Up The Gut Week 16: The Bills are legit, will challenge Chiefs in AFC

After winning their first division title since 1995, the Buffalo Bills look – and feel – like legitimate Super Bowl contenders, Shaun Morash says

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December 22, 2020 - 9:31 am
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By Shaun Morash

Cold Open
    
It looked like a thousand – heck, maybe more – Bills fans found their way to a small airport in Western New York in sub-freezing temperatures to fly flags and greet their AFC East champion Bills at 2 a.m. local time Sunday morning. That painted the picture and told a story of a starving fan base stuck in a bad blender of mediocrity within their own organization while in a division with the greatest modern dynasty in football. Despite not being allowed to attend any home game this year, Bills fans found a way to say thank you for getting their wish of a home playoff game, even if ultimately they cannot attend it.
   
As far on the field goes, the Bills didn't play down to the Broncos on Saturday; instead, they rose to the occasion and did what you would expect a contender to do as the weather turns: flex on a bad opponent and leave no doubt. In a season where it has felt like the Chiefs and then everyone else, the time to stop doubting the Bills as that contender, ready to look the Chiefs in the eye, is here. The Bills look and feel legit. Party like it is 1995, Buffalo. Just make sure to wear a mask as you get pile-driven through a beer pong table. 

Ten Yard Gain

1-The Cowboys offense is humming again, especially on the ground. With Tony Pollard running through the 49ers defense, we were once again reminded as NFL fans that no matter how elite the most elite running backs are in modern football, paying a large sum of your salary cap to one and/or spending top-10 picks on one is a mistake. The Cowboys are facing salary-cap problems moving forward and have now shown, even in a small sample size, that offense and run game can operate just fine at half the cost. 

2-Justin Jefferson is a rookie sensation, but he is still a rookie who hasn't necessarily earned the right to vent frustrations toward long-time veterans. It was not his fault he got caught on mic Sunday openly dissing Kirk Cousins’ decision-making in real time, so it is hard to completely criticize him. More importantly, though, Jefferson was brought into replace Stefon Diggs, who specialized in dumping on Cousins on the field. The Vikings may need to look their roster in the mirror and realize they can't keep wasting stud receivers on a quarterback who just can't elevate an offense the way his contract says he should be. 

3-Carson Wentz is unhappy with the way the Eagles have treated him, reportedly, and should Jalen Hurts remain the starter heading into next year, he wants out. Doug Pederson has gone out of his way to please Wentz so much so that we are getting a Hurts announcement week-by-week – not even a declaration for the season. You cannot be mentally soft as a quarterback and not take blame even if you feel it should be pointed elsewhere. It is hard to envision a happy ending for a quarterback we thought could play in Philadelphia at an elite level for over a decade. 

4-Drew Brees got hot late against the Chiefs, but it was too little too late. The Chiefs feel as if they are playing at another level of football and tease an opponent into a close game when they want to. This felt demoralizing from an NFC aspect, as if the Saints have no business in a game with the Chiefs. Can anyone in that conference keep pace in a potential Super Bowl matchup? 

5-If you are giving the Bucs and Tom Brady another victory lap after Sunday's comeback against Atlanta, you need to get serious. The Falcons did what they do to everyone: they collapsed. The fact that the Bucs defense, in a division game, could get off to such a slow start – while the same can also be said for the Brady-led offense – is a scary thought if you are a Bucs fan with big dreams for the playoffs in two weeks. Tampa Bay continues to be the most unimpressive playoff team that has been publicly hyped in quite some time. 

6-The light bulb feels like it is going off for Baker Mayfield. Kevin Stefanski has installed confidence in Baker, and due to an unusual offseason and preseason during a pandemic, it would be difficult for a head coach to have his young quarterback in a new system to come out flying. The Browns leaned on their elite run game and pass rush to stash wins; now it is their quarterback who has the ball jumping out of his hand and winning games for them, even if the run game gets bottled up. The Browns have the look of last year's Titans right now. 

7-The Jets cannot take Justin Fields No. 2 overall after beating the Rams. Fields in a big market like New York will be given zero leeway for struggling, especially if Trevor Lawrence is as generational a talent as he is projected to be. Fields will forever be compared to Lawrence and will be criticized even more after that win against the Rams that had nothing to do with him. He will be put in a position to fail, and that is not good for his career – or the next five years of Jets football. Trade the pick, collect assets and build with Sam Darnold and the right coach. 

8-Are all of us Mitchell Trubisky haters just going to keep hiding, or can someone give the guy credit? The Bears have kept their slim playoff hopes alive not because of a stifling defense, but because of Mitchell Trubisky leading this offense and scoring points. Maybe Trubisky's late run doesn't earn him a chance to come back as the Bears quarterback, but you can't help but be intrigued by whether Trubisky has saved his NFL career.

