Written by John Sparaco
All rested up and ready to roll, the Buffalo Bills are back after a well-deserved bye week. The players and coaches had time to recover, spend time with their loved ones, and throw Halloween parties as a team over the break.
Starting right tackle Spencer Brown has been ruled out with an ankle injury after not practicing this week. Other than that, the Bills have not been this healthy since Week 1. Everyone else on the injury report was a full participant in practice by Friday, not including veteran rest days.
The last time the Bills took the field, they edged out a thrilling win on the road against the rival Kansas City Chiefs to take sole possession of the AFC’s top seed. Anytime these two teams play, it is abundantly clear that they are operating on a higher plane than the rest of the league.
When it mattered most, the Bills’ stars shined. Josh Allen was hurdling defenders and dropping dimes. Von Miller sacked Patrick Mahomes twice. Stefon Diggs could not be guarded. In the end, Taron Johnson called game with a clutch interception in the final minute of play.
The 2022-23 Bills appear to be a team that is unfazed by the big moment or the massive expectations people have for them. They are winning big and having fun doing it, as evidenced by their smiles on the field and camaraderie off the field.
On Sunday Night Football, the Bills have yet another opportunity to shine in the national spotlight, this time at home in Orchard Park. They welcome the Green Bay Packers, who have appeared in two of the last three NFC Championship games. As of late, the Packers have not played like the powerhouse football fans have been accustomed to seeing.
- Struggling Packers: Entering Week 8, the Packers hold a 3-4 record. Those three wins have come against the Bears, Bailey Zappe and the Patriots in overtime, and another disappointing NFC team, the Buccaneers, who have seemingly forgotten how to score. As for their four losses? The quarterbacks of those teams were Kirk Cousins, Daniel Jones, Zach Wilson and Taylor Heinicke. Obviously, none of those players are nearly as dynamic as a Josh Allen, Patrick Mahomes or Lamar Jackson type. Green Bay’s defense actually has not been the problem for the most part. It has been their offense, which has lacked explosiveness since the departure of Davante Adams via trade. They also lost Marquez Valdez-Scantling to free agency, leaving their top receiving options as former Bills top draft choice Sammy Watkins, Randall Cobb, who is on IR, and Allen Lazard, who is out with a shoulder injury. Green Bay does have two very good running backs in Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon, but when you have a quarterback like Aaron Rodgers, becoming a run-first team is not ideal.
- Marquee QB matchup: Speaking of elite quarterbacks, the Bills have already faced two of the best in Mahomes and Jackson recently, holding each to 20 points. Now, their top-ranked defense will get a crack at another premier talent – Aaron Rodgers. The 38-year-old signal-caller has taken home the MVP award in each of the past two seasons. This will be just the second time he has competed against Josh Allen in his career (third if you count celebrity golf tournaments). Last time out on the gridiron, the Packers saw a rookie Allen and a much different offense. Green Bay shut them out in a 22-0 win, holding Allen to 151 yards passing. His leading receiver that day was Charles Clay. Fast forward to now, Allen and the Bills have the most dangerous passing offense in the league. Allen grew up modeling his game after Rodgers, and now fans all over will tune in to watch them go head-to-head. Rodgers has won 13 consecutive regular season primetime starts, which is the longest streak by anyone since 1970. However, the Bills are undefeated in the week after the bye (5-0) since Sean McDermott took over as head coach. Something has to give.
- Undefeated at home vs. Green Bay: You have to go all the way back to 2014 to remember the last time the Packers made a regular season trip to Orchard Park. In that game, Kyle Orton, Marcus Thigpen and Baccari Rambo propelled the Bills to a 21-13 upset victory against a 10-3 Packers team, led by Rodgers. Prior to that in 2006, it was the J.P. Losman and Anthony Thomas show that proved too much for Brett Favre and the Packers to handle. Although, most of the credit in that one belongs to London Fletcher and the Buffalo defense for recording four takeaways. Despite the Packers’ illustrious history, they have never won a game in Orchard Park. They are 0-6 all-time on the road. The Bills hope to extend that streak on Sunday.
