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Pregame Shuffle Week 15: Cowboys at Bills preview

A tough (and cold) road lies ahead

Buffalo Bills v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images

The moment the NFL released the 2023 schedule, many Cowboys fans saw a road trip to the Bills in the middle of December and immediately chalked it up as a loss. Understandably so, too, because a Texas team traveling up north that time of year is usually a recipe for disaster. On top of that, the Bills have been one of the best teams in the NFL the last few years.

Well, we’ve reached that game now and it’s far from the Herculean task that it was supposed to be for the Cowboys. For starters, the Bills have struggled mightily this season. Buffalo enters this game at 7-6 and sitting just outside of the playoff picture. They fired offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey five weeks ago and have seen some stabilization on offense, but the Bills still haven’t won games in consecutive weeks since the end of September.

On top of the Bills struggling as a team, they may not even have much of a weather advantage in this game. Current weather forecasts list a high of 48° on Sunday, with mild winds and a 40% chance of rain. Of course, that’s not ideal weather conditions for a team headquartered in Dallas that plays home games in a dome, but it’s much easier to prepare for than a snowstorm, as many feared several months ago.

Not only have these things impacted the expectations for this game, where Buffalo is currently a two-point favorite (a line that has fluctuated slightly), but the Cowboys are playing some of the best football in the NFL right now. They’ve won five straight and, at 10-3, are tied for the best record in the league. They also hold first place in their division right now after a comfortable win over the Eagles this past week.

Of course, the Cowboys don’t control their destiny yet. In the event that both the Cowboys and Eagles win out, Philadelphia would win the division by virtue of a better record against common opponents. The Cowboys need the Eagles to lose at least one more game while also winning the rest of their games.

That’s where the pressure really begins to mount this week. While Buffalo isn’t a conference foe, they are a common opponent, having narrowly lost to the Eagles just three weeks ago. The same goes for next week’s game against the Dolphins, another team that fell to Philadelphia.

The Cowboys have been one of the very best teams since their bye week, but their schedule is getting significantly harder now with incredibly little margin for error. Mike McCarthy has talked before about how December games are a good way of simulating a playoff environment without truly being a win-or-go-home situation, and that’s doubly true for this season’s schedule.

Buffalo may not be the team they were expected to be coming into this season, but that doesn’t mean they’re pushovers. All of their losses have come within one score, with two of them in overtime, while four of their seven wins have been by multiple scores. This is still a team that can hang with anyone, but inconsistency has been their undoing this year.

Much of that has to do with their offense, which is built around Josh Allen. The multifaceted quarterback might just be the most all-around talented player at his position, but the actual results don’t always reflect that. As has often been the case with Allen, turnovers became a big problem in the first half of the season. Through the first 10 weeks, Allen had thrown 11 interceptions and lost four fumbles.

It was after the Week 10 loss when the Bills made a change at coordinator, and while Allen hasn’t been perfect, he’s playing better. He’s throw one interception in each of the three games since, but he’s paired that with nine total touchdowns and zero lost fumbles.

Allen isn’t the only issue with this team, though, as they’ve struggled to play complete games. It seems as if Allen and the offense struggles when the defense is playing well, and then the defense can’t stop a nosebleed when Allen is playing the way he’s capable of. That’s why Dallas has a chance against the Bills, as they’re one of just three teams to rank in the top 10 in offensive, defense, and special teams DVOA.

The Cowboys will need to play that way on Sunday, too, because it takes a complete team effort to beat these Bills. It’s impossible to know what kind of performance you'll get from Buffalo any given Sunday, which makes them dangerous. But if the Cowboys are looking to earn a division title, they’ll need to be the better team regardless of weather or which Josh Allen shows up.

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