Written by John Sparaco
The last time the Buffalo Bills and Minnesota Vikings met, football fans got their first glimpse of the heroics of Josh Allen. As a 17-point underdog, Buffalo stunned the world with a dominant 27-6 victory, which became the largest NFL upset in 23 years. Allen collected his career first win as a starter that day, hurdling his way into the spotlight.
Since then, victories by Allen and the Bills have become much less surprising. However, last Sunday, fans were reminded what parts of Allen’s rookie season looked like.
Against a rival Jets team, the Bills’ passing offense was completely out of sync. Allen completed just 18 of his 34 attempts for 205 yards, throwing two picks directly into the hands of the defenders. One week after he criticized his mistakes in the second half of the Green Bay game, Allen put the blame on his shoulders.
“It’s tough to win in this league when you’re playing a good team and your quarterback plays like s***,” Allen said.
Aside from Stefon Diggs, who finished with five catches for 93 yards, Buffalo’s receivers struggled to get open against a talented Jets defense. Their pass rush got to Allen often, sacking him five times, including a strip sack on the final drive that caused an injury to Allen’s throwing elbow.
As the Bills try to get back on track from a stunning 20-17 defeat, they will be forced to overcome some injuries against a 7-1 Vikings team that has won six straight.
- Josh Allen’s injury: The top story all week has been the status of Allen’s elbow. According to NFL Network insider Ian Rapoport, he is believed to be dealing with a UCL sprain, which is an injury he dealt with once before. Last time, it sidelined him for four games but it seems he might be able to play through this one. The Bills have been rather secretive in regard to Allen’s status. Head coach Sean McDermott described him as “day-to-day” and “hour-to-hour” without divulging any further information. Allen did not practice on Wednesday or Thursday but was a limited participant on Friday. Perhaps the biggest hint dropped right around 4 p.m. on Saturday when the team opted not to elevate quarterback Matt Barkley from the practice squad. That leaves just two quarterbacks on the active roster, which is a sign that Allen will start after all. Aside from Allen, the Bills have a few more injuries to worry about. Starting defensive end Greg Rousseau (ankle) and safety Jordan Poyer (elbow) were ruled out in advance. The Bills are 0-2 in games Poyer has missed this season. In addition, rookie cornerback Kaiir Elam is doubtful to play with an ankle issue and middle linebacker Tremaine Edmunds is considered questionable with groin and heel troubles.
- Old friends: For the first time since he was traded in 2020, Stefon Diggs will play against his former team. Although the end of his Vikings tenure ended with frustration partly due to a lack of targets from quarterback Kirk Cousins, Diggs is still responsible for arguably the most memorable play in their franchise history, the Minneapolis Miracle. The quarterback behind that play? Case Keenum, who took most of the first team reps for the Bills in practice this week. When speaking to the media, Keenum joked that he has already played quite a few of his former teams before, making it no big deal if he is asked to start this Sunday. “That’s what happens when you have a lot of former teams,” Keenum said. The Bills elevated cornerback Xavier Rhodes from the practice squad. Rhodes made three Pro Bowls and was a first-team All-Pro selection in seven seasons as a Viking. If Rhodes is active, it will also be his first game as a Bill. Former Bills defensive tackle Harrison Phillips, who departed in free agency this offseason, is making his first trip back to Buffalo as a visiting player. In an interview with Spectrum News, Phillips said Sunday will be “very emotional” for him, adding that is not sure how he will act. Even after leaving, Phillips has remained very involved with charitable events in the Buffalo community.
- Battle of the Cook brothers: Another first – Bills rookie running back James Cook will get to share the field with his older brother Dalvin for the first time ever this Sunday. Dalvin is a three-time Pro Bowler who has repeatedly proven to be one of the best running backs in the game. James, who was drafted in the second round this year, started off slow but has begun getting more involved in recent weeks. “It’s a fun time for my family. But it’s something that I will remember forever,” Dalvin said this week. According to the Bills’ website, as many as 30 family members are expected to be in attendance at the ‘Cook Bowl’ this Sunday, repping split hoodies to cheer on both brothers.
- AFC implications: As of now, the Bills are still holding onto the first seed in the AFC. However, a loss tomorrow could prove costly in the standings. If the Chiefs defeat the Jaguars, they would slide into the first seed. Also, if the Dolphins win against the Browns in this scenario, the Bills could drop as far as the sixth seed. Obviously, a lot can change over the final seven weeks of the season, but home field advantage is not something the Bills want to lose control of in the playoffs.
Impact matchups to watch
Bills’ secondary vs. Justin Jefferson
Very few wideouts have been as dominant as Justin Jefferson since he entered the league in 2020. Jefferson has been a pro bowler and a second-team All-Pro in each of his first two seasons, posting an NFL rookie record of 1,400 yards in year one and 1,616 yards in year two. So far in 2022, Jefferson ranks second in the league with 867 yards while Diggs trails right behind him with 857. Of course, both players are forever linked after Jefferson was selected with the pick Buffalo traded to acquire Diggs. The success of both Diggs and Jefferson has made it arguably one of the evenest trades in sports history.
Buffalo’s secondary is not at full strength currently as Micah Hyde (out for the season), Jordan Poyer and potentially Kaiir Elam will all be out. If Tre’Davious White makes his season debut tomorrow, he will immediately be put to the test against one of the best receivers in football, who also happens to be a fellow LSU alum. Even if White plays, expect Christian Benford and Dane Jackson to get their fair share of reps against Jefferson. How they perform with Damar Hamlin, Jaquan Johnson and/or Dean Marlowe in the back end will have a major impact on the final outcome.
Bills’ run defense vs. Dalvin Cook
As previously mentioned, Cook has been one of the most dominant players at his position since entering the league in 2017. His playing style is very similar to his brother, as he can hurt you in both the run game and the receiving game. In eight games this season, Cook has averaged a little over 16 carries per game while sitting at 4.6 yards per carry. He also has 19 receptions for 119 yards.
Buffalo’s defense ranks sixth in rushing yards allowed per game (104.9) but has had difficulties in the previous two games. The Packers averaged 6.7 yards per carry in Week 8 and the Jets followed that up with a balanced rushing attack in Week 9. Whereas those teams embrace a committee approach with their running backs, the Vikings choose to lean on Cook as their bell cow.
Bills defensive end Von Miller has been adamant that there is “no panic” on his side of the ball. As questions continue to be raised about Josh Allen and the Bills offense this week, the defense will need to find a way to limit Minnesota’s playmakers and take the pressure off their teammates. The performances of Miller, DaQuan Jones, and rotational defensive ends such as Shaq Lawson and AJ Epenesa will be crucial.
How to watch
Kickoff is scheduled for Sunday at 1:00 p.m. EST on FOX. Joe Davis and Daryl Johnston will be on the call with Pam Oliver reporting from the sidelines. The Bills will be wearing blue jerseys and white pants, switching up the uniform combo after a loss. Temperatures in Orchard Park will be in the 30s with the possibility of a wintry mix of rain and snow throughout the game.