Bills vs. Lions preview: Everything you need to know in Week 12

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Written by John Sparaco

Before the Buffalo Bills ended their two-game losing streak on Sunday, they faced an even taller task — rounding up the team so they can get to Detroit.

On Saturday morning, a full-scale pickup was underway. The Bills’ football operations department coordinated a plan to gather every player that was stuck at home due to the blizzard that buried parts of Orchard Park in up to 77 inches of snow. General manager Brandon Beane and head coach Sean McDermott picked up players and coaches who lived near their homes. Running back Devin Singletary, who stands 5-foot-7, trudged through five feet of hefty snow for a quarter-mile so he could get to his ride. Several players also assisted nearby teammates. Perhaps the greatest heroes were the members of the Bills Mafia. 

Fans in the city of good neighbors went to players’ houses and helped shovel so they could get out and get to the airport in time for their 4 p.m. flight. The operation was a success, as every member of the team was able to make the trip.

“When you get home, pay those fans some f—ing respect,” Bills quarterback Josh Allen said to the team after their home win at Ford Field. “Get ’em something nice. Treat ’em well, because that was f—ing awesome to see. It took a lot of s— to get us here. That could have drained us, but it didn’t.”

The Bills overcame a sluggish start offensively to defeat the Browns by a score of 31-23. While their offense was not perfect, the Bills were able to play a much more efficient brand of football. Buffalo managed to avoid the turnover problems that plagued them for the previous 10 quarters. Still, frustrations mounted at times.

All-Pro wide receiver Stefon Diggs was held without a target for most of the first half. After Buffalo’s high-powered offense mustered just two field goals in their first four possessions, a visibly upset Diggs was shown having a conversation with his head coach. McDermott offered words of encouragement to Diggs, who on the very next drive, scored the go-ahead touchdown.

“He always has the right words to say,” Diggs told NFL Network’s Cameron Wolfe after the game. “My head coach does a great job of keeping everyone level-headed.”

Buffalo’s offense was much more effective after their discussion. Diggs finished the game with four receptions for 48 yards. The team only reached the end zone twice. Tyler Bass took care of the rest, going 6-for-6 on field goal attempts, which tied a franchise record. Linebacker Matt Milano also filled the stat sheet, recording 12 tackles, one sack, three tackles for a loss and a fumble recovery. He was named AFC Defensive Player of the Week.

After working so hard to get to Detroit on Saturday, the Bills get to do it all over again just days later. This time, they are the road team. 

Just a year ago, this game would have easily been chalked up as an onslaught, considering that the Lions won just three games in 2021. However, fiery head coach Dan Campbell has the Lions playing physically and together, winning each of their last three games. The Bills may be their biggest challenge yet, despite their struggles of late.

Top storylines

  • Short week: Following a hectic weekend, the Bills face a super quick turnaround for travel. To combat this, Buffalo elected to use the visitors’ locker room and sideline at Ford Field so they could keep everything they need in place for when they return. The team conducted a walkthrough practice on Monday and practiced in full on Tuesday. They do not have a lot of prep time or recovery time, which is not ideal for the availability of center Mitch Morse, who did not practice at all due to elbow and ankle injuries.
  • Turkey Day tradition: Detroit Lions football has been welcomed into homes across the U.S. on Thanksgiving for decades. The Lions started the tradition in 1934 after their owner George A. Richards thought playing on the holiday would attract more fans. His plan worked, and the stadium has been sold out for the holiday game ever since. The Lions own an all-time record of 37-43-2 on Thanksgiving Day, although their last win on the holiday occurred in 2016. Recently, the Bills have also frequently appeared during the Thanksgiving slate. This will be their third appearance since 2019 when Allen first stole the show against the Dallas Cowboys in a 26-15 victory. Last year, the Bills earned the celebratory turkey legs after a dominant 31-6 win against the New Orleans Saints. They hope to extend their win streak to three on the holiday this Thursday.
  • A friendly history: The history of the Bills and Lions has long been intertwined. Ralph Wilson, the founder and late owner of the Bills, was previously a minority owner of the Lions. During the first two years of the Bills’ existence, the team’s colors were Honolulu blue, silver, and white, the same colors as the Lions. Wilson remained close friends with their owner, William Clay Ford Sr. until both passed away in March 2014. Later that year, Detroit stepped up to host the Jets vs. Bills game when Ralph Wilson Stadium was snowed in. After allowing Buffalo to call Ford Field home once again on Sunday, the Bills organization thanked Detroit by donating $20,000 to the Lions foundation and sending Tim Hortons breakfast their way. Both organizations exchanged friendly messages on social media.
  • Letting James Cook: Buffalo’s rushing attack put together one of their strongest performances in a long time on Sunday. Lead back Devin Singletary received a bulk of the snaps, carrying the ball 18 times for 86 yards and a touchdown. “Motor” was as reliable as ever in the Motor City, but it was the performance of rookie running back James Cook that drew the most attention. Despite being on the field for just 16 snaps, Cook rushed for a career-high 86 yards on 11 carries. Cook has been brought along slowly this year, but his usage on offense is finally beginning to pick up. Some of the Bills’ biggest plays on Sunday occurred when either Cook or the recently acquired Nyheim Hines had the ball in their hands. Their speed adds a completely new dynamic to the offense, which may be the secret to solving their recent troubles getting into the end zone.

Impact matchups to watch

Josh Allen’s escapability vs. Lions QB contain

Over the Lions’ last three games, the opposing quarterback has finished as the leading rusher for their team. In Week 9, Aaron Rodgers led the Packers with 40 rushing yards. During Week 10, Bears quarterback Justin Fields exploded for 147 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. On Sunday, the Lions held star Giants running back Saquon Barkley to just 1.5 yards per carry on 15 attempts but allowed Daniel Jones to pick up 50 yards and a touchdown with his legs.

Detroit’s defense has been prone to allowing quarterback scrambles when plays break down. Aside from his arm, this has been one of Josh Allen’s greatest strengths since entering the league. Allen has been the Bills’ leading rusher in five of their games, totaling 483 yards and four touchdowns on the ground this season. The Lions’ ability or inability to contain him tomorrow should be a big factor, even if the passing game stagnates.

Dion Dawkins vs. Aidan Hutchinson

Dion Dawkins struggled in pass protection against Myles Garrett on Sunday. To be fair, most do. Four days later, he faces another challenging test against another high draft pick.

Aidan Hutchinson, who was drafted second overall after being named the runner-up for the Heisman Trophy, has already made a significant impact during his first season in the pros. In fact, the University of Michigan alum is feeling right at home. Hutchinson is the first player since 1982 with at least five sacks and two interceptions in his first 10 career games. Against the Giants on Sunday, Hutchinson reacted perfectly to a play action fake and dropped into coverage to pick off Daniel Jones. While it will be tough to make a better case for Rookie of the Year than Jets cornerback Sauce Gardner, Hutchinson’s energy and instincts have been exactly what the Lions have been looking for in a franchise cornerstone.

The Lions are currently ranked dead last in the NFL when it comes to points allowed per game. The opportunity is clearly there for the Bills to break out of their funk offensively. That being said, Hutchinson can spoil those plans in a hurry if Dawkins does not rebound from Sunday.

How to watch

Kickoff is scheduled for Thursday at 12:30 p.m. EST on CBS. Jim Nantz and Tony Romo will be on the call with Tracy Wolfson reporting from the sidelines. Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter Bebe Rexha and special guest DJ David Guetta will be performing live at Ford Field during halftime. The Bills will be wearing white jerseys and blue pants, a combination they have not yet worn this season. Weather will not be a factor since the game is being played indoors.

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