Buffalo Bills (4-4) vs Seattle Seahawks (4-2-1) 8:30pm ET Monday, ESPN
Two weeks ago, the Buffalo Bills were flying high at 4-2, just a game behind the Patriots, and sporting the best point differential in the AFC at 7.4. Fast forward to today, and they still have the third-best point differential in the AFC, but who cares? They’re now 4-4, and 3 games back of New England, following a 41-25 loss last weekend to the Pats.
The Bills managed to strike first, with Dan Carpenter hitting a 23-yarder for a 3-0 lead, but Tom Brady needed just 10 minutes to throw a 9-yard touchdown to Danny Amendola, and then a 53-yarder to Chris Hogan. Just like that, it was 14-3 New England, and the Pats were on their way. Brady would finish the day 22-for-33 for 315 yards and 4 TDs, with no interceptions, while the Pats ran just 23 times for 72 yards, 15 of those yards coming on Brady’s lone carry. Bills QB Tyrod Taylor didn’t have quite as good a day, hitting on just 19 of 38 for 183 yards and 0 TDs, though he did pick up 48 yards and a touchdown on 5 carries, and running back Mike Gillislee added 85 yards and a TD on just 12 carries filling in for the injured LeSean McCoy.
McCoy, who is expected back from a hamstring issue, is putting together another 1,000-yard campaign, while Gillislee is quietly having a nice season as a backup, with 34 carries for 222 yards (6.5 per carry) and 3 TDs. Taylor’s numbers are down pretty much across the board from his Pro Bowl breakout of 2015, as he finds himself in the bottom third of nearly every passing category, though he’s thrown just 2 interceptions, which ain’t nothing. Fortunately, the Bills have the best rushing game this side of the Dallas Cowboys, as they’ve gained the second-most yards, tied for the most TDs, and have the highest yards-per-carry (5.5), which has gone a long way toward helping the team score 26.5 points per game, eighth-best in the league. And as a special surprise, they signed ex-Seahawk Percy Harvin out of retirement to see if there’s anything left in the tank.
Though they’re second in the league in sacks with 26, bringing down opposing QBs on 9% of dropbacks, this Bills defense is not as dominating as you’d expect from a Rex Ryan team, allowing 21.5 points per game, just 14th-best in the NFL. Pro Football Focus ranks the D at #19, Pro Football Reference has it #10 – assuming the truth lay somewhere in the middle, this is still just a meh D, all the sacks be damned.
Lucky for the Bills, the Seahawks offense is not quite the juggernaut that recently made back-to-back Super Bowl appearances. After Seattle’s 25-20 loss to New Orleans last week, they’re scoring just 18.7 points per game, tied with the Browns (let that sink in) at 28th in the league. Wilson had his third straight off day, maybe his worst of the year, as he hit on 22 of 34 for 253 yards and an interception, and with a chance to win the game on 2nd-and-10 from New Orleans’ 18 yard line and 16 seconds on the clock, couldn’t get into the end zone. This is shaping up to be the worst season of his career, as he’s on track to throw just 10 TDs, half his previous low, but he swears he’s feeling the best he’s felt since Week 1.
The team struggles to fill the shoes of retired running beast Marshawn Lynch. Christine Michael is averaging 64 yards a game, and has scored 5 TDs, which is nice, but pales in comparison to Lynch’s 4-year run averages of 1,339 yards and 12 TDs a season. It looked for a while last year like Thomas Rawls would step up, but he broke his fibula in Week 2, and now Seattle fans are hoping that rookie C.J. Prosise can make some noise, after he ran 4 times for 23 yards and hauled in 4 passes for another 80 last week – we’ll see.
What’s keeping the Seahawks afloat this year is their defense, the stingiest in the league allowing just 15.6 points per game and the fourth-fewest yards per play, despite just 7 takeaways, good for 27th in the league, just behind the Browns (let that sink in for a minute). They’re especially tough against the run, holding opponents to just under 90 yards per game, only 3.3 yards per carry, and a total of just 4 TDs. They’ve slipped a biti against the pass, something largely attributable to the absence of Kam Chancellor, who hasn’t suited up since Week 4 due to a groin injury and will not be on hand for this evening.
This game is going to come down to the battle between Seattle’s front 7 and the Bills O-line, if the Seahawks can contain McCoy or Gillislee or Harvin or Taylor, this one will be over quickly, as Taylor doesn’t have the arm or targets to beat the Seattle secondary, with or without Chancellor.