CAPACCIO: For Bills, opportunity knocks

October 18, 2017

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Bills opponent this Sunday, spent a month this preseason as the featured team on the HBO series Hard Knocks.

If there was a series for the next month of the Bills season it should be called “Opportunity Knocks.”

Buffalo’s football team, sitting at 3-2 for the second year in a row, is staring at a real opportunity to stack some wins together and really get fans to start thinking they might be able to end that seventeen year playo……..well, ya’ know.

Yes, the Bills are banged up and without their top pass-catcher in an already limited offense.  No, their running game hasn’t done much of anything to resemble the unit that led the league in rushing the past two years.  

I’m not here to tell you it’s going to be easy.  It won’t be.  But I am going to tell you to look at the big picture.  Look outside your Buffalo Box.  

The next four weeks are all games this team can win.  In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Bills are actually favored in Vegas in every one of them.  That’s already the case with the game this weekend against the Bucs, at least in the places that are taking action.  The Bills are three-point favorites where you can find it.  But the game is mostly off the board due to the uncertainty of Tampa’s QB situation.  Jameis Winston is dealing with a sprained AC joint in his right shoulder.  He may still start, but won’t throw all week.  If Winston can’t go, it’s old pal Ryan Fitzpatrick that will get the call under center.  

Think about that.

The Bills, who currently have the top-ranked scoring defense in the NFL, allowing an average of a measly 14.8 points per game, and have the fourth most interceptions (8), will either face a QB who will have a throwing shoulder injury who won’t throw for seven days, or a 34-year old on his seventh team whose thrown 19 interceptions with only 15 touchdowns over the past two seasons.  

Whichever one it is, it’s a break.  And one the Bills need to take advantage of at home.  Not to mention the Bucs will be getting on a plane to travel over 1000 miles just a week after going over 3500 miles roundtrip to and from Arizona.

There’s more.  And not just with Sunday’s opponent.  Here’s a quick look at the next month’s worth of games and the issues facing each team:

October 22
Home vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-4)

In addition to their QB situation, the Bucs are having issues on defense.  They sit last in NFL in total sacks (6), sacks per pass attempt (3.17%), and have a total of 1 sack from a DE (Noah Spence).  They’re 30th in the NFL in yards per game and yards per play given up.  They’re 31st in passing yards per game and 30th in passing yards per play allowed.  The Bucs are defending the run pretty well, ranking 12th overall and 8th per play, but have given up at least 113 yards on the ground in three of the last four games, including 160 last week at the Cardinals.  The Bills also have two weeks to prepare and get healthy for Tampa.

October 29
Home vs. Oakland Raiders (2-4)

The Raiders have so far been one of the more disappointing teams in the NFL.  From what many considered to be a Super Bowl contender to 2-4 and having major struggles on both sides of the ball.  They’re currently 30th, 24th, and 27th in overall offense, rushing and passing offense, respectively.  And it’s not much better on defense right now at 23rd, 21st, and 20th.  And the Raiders are reeling.  After Oakland started the season 2-0, they’ve lost four games in a row and haven’t scored more than 17 points in any of those contests.  They do host the Chiefs Thursday night and will have ten days to get ready for the Bills.  But then it’s a flight across the country for what will be a 10 AM kickoff for those Raiders’ body clocks.

November 2 (Thursday)
at New York Jets (3-3)

Who would’ve thought the Jets might be the most stable team of the next three game stretch for the Bills? The team that was supposed to be tanking has already won more games than many people thought they would all season, beating the Dolphins and Jaguars along the way.  But they still have plenty of issues on both sides of the ball.  Jets ranks on offense: 21st (total), 18th (rush), and 22nd (pass).  They’re also near the bottom of the league in sacks, red zone defense and points per game with just over 18 with ranks of 25th, 28th, and 15th on that side of the ball.  The Bills beat New York 21-12 opening weekend rolling up over 400 yards of offense, including 190 on the ground. 

November 12
Home vs. New Orleans Saints (3-2)

I’ll be the first to admit the Saints are playing much better overall than I expected so far this season.  Like the Bills, they’re 3-2.  But unlike the Bills, they’re ranked in the top-10 in most major statistical categories on offense.  Defensively is a different story.  New Orleans has struggled, particularly against the pass.  Overall, they rank 26th in total defense, 11th against the run, and 28th against the pass.  They’re also giving up close to a 49% conversion rate on third downs, which is the worst in the NFL.  

Four games.  Three at home.  Against combined records of 10-13.

Of course all of this guarantees nothing and by Thanksgiving the Bills could find themselves where they have for most of the last two decades, sitting at or just above or just below .500.  

But the fact is the next month presents plenty of opportunities for a team that’s already taken advantage of some of them through their first five games.  And if they can keep doing that, they’ll put themselves squarely on the first page of the playoff picture as opposed to the bottom rung of the “In The Hunt” graphic on CBS.

Opportunity Knocks starting Sunday.  The Bills need to hear it loud and clear.

Follow me on Twitter @SalSports