Image Credit: © Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports
Despite a tumultuous season that saw the Buffalo Bills lose to the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Herd has made it to the final week of the regular season, and they still control their destiny. There were times when we weren’t sure if the Bills would qualify for the postseason, but their Week 17 win made it official. It just shows how quickly a team’s fate can change.
Heading into their final game of the regular season, the Bills have shown in recent weeks their ability to win in a variety of ways. Even as we saw during Week 17’s game when the weather was once again brutally cold and windy, the Bills were able to rally and come out ahead, relying on their running game to get the job done.
In fact, taking on the Jets before reaching the playoffs offers yet another chance to test different aspects of running the football. Equally pathetic at stopping the pass as they are at limiting the run, the Jets defense is atrocious.
Gang Green’s defense has allowed teams to score 53 touchdowns on them, whereas their offense has only brought 33 touchdowns to the table. Josh Allen alone has 34 passing touchdowns and, of course, six more rushing scores. For comparison, the Bills have allowed just 30 touchdowns this season.
Let’s be honest. The Jets plain out suck. But, to their credit, they have been playing inspired football lately since Zach Wilson has returned to the lineup after missing four games due to injury. From Weeks 1-12, the Jets lost by an average margin of 18.5 points per game. Since Wilson’s return, the average margin has shrunk to 11.75 points per loss.
Aside from two blowouts against the Eagles and Saints, the Jets have been in a one-score game in four of their past six. And somehow, this team has beaten the No. 1 seeded Tennessee Titans and the Cincinnati Bengals. Football can be very strange.
Buffalo Bills Week 18 game details, where to watch
- Sunday, January 9, 2021
- Start time: 4:25 PM ET
- TV channel - CBS
- Location - Highmark Stadium in Orchard Park, New York
© Kevin R. Wexler-USA TODAY Sports
Matchups to watch
- Bills’ pass-catchers vs. Jets D
Josh Allen loves to spread the ball around, and we’ve seen more evidence of that this season than any of his previous three campaigns. In 2021-22, Allen had five pass-catchers with over 500 receiving yards. While missing players due to positive COVID tests or injuries have been a factor, Allen’s done an excellent job of not locking into any one target.
We’ve seen Gabriel Davis take another leap, looking like the No. 2 WR of the Bills as soon as next season. Yet, the underappreciated skills of Cole Beasley and Emmanuel Sanders cannot go unnoticed. Beasley helps chop up defensive zones underneath, allowing the speedsters to stretch the field in other ways. Ideally, you need all four to coexist, working off one another to open up opportunities for others.
That’s where Allen comes in, by being able to make his second and third reads and finding the open receiver.
Of course, Dawson Knox is unique in his own right. The biggest target on the field, Knox, is a significant red-zone threat, using his size and athleticism to box out much smaller defenders on jump balls, which is partially why he’s tied for the team lead in receiving touchdowns with nine.
Altogether, the Bills can present a potent punch to any opponent they face. That absolutely includes the Jets, who have intercepted just seven passes this season, two of which were caught by defensive linemen.
- Bills’ secondary vs. Zach Wilson
Selected second overall in the 2021 NFL Draft, Zach Wilson has rarely looked like a future face of the franchise in his first 12 games.
With such a small sample size, we shouldn’t rush to judgment on Wilson’s future. We’ve seen first-hand the growth of Josh Allen over the years, and there’s no reason why Wilson can’t dramatically improve as soon as next year.
For now, let’s look at a few of his bad marks from his rookie year. Wilson has thrown a touchdown on just 2.2% of his passes this season. It’s tied for the third-lowest rate among qualifying NFL QBs. His completion percentage is even worse at 56.7%, the lowest rate in the NFL. Wilson is also being sacked at the second-highest rate in the NFL, getting brought down on 9% of his dropbacks.
All of this is to say, Wilson has a long way to go before he helps lead his team to victory. Being on the Jets won’t make matters any easier.
As far as the Bills’ defense? You already know, they allow the fewest passing yards and touchdowns per game among the 32 NFL teams.
- Matt Haack vs. The World
Seriously, is this guy on the team anymore? Do they not want him playing?
All jokes aside, what the Rumbling Herd have been able to do for the past two games is historic. You may not have even realized it, but the Bills haven’t punted for the last two games. The first time came against Belichick, making this Bills team the first to have ever not punted against a Belichick-coached team. That’s incredible.
This is likely accentuated by the fact that Buffalo’s average starting field position is the best in the NFL, starting on their own 32-yard line. A shorter distance to go can lead to more field goals and touchdowns instead of punts, putting more stress on the opposing defenses.
Whatever the reason, don’t expect a third consecutive game without punting. As bad as the Jets are, we’d still rather punt than throw three interceptions as Allen did last week.
Division clinching scenarios for Week 18
This time of year, playoff-clinching scenarios can get pretty complicated. Thankfully, the Bills have made it simple for us this year. Win, and they’re in. That’s it. Beating the Jets will allow the Bills to clinch the AFC East for the second consecutive year.
© Jamie Germano-USA TODAY Sports
Buffalo Bills Week 18 game prediction
- Last season’s record: Buffalo Bills 13-3, reached AFC Conference Championship
- New York Jets 2-14, last place in AFC East
Despite showing some resolve as of late, the Jets aren’t a team ready to beat a good opponent. They may have caused Antonio Brown to throw a tantrum, literally quitting on his team, but that was likely more of a microcosm of Brown’s mental state at this point.
They have what’s supposed to be a future franchise quarterback. There’s a slim chance to go off and flash the talent that originally got Wilson selected that high in the first place, but if he hasn’t shown that ability against lesser defenses, it won’t happen in Buffalo.
Knowing they just need to take care of business with a win to take the AFC East division crown, the Bills won’t take their foot off the gas. Especially against a division rival. It wouldn’t be shocking to see Mitchell Trubisky close out the game once Buffalo establishes a strong early lead as the Jets haven’t shown an ability to come back from a large deficit.
Vegas oddsmakers fully expect the Bills to clinch their division in Week 18. Betting lines have the Bills as early 16.5 to 17 point favorites. It’s the largest point spread they’ve been favored by all season.
Taking the over there is risky. Once the W is locked in, the Bills don’t have anything else to play for. Seeing several starters, not just Allen, come out of the game to stay healthy for the Wild Card Round wouldn’t be a bad move once the game is out of hand. This could present an opportunity for Wilson to let ‘er rip. Either way, start making your playoff plans because the Buffalo Bills are back for the fourth time in Sean McDermott’s five seasons as the head coach.
Game prediction: 38-13 Bills victory