9-The Steelers’ dink-and-dunk offense has truly been exposed, and it appears they are back to the Duck Hodges-led team we saw a year ago as opposed to the 11-0 team we saw a month ago. Defensive injuries are one thing; scoring 17 points a game with Ben Roethlisberger is another. It feels like the Steelers may not win another game right now. 

10- Last but not least, let us just take a moment of silence for the 2020 Patriots. The streak is over, the playoffs are no more. And, unlike 2008 when they missed the playoffs, their next appearance doesn't exactly feel like it is right around the corner. 

Five Games to Chew On

5-Dolphins @ Raiders: The Raiders’ season effectively ended on Thursday night, which lessens the juice for this Saturday prime-time affair. The Dolphins need to keep the foot on the gas and go full steam ahead to make the playoffs in the competitive AFC Wild Card. If Tua can get going against a depleted Raiders defense, it could only add confidence to Miami in a potential Wild Card game in two weeks.

4-Giants @ Ravens: A Giants win on Sunday night against the Browns would have really inflated this game. The Giants, though, seem in flux due to Daniel Jones’ injury and being without important pieces on defense, such as James Bradberry. The Ravens look like the 2019 Ravens again, but can the Giants defense get back to how they looked three weeks ago and confuse Lamar Jackson?

3-Colts @ Steelers: The Colts and Steelers have looked every bit like real playoff teams for the most part this year. The Steelers, though, need a legitimate win against a legitimate team to make us feel good about the once-unbeaten power. Philip Rivers and Ben Roethlisberger get one more chance – and we don't know how many more they will have – at a duel from their 2004 Draft class in a game that will have a playoff vibe. 

2-Titans @ Packers: Sunday Night Football will feature two powerhouses that have questions of their own. Derrick Henry is carrying the Titans into the postseason, and in a cold-weather game, he could be the difference in setting the tone. Aaron Rodgers acknowledged Saturday that the Packers are not playing well enough, even in wins. Will the Titans defense have any answer for a hot Rodgers passing game?

1-Rams @ Seahawks: The Rams lost to the Jets – the freaking Jets – and now have to pick themselves up off the mat of that emotional defeat to take on the rival Seahawks for essentially the NFC West title. Can the Rams win three road games to get to a Super Bowl with Jared Goff at quarterback? It will be a tall task if they can't slow Russell Wilson and DK Metcalf Sunday afternoon. 

My Picks

Another 3-0 week has me at 9-0 the last 3 weeks. 27-18 ATS for the season. For this week:

Saints -6.5 vs Vikings: A taste of the NFL on Christmas Day. Drew Brees got hot in the second half, and the Saints cannot fool around in these final two weeks. I expect Brees to carve up the Vikings defense as your family carves up a ham. The Vikings went from thrusting themselves back into the playoff hunt to collapsing within the last two weeks. The 6.5 is key here, as a touchdown and extra point covers. I expect New Orleans to flex a bit here with the nation watching and win this game by at least 10 points. 

Titans +3.5 @ Packers: A cold primetime game for the Packers at home two weeks in a row. Green Bay has a chance offensively to throw all over the Titans secondary. However their inability to play a physical brand of football – and thus, play down to opponents – worries me here. This feels like a game in which Derrick Henry will absolutely set a tone to get the Packers off their game and keep Rodgers off the field. I am getting the hook at 3.5 here, so I will grab the points with a team that frankly may be better than the Packers are anyway. 

Rams +1.5 @ Seattle: It is understandable to be sour on the Rams after they lost to the Jets, but I view that as a true wake-up call and prideful week ahead for L.A. The Rams controlled the line of scrimmage and truly gave Russell Wilson fits when they beat the Seahawks by nine points in November. No Cam Akers will certainly hurt the Rams, but the Seahawks’ winning-ugly style plays right into the Rams’ hands for a get-right moment. 

Football Food of The Week

Bacon Wrapped Scallops. In honor of Christmas week, how about a throwback to yesteryear, before wrapping everything in bacon was the cool thing to do? Christmas Eve is about seafood for me. Frankly, the whole weekend is. Scallops are often overshadowed by their tasty big brother, shrimp, and can be missed by some on this fine week. So grab yourself some salty bacon, some delicious scallops and go to town as the Rams and Seahawks clash for a division title. The recipe is here.

Thanks for reading, as always. Have a Merry Christmas and a happy holiday season. You can follow me on Twitter and Instagram @MrazCBS.