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Cowboys at Bills: ‘Josh Allen is as awesome as he’s ever been. There’d be a lot more losing without QB17.’

It will be interesting to see how the Bills look on Sunday.

Denver Broncos v Buffalo Bills Photo by Lauren Leigh Bacho/Getty Images

The Dallas Cowboys game against the Buffalo Bills is huge for both teams. To get an idea of what is going on with the Bills, we turn to our sister site, Buffalo Rumblings. The Cowboys are currently 2-point underdogs in the game according to DraftKings Sportsbook. We’ll check on that line and more in our five questions segment.

Blogging The Boys: What is the feeling around making the playoffs? Certain to get in? Hopeful? Doubtful? How badly would a loss to Dallas damage those hopes?

Buffalo Rumblings: NFL parity, it’s a wonderful thing. As is the case in the NFC, there’s a logjam of teams stuck at 7-6, and the Bills are at the back of that pack due to tiebreakers. Unfortunately, quarterback injuries have plagued the league and currently four of those six 7-6 AFC teams have had to turn to backup QBs.

Bills Mafia remains hopeful, by and large, about the team’s playoff chances — and that’s reasonable to expect with Josh Allen at QB. But it’s anything other than guaranteed. They have what I’ll term an abysmal AFC record (4-5), a less-than-spectacular AFC East record (2-2), and are 2-4 on the road overall (plus 0-1 in a “home” UK game). There’s zero room for error in my opinion. I see every matchup from here on out as a playoff game. In reality, this weekend might be the one remaining game the Bills could lose and still make the playoffs, due simply to the Cowboys being an NFC team. I do wonder how a loss would affect their confidence in the weeks ahead.

A perfect scenario for the Bills this weekend would be a win against the Cowboys with the Miami Dolphins dropping another game. That would allow Buffalo to begin focusing on a meaningful run at the AFC East crown.

BTB: Looks like RB James Cook had a big Week 14. Tell us about his game and how the Bills are utilizing him in the offense.

BR: James Cook is everything that he was advertised to be leading up to the 2022 NFL Draft. He’s a dynamic true dual-threat running back who’s at home finding room between the tackles or on the perimeter. He has legitimate speed, and presents a matchup nightmare for most NFL linebackers when he’s utilized as a vertical receiver out of the backfield and within the slot. But Cook is also very capable as a boundary pass catcher — essentially the sky’s the limit for Cook and interim offensive coordinator Joe Brady. Cook isn’t the biggest running back, but he’ll mix it up like one, and he allows his play to do the talking.

Bills fans have called for Cook to receive an expanded role since early in his rookie year. Yes, the NFL is now a passing league even in obvious run situations — and it’s true that Buffalo’s offense runs through Josh Allen (figuratively and sometimes actually) — but Cook’s ability as a runner is something that I believe the Bills will exploit in the passing game in the weeks to come. If teams are insistent about shutting down Stefon Diggs, they’ll have to contend with Cook instead.

Cook is heading toward his first 1,000-yard rushing season in year two, and that’s on a team sparsely perceived to be run-oriented. Should he eclipse that mark, Cook will become the first Bills running back since LeSean McCoy to accomplish the feat. It’s near certain that Cook’s teammates know what’s at stake, and now’s the perfect time of the season to see if that goal has legs. On the season, Cook has 163 carries for 789 yards with one touchdown; adding 38 receptions (on 44 targets) for 381