced
The Broncos have the luxury of a future Hall of Fame quarterback running their offense, but that doesn’t mean they at their best when Peyton Manning is throwing the ball all over the field. In each of Denver’s three losses, the Broncos’ offensive game plan was extremely pass-heavy. Against Seattle, Manning attempted 49 passes compared to 20 rushes. The pass vs. run distribution was even more lopsided against New England (57/17) and St. Louis (54/10). For whatever reason, the 22-7 loss to the Rams three weeks ago must have served as a tipping point because Denver has since recommitted to the run in a big way. In Week 12 against Miami, it was a 50/50 split and then last week the Broncos ran the ball 10 more times than they passed it. And in those two games, all the team did was rush for 415 yards, dominate time of possession and, most importantly, beat a pair of playoff-contending teams. In fact, this run-heavy approach fueled a fourth-quarter comeback against the Dolphins and allowed the Broncos to hold the ball for more than 38 minutes against the Chiefs. Running back C.J. Anderson, who was buried on the depth chart earlier this season, has been the catalyst for Denver’s rejuvenated ground attack (335 yards rushing in the last two games) and there’s no reason to deviate from that approach now. Buffalo’s defense has been tough against the run (96.3 ypg), but the Broncos’ offensive line is playing exceptionally well and Anderson has been punishing opponents on the ground. Manning is perfectly capable of beating teams by himself, but as this season has showed, it’s not always in the Broncos’ best interests to rely on that strategy. And as far as the Bills’ defense is concerned, facing a potent, two-dimensional offense run by a future Hall of Fame quarterback on the road certainly does not bode well for their interests.
Buffalo is in the thick of the Wild Card chase and has one of the NFL’s toughest defenses. Denver is positioned to not only win its fourth straight AFC West crown, but also to wind up with one of the top two seeds and a first-round bye. On paper, the Bills appear equipped to keep Peyton Manning and the Broncos’ offense in check. However, that was before Denver recommitted to the run, as C.J. Anderson has jumpstarted a rushing attack that’s piled up more than 400 yards in the last two games. Buffalo has had issues scoring points all season and this won’t get any easier against a Broncos defense that’s been pretty stingy at home. Going up against a future Hall of Fame quarterback is just one of the challenges facing the Bills, who will come up short in their attempt to hand the Broncos their first loss at Sports Authority Field at Mile High.