- Reinforcements on the way?: This weekend’s slate of games is the final one before NFL’s Nov. 1 trade deadline, which represents each team’s last chance at dealing to bolster their rosters for the playoff run. Buffalo does not have many glaring needs but general manager Brandon Beane is always working the phones looking for an upgrade. The team reportedly showed some interest in star running back Christian McCaffrey before he was ultimately shipped to San Francisco for multiple draft picks. Other top contenders loaded up earlier this week, as the undefeated Eagles traded for pass rusher Robert Quinn and the Chiefs landed speedy wideout Kadarius Toney. If the Bills are looking to add: running back, slot receiver, offensive line or a rental at safety to replace the injured Micah Hyde could make sense. Some names floating around in rumors include Browns running back Kareem Hunt and Rams running back Cam Akers. Whether or not the Bills swing a trade in the next few days, Odell Beckham Jr. is still available and favored to land with them as a free agent. Even without any external additions, the Bills are close to returning a major part of their secondary – Tre’Davious White – who was moving around well in practice despite being ruled out this weekend.
Impact matchups to watch
David Quessenberry vs. Rashan Gary
Coming off a career year in which he recorded 9.5 sacks, fourth-year pass rusher Rashan Gary is well on his way to surpassing those numbers. Through seven games, Gary leads the Packers in both sacks (6.0) and pressures (28), giving them a legitimate threat to get after the quarterback on every single snap.
The only glaring weakness in Gary’s game is his inability to set the edge against the run, which has become an issue for Green Bay on a weekly basis. Opposing teams have continued to exploit it, and it has almost certainly been a topic of discussion in the Bills’ meeting rooms during preparation for this game.
Gary suffered a concussion during the second half of last week’s loss against Washington, but there is optimism from the Packers’ side that he will be good to go for Sunday. He was a full participant in practice on Friday.
Gary typically lines up over the right tackle, meaning that David Quessenberry, who is filling in for the injured Spencer Brown, is up for the challenge of stopping him. Quessenberry, 32, has started 23 games in his NFL career and has filled in nicely since signing with the Bills this offseason. He is no stranger to challenges or adversity. Quessenberry did not appear in a game from 2014-2016 as he battled Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma, but he won the fight against cancer and returned to the field a year later. In 2017, he won the George Halas Award, which is given to the player, coach or staff member who overcomes the most adversity to succeed. In 2020, he started his first game and in 2021, he started all 17 games for the Tennessee Titans.
Devin Singletary vs. Packers run defense
There is no denying that the scariest threat the Bills have offensively is Josh Allen’s arm. However, this could be one of those games where the run game wears the opponent down.
The Packers have allowed the second-most rushing yards in the league this season and rank 26th in run defense. Their performance against the ground game has typically started out strong and deteriorated over the course of the game, likely due to fatigue. According to Peter Bukowski, who hosts the Locked On Packers podcast, Green Bay ranks seventh in expected points added per play during the first three quarters. Once you account for the fourth quarter and overtime, they drop all the way down to 29th.
Green Bay’s inability to extend drives offensively this year is a major factor. They rank 22nd in time of possession this year. That leaves their defense on the field for the bulk of the game.
This does not mean the Bills have to resort to a ground-and-pound approach, but it could be a big night for Devin Singletary. The 5-foot-7 back received an 86 percent snap share against the Chiefs, carrying the rock 17 times for 85 yards. Expect Singletary to get most of the workload out of the backfield again, with the occasional spell from James Cook, whose brother, Dalvin, has plenty of experience terrorizing the Packers in the NFC North.
How to watch
Kickoff is scheduled for Sunday at 8:20 p.m. EST on NBC. Mike Tirico and Cris Collinsworth will be on the call with Melissa Stark reporting from the sidelines. The Bills will be wearing blue jerseys and blue pants, which has become their default home uniform, perhaps due to superstition. The forecast calls for cloudy skies with temperatures in the low 50s.