It seems that every week there is a new NFL drama coming to life in Philadelphia or Buffalo — this week, it's both.
Eagles head coach Chip Kelly’s divorce from former NFL rushing champion LeSean McCoy wasn’t pretty. McCoy was traded to the Bills this past offseason for linebacker Kiko Alonso, and McCoy wasn’t shy about why he and other players were surprisingly let go. We all know that story.
The story this week is three parts. The first part is obvious. The return of McCoy to Philadelphia, where he played his first six seasons and became the franchise’s all-time leading rusher is the natural headline. But McCoy added fuel to this typical “return of the jaded NFL star” tale by stating Kelly “can’t shake (anything),” in regard to postgame hand shakes. Bills’ head coach, Rex Ryan, not afraid of playing the role of the heel, has obviously hinted that Shady McCoy will be his only team captain on the field for the pregame coin toss.
But McCoy isn’t the only running back that has issues with Kelly. Now, its Kelly’s new running back, last year’s No. 1 rusher, DeMarco Murray. Reports surfaced that Murray sought out Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie to voice his frustrations about his lack of playing time and overall involvement in Kelly’s offense. Both Kelly and Murray were quick to try and squash any potential controversies, but that hasn’t kept columnists from filling inches on the potential breakup of Murray and Kelly in the future.
Man, all this drama, and all before Friday’s walkthrough practices. Believe it or not, this game between the Bills (6-6) and Eagles (5-7) has major playoff implications as both teams find themselves in the thick of the postseason race. With only four weeks left each game grows exponentially in importance.
Buffalo at Philadelphia
Kickoff: 1 p.m. ET (Sunday)
Spread: Philadelphia -1
Three Things to Watch
- 1. McCoy vs. Murray: A Tale of Two Running Backs
And just because we can’t get enough of the low hanging fruit... how about this LeSean McCoy and DeMarco Murray storyline, huh!?
Since being traded to the Bills, McCoy has proven that it wasn’t just Chip Kelly’s fast-paced spread offense that made him a such special player. McCoy is ninth in yards from scrimmage per game (104.1 ypg) averaging 4.6 yards per rush and 9.2 yards per catch this season. McCoy is coming off one of his best games in 2015 when last week against the highly touted Houston Texans defense he rushed for 112 yards, his third 100-yard effort of the season. McCoy should expect to carry a heavy load against the 27th-ranked rush defense of the Eagles on Sunday afternoon, a perfect opportunity to exact his revenge on Kelly and his former team.
On the other sideline, Murray’s arrival in Philly has been less than stellar. After leading the NFL in rushing last season, Murray is only averaging 3.5 yards per attempt for a grand total of 569 yards in 2015. In losses, Murray is only averaging 2.8 yards per carry with one touchdown. So far this season, Murray has only topped 100 yards rushing once, and has rushed for more than 80 yards just three times. His carries seem to come and go, as last week against the Patriots, Murray only carried the ball eight times. His high for the season is 22 attempts in Week 10 against Miami.
While the topic of Murray’s usage has been a hot one as of late, the issue doesn't seem like it’s going away anytime soon as the more effective Ryan Mathews is expected to make his return from a concussion this week.
2. Quarterback Play
In another bold and surprising move by Kelly, Sam Bradford, the former Heisman winner and No. 1 overall draft pick, was brought in to be the starting quarterback in March. Coming off two consecutive ACL tears and constant erratic play, Bradford seemed like a long shot to be successful. Most Philly fans are still waiting. Bradford’s play is still erratic and at sometimes, odd.
Last week against the Patriots, Bradford threw two touchdown passes, but completed only 14 of his 24 attempts for 120 yards. Granted, Bradford didn't have to go out and win the game, thanks to three three return touchdowns by the defense and special teams. But it seems Bradford’s play has been that way all season long. In wins, Bradford is completing 63.7 percent of his throws, but has thrown almost as many interceptions as he has touchdowns, and has actually thrown for more yards in losses. If the Eagles hope to win the watered down NFC East, Bradford’s play is going to have to be more reliable.
While Bradford’s play has been rather expected, the Bills’ Tyrod Taylor has been one the league’s more pleasant surprises. Taylor’s throwing numbers don’t jump out at you like Tom Brady’s, but he has been extremely reliable, only turning the ball over five times this season, four of which have been interceptions.
Taylor still struggles to find all-world athlete and wide receiver Sammy Watkins with any sort of regularity, but if he can over the next few weeks, the Bills will be in the playoff discussion until the end.
3. Intertwined Fates
If the playoffs started today, the Bills would be on the outside looking in as they sit in eighth place in the AFC and third in the AFC East. A win against the Eagles on Sunday and a Jets loss to the Titans would put the teams in a two-way tie for second place in their division and battling for the final AFC wild card spot with a bevy of teams.
After the game in Philly, the Bills' schedule is very much in their favor, as they travel to Washington next week, then host the Cowboys before welcoming the Jets to Orchard Park for the regular season finale. All three of those are extremely winnable games.
And the team that will be rooting for the Bills the most might just be the Eagles. Currently Philadelphia is sitting in a three-way tie for the NFC East with Washington and the New York Giants. If the Bills can defeat both Washington and New York in the next two weeks, the Eagles' chances of making the postseason are greatly increased.
The Bills have shown flashes of legitimacy all season long. This week I believe we are going to see the character of this Buffalo team. With the final three weeks essentially being must-win games, the Bills' defense must play an improved brand of football — and what better way to enhance their game than laying against the Eagles' inconsistent offense? I expect Rex Ryan to blitz Sam Bradford non-stop and force-feed LeSean McCoy in his Philly homecoming.
Prediction: Bills 28, Eagles 17
— Written by Jake Rose, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @JakeRose24.
(Top photo courtesy of Getty Images)