The Bills left no question on Sunday that they’re the team to beat in the NFL. Given a bye week to contemplate the possibilities, I imagine fans are having visions of them winning 14-15 games, or even running the table.
You can’t rule anything out with this remarkable team, which is the only 5-1 team in the AFC and might be unbeaten if it had an extra second of clock at the end of the loss in Miami. But there’s one looming problem in the Bills’ quest to sweep through the rest of the regular season:
The AFC East.
Yes, it’s now the only division in the NFL in which all four teams are currently at .500 or better. Who would have imagined that back in the summer, when it was fashionable to dismiss the AFC East as the mighty Bills and its three hapless divisional brethren?
Heavens to Fireman Ed, the Jets are 4-2 for the first time since 2015, the year the Bills knocked them out of the playoffs in the season finale. That’s also the last time they finished a season at .500 or better.
On Sunday, the Jets waxed the reeling Packers, 27-10, behind a career-high 116 rushing yards by rookie Breece Hall and a defense that sacked Aaron Rodgers four times and held Green Bay to 278 yards of offense.
The Packers have lost in consecutive weeks to the Giants and Jets. I heard one national news commentator asking about the current odds of a Jets-Giants Super Bowl. Will people be calling the Bills’ home game against the Packers on Sunday night in two weeks a ‘trap game’ as they look ahead to that critical meeting with the Jets at MetLife a week later?
Then there’s the amazing Patriots. It’s become fashionable to trash Bill Belichick as some clueless sap without Tom Brady. He’s still one of the best coaches to don a headset, and he’s doing a tremendous job with a New England team that’s won two in a row to get back to .500 — after losing in overtime at Green Bay in Week 4.
The Pats are doing it with a third-string rookie quarterback, Bailey Zappe, who is the first quarterback to win his first two career starts and have a QB rating over 100 since Sonny Jurgensen in 1957 (dude had a rifle!).
The Pats outscored the Lions and Browns over the last two weeks, 67-15. Their resurgent defense stopped Detroit six times on fourth downs in a 29-0 shutout. They limited Cleveland’s top-rated running game to 70 yards and forced Jacoby Brissett to throw 45 times.
Sunday’s 38-15 win was the 324th of Belichick’s career, counting playoffs, tying him with legendary George Halas for second all-time. Don Shula has the most coaching wins in NFL history with 347.
Miami was the lone unbeaten in the AFC after beating the Bills in Week 3. They’ve lost three in a row since, losing a quarterback to injury in all three. Tua Tagovailoa went out with a concussion in Week 4 and Teddy Bridgewater went into concussion protocol after one snap a week later.
On Sunday, rookie Skylar Thompson left the game with an injured thumb on his throwing hand in the first half of the Dolphins’ 24-16 loss to the Vikings. Bridgewater relieved Thompson and went 23 of 34 passing for 329 yards, with two touchdowns and two interceptions.
Miami misses Tagovailoa, who was off to a career start before his injury woes began against Buffalo. But they have a chance to rebound in a soft upcoming schedule — vs. the Steelers next Sunday night, at the Lions and Bears, home against the Texans and Browns — before things get tough again.
The Bills are 12-2, counting playoffs, against the division since the start of 2020, when they went 6-0. I wouldn’t be surprised if they swept the remaining five AFC East games this season. But judging by recent events, it won’t be as easy as some fans imagined.
Allen on pace to surpass Manning
I don’t suppose Bills fans can get enough for updates on Josh Allen’s continued assault on the team and league record books.
Allen threw for 327 yards against the Chiefs, giving him 21 300-yard efforts in his last 41 games. He’s leading the NFL in passing yards with 1,980 (exactly 330 a game) and remains on pace to break Peyton Manning’s league record of 5,477 (albeit in 16 games) in 2013.
Wideout Stefon Diggs is having a banner season as well. Diggs had 10 catches for 148 yards against K.C. on Sunday. It was his 15th 100-yard game as a Bill, counting playoffs, and 31st such game overall.
