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7 keys for the Bills’ Thanksgiving clash with the Lions: preview, picks, more for Week 12

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Stefon Diggs Buffalo Bills
Buffalo Bills wide receiver Stefon Diggs (14) is brought down by Minnesota Vikings linebacker Eric Kendricks (54) in the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 13, 2022, in Orchard Park, N.Y. (AP Photo/Jeffrey T. Barnes)

The Buffalo Bills got back in the win column with an uneven effort against the Cleveland Browns in Detroit, thanks to a record-breaking snowstorm in Buffalo. They’ll now head back to Detroit to actually take on the Lions in the first Thanksgiving game of the day.

Buffalo Bills (7-3) @ Detroit Lions (4-6)

Game Details:

  • Location: Ford Field in Detroit, MI
  • Time: Thursday, November 24th at 12:30 p.m. ET
  • Channel: CBS

Betting Stats:

  • SPREAD: BUF -9.5
  • OVER/UNDER: 54

Top Matchups/Storylines:

Can the Bills continue to limit turnovers?

The Buffalo Bills offense has been a total enigma over the last month, vacillating back and forth between a quick-strike powerhouse and a sloppy mess. On the season, Buffalo leads the NFL in the percentage of offensive drives that end in a score with 48.1% of their drives ending in points. However, they also lead the league in offensive turnover rate with 17% of their drives ending in turnovers. 

So they are the best in the NFL at scoring and also the worst in the NFL in stopping themselves from scoring. 

Now, I know some of that is defensive performances. The Jets in particular played the Bills well, but many of those turnovers are simply poor decisions and this team shooting itself in the foot. 

Last week against Cleveland, Buffalo made no costly mistakes, but they also looked a little more passive than we’ve seen in the past and left a lot of “meat on the bone” (more on that below). While this Lions’ defense has been bad on the season, they have been firing on all cylinders during their three-game winning streak, allowing 19 points per game and recording an NFL-leading six interceptions. 

While they barely edged out a win over the Bears, they handily beat the Packers and the Giants, so it hasn’t been the easiest or luckiest win streak you’ll find. Buffalo can’t afford to get sloppy against a confident Detroit squad. 

 

Can Buffalo fix their red zone issues?

Part of that meat on the bone I referenced above remains the red zone issues. That 48.1% rate of offensive drives that end in a score is misleading because far too many of those drives have ended in red zone field goals instead of touchdowns. 

The Bills will come into this game ranked 23rd in the NFL with 51.3% of their red zone trips ending in a touchdown. Last season they led the NFL with a 66.3% conversion rate. 

While part of that is on the inconsistent playcalling of Ken Dorsey, the Bills can also look to blame the decision-making of Josh Allen, the drops from wide receivers, and the blocking of their offensive line. 

Even last week, despite putting up 31 points, Buffalo only scored touchdowns on 40% of their red zone trips. On the season, the Lions are letting teams find the end zone 66.7% of the time in the red zone, so this might be a “get right” spot for the Bills. 

 

Is this the game we see the “old” Josh Allen?

It might also be a “get right” spot for Josh Allen, who looked tentative on Sunday, hesitating to use his legs and pulling back in the middle of deep passing attempts before choosing to check down.

This Detroit defense can be beaten through the air. They rank 24th in touchdown rate on passes, are tied for dead last in yards gained per pass attempt, and are 30th in yards gained per completion. They are also 27th in sack rate, so Allen should have time in the pocket.

The Lions have also struggled with running quarterbacks. Last week, Daniel Jones ran for 50 yards and a touchdown on seven carries. Justin Fields also ran for 147 yards and two touchdowns against them two weeks ago, and Jalen Hurts got them for 90 yards and a touchdown in Week 1, so chunk yardage can be gained if Allen decides to take off and run. 

Plus, you have the Thanksgiving Josh narrative. 

So far, the Bills are 2-0 in Thanksgiving games with Josh Allen as their starter. Against the Cowboys two years ago, Allen had what many refer to as his “coming out party,” completing 79% of his passes for 231 yards and two total touchdowns and finished with a 120.7 passer rating. Last year against New Orleans he completed 82% of his passes for 260 yards, four touchdowns, and a 115.2 passer rating.

Can he do it again under the national spotlight?

 

Can the Buffalo running game keep finding its groove?

The Bills could also choose to keep a lot off Allen’s plate on Thanksgiving because the Lions can also be attacked on the ground. They rank 30th in yards per carry allowed and 31st in rushing yards allowed per game. They are also dead last in expected points contributed by the rushing defense, with Cleveland coming in just ahead of them at 31st. 

Devin Singletary and James Cook also started to heat up last week as each rushed for 86 yards and averaged over 4.5 yards per carry. The offensive line was able to open up big running lanes and the Bills started to stretch to the outside in order to make sure of the shiftiness of their backs. 

However, the Lions stepped up against Saquon Barkley last week, holding him to 22 yards on 15 carries. Considering Buffalo will also likely be without starting center Mitch Morse, who didn’t practice on Monday or Tuesday, that could jeopardize any rhythm the offensive line is trying to find. 

 

Will the Buffalo run defense show up again?

Last week, the defensive effort against the run was crucial to the Bills’ success. Nick Chubb was averaging over 100 rushing yards a game but only put up 19 yards on 14 carries against the Bills. That’s just 1.4 yards per carry, which was his lowest average since 2018.

Ed Oliver was absolutely dominant, registering three tackles for loss and five total tackles for Buffalo. DaQuan Jones was also elite, making three total tackles while taking on double teams to make life easier for the linemen and linebackers. 

However, a concern is that a lot of his fellow starters who he makes life easier for might not be out there. All of Tremaine Edmunds, Greg Rousseau, and AJ Epenesa did not practice on Monday or Tuesday. While all of those losses are impactful, the Bills have experienced a major drop-off in linebacker play when Edmunds or Milano sit. 

That could be an issue on Sunday after the Lions rushed for 160 yards on 4.3 yards per carry while adding four rushing touchdowns. Now a lot of that happened because they built an early lead and were just able to grind out the clock, but Buffalo is going to have to get production from their depth pieces to stop Jamaal Williams and D’Andre Swift. 

 

Can the Bills’ secondary clamp down?

The Bills will also need better production from their depth in the secondary. In my position grades this week, I covered how Dane Jackson and Christian Benford really struggled to get their head around in coverage, allowing Jacoby Brissett to throw for 324 yards and three touchdowns. 

The Lions don’t have too many weapons, but Amon-Ra St. Brown and DJ Chark, who figures to return on Thursday, are two that need to be accounted for. St. Brown leads the team with 56 catches for 594 yards and three touchdowns in nine games. Chark has only played three games due to injury but has flashed in his career when healthy, catching 73 passes for 1,0008 yards and eight touchdowns in a Pro Bowl campaign with Jacksonville in 2019. 

With Tre’Davious White likely out again, Buffalo is going to need Jackson and Benford to show improvement on last week. The good news is that first-round cornerback Kaiir Elam practiced in full on Monday and Tuesday, so he should return on Thursday to potentially play opposite Jackson. 

For more NFL coverage, like this Buffalo Bills preview, visit amNY Sports

Jamaal Williams and the Lions take on the Bills
Detroit Lions running back Jamaal Williams (30) celebrates after scoring a touchdown during the first half of an NFL football game against the New York Giants, Sunday, Nov. 20, 2022, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/John Munson)

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