Lions at Bills
Kickoff: 1 p.m. Sunday, New Era Field, Orchard Park, N,Y.
TV/radio: FOX/760 AM
Records: Lions 5-8, Bills 4-9
Line: Buffalo by 2
View from the other side
Vic Carucci covers the Bills for the Buffalo News. He breaks down the Lions’ upcoming opponent for The Detroit News, answering five questions heading into Sunday’s game. You can follow him on Twitter @viccarucci.
►Question: Is the Bills Mafia — the rabid fan base for the team — as crazy as it seems?
►Carucci: I think the word “rabid” pretty much speaks for itself, although I don’t know if I’d classify every Bills fan as “crazy.” My sense is that a lot of the table-smashing stuff that you’ve seen on videos represents a fairly small portion of the base and is more about certain people who like drawing attention to themselves rather than a legitimate definition of a Bills fan. I believe what defines fans here is loyalty, and while there are generations of followers who have seen more losing than winning, you’ll find their grandparents and parents clinging to the history and sense of community that comes from rooting for their hometown team. The fact a market as small as Buffalo is able to stay attached to something as massive as the NFL is no minor factor in motivating people to provide as much support as they can.
►Question: Has Josh Allen made fans comfortable in his status as the future of the franchise? Is his running all over the place a long-term strategy?
►Carucci: I think a larger portion of fans are feeling better about the team’s future with Allen at quarterback than maybe existed before or earlier in the season. They see his dynamic athleticism as something upon which he and the team can build, and recognize he needs much more in the way of a supporting cast. Still, I think the jury remains out on his consistency as a passer, which was the big question about him coming out of Wyoming. I believe his running is a crucial dimension to what allows him to have success, but I know that even he would say it isn’t something he wants to be doing as much as he has over the long haul. His coaches and teammates certainly aren’t comfortable with it being as extensive as it has in the past three games. In a perfect world, Allen’s running threat complements his passing and the ability to have an effective rushing attack from the backs (which hasn’t been the case).
►Question: The Bills’ defensive line looked like a real strength, but has faded somewhat. Are those guys finally showing their age?
►Carucci: I think it’s still a fairly solid group and a significant part of what allows the Bills to have the top-ranked defense in the NFL and the league’s top pass defense. The line actually has gotten an injection of youth with the additions of Star Lotulelei, Harrison Phillips and Jordan Phillips. Kyle Williams is probably at the end of the line, but Jerry Hughes still has some time left, and Shaq Lawson has rounded into a better player than he was the past couple of seasons. Trent Murphy hasn’t been able to stay healthy enough to contribute at the level the team was hoping when it signed him as a free agent. Overall, I think the group can be vulnerable against strong rushing attacks (the Bills are ninth in the NFL vs. the run), but it is capable of applying decent pressure with the help of some strong play from the secondary.
►Question: December football in Detroit and Buffalo usually means playing for draft position. Are the fans restless for the Bills to tank for a better selection like many are here in Michigan?
►Carucci: I’m sure there’s a faction that is more concerned with improving draft position than winning through these final few games. Unlike what the Sabres did a little while back, I don’t think the Bills are going to be overt about looking to tank, even though there has been a tremendous emphasis on putting younger players on the field. The bottom line is that I think the majority of fans had fairly low expectations, despite last year’s playoff appearance, which only happened thanks a miraculous Cincinnati victory over Baltimore. Given that the Bills were going to be drafting a quarterback and needed to shore up other positions, the assumption was they would take some steps back and then add more pieces over the next couple of years before being seriously viewed as a contender. The speed of Allen’s development (or lack thereof) factors into that equation, of course.
►Question: The Bills win this game if?
►Carucci: They force Matthew Stafford into mistakes, somehow find a way to move the ball on the ground after Allen hands it off, and show something in the way of competence on special teams.
Matt Schoch is a freelance writer.