Diggs has 49 catches for 656 yards and six touchdowns on the season. He’s third in the NFL in receptions (behind Cooper Kupp and Tyreek Hill) and second in receiving yards behind Hill, who has 701.
At this pace, Diggs would finish with 139 receptions for 1,859 yards, breaking his own team records in both categories set in 2020, in his first season with the Bills.
The NFL record for catches in a season is 149 by Michael Thomas of the Saints in 2019. Calvin Johnson holds the receiving yardage record of 1,964, established for the Lions in 2012.
“He is who he is for a reason,” Allen said of Diggs. “He works his tail off and does all the right things. We love him for that.”
Long road to victory
Talk about going the extra mile for the team. Bills all-pro safety Jordan Poyer took a 15-hour ride in a luxury van to Kansas City to take part in the team’s 24-20 victory over the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium.
Poyer was able to practice last week after suffering what was reported as a rib injury against the Ravens in Week 4. He was cleared to play Sunday, but the Buffalo News learned that he couldn’t fly because of a pneumothorax, in laymen’s terms a collapsed lung that could have been exacerbated by air pressure changes on a flight.
A car service was provided by the team, and Poyer reportedly traveled to K.C. with his wife, Rachel, and daughter, Aliyah. The van was large enough for passengers to sleep.
Poyer had four tackles, three solo, in the win. He seemed a bit less aggressive than normal, which was understandable. But it must have been an enormous emotional lift to his teammates to know that he had gone to such lengths to be on the field for the biggest game of the year.
Is He Owned?
This week’s featured fantasy find is Colts rookie wideout Alec Pierce, who caught the game-winning 32-yard touchdown pass from Matt Ryan in Indy’s 34-27 win over the Jaguars on Sunday. He also drew a couple of pass interference calls.
Pierce, a second-round pick from Cincinnati, dropped a sure touchdown pass in the Colts’ tie with the Texans in the opener. He had no catches that day. I was one of those impulsive fantasy owners who dumped him after the first week.
Since then, Pierce has gradually earned the trust of quarterback Matt Ryan (who threw for 389 yards Sunday) and his coaches. He had eight catches for 81 yards against the Broncos two weeks ago. Desperate for receiver help with two top guys hurt, I picked him back up.
Pierce isn’t leaving my roster again. He’s only rostered in 24 percent of ESPN leagues, so get him before he really heats up.
- The unbeaten Eagles scored 20 points in the second quarter of their 26-17 win over the Cowboys on Sunday night. Philadelphia has 112 points in the second quarter this season, the most by a team in any quarter through the first six games in NFL history. As of Monday, that was more points than 11 teams had scored all season.
- The Giants are 5-1 after rallying from 10 points down in the fourth quarter to beat the Ravens, 24-20. They have trailed in each of their five wins, three times when trailing by 10 or more. Baltimore, meanwhile, has blown double-digit leads in the second half of all three of its losses, including a 23-20 loss to the Bills in Week 4.
- Atlanta’s Marcus Mariota completed his first 13 throws and finished 13-for-14 for 129 yards and two touchdowns in a 28-14 win over the Niners. Mariota had 50 yards rushing and a score. According to NFL Research, he’s the second player since 1950 to have two passing TDs, 50 yards rushing and a rushing TD, with one or fewer incompletions in the same game. The other was Hall of Fame running back Walter Payton.
- The Niners are hurting. They had 11 of 22 starters who were on IR, a pre-game inactive, or who left the game Sunday due to injury … Like Diggs, the Chiefs’ Travis Kelce had the 31st 100-yard game of his career Sunday. That tied former Chiefs great Tony Gonzalez for second all-time by a tight end. Rob Gronkowski, who insists he’s retired for good, has 32 … The Jets became the first team in 10 years to win despite having only one third-down conversion and fewer than 100 net passing yards in a game. Nice going, Packers …
Jerry Sullivan is an award-winning journalist who joined the News 4 team in 2020 after three decades as a sports columnist at The Buffalo News. See more of his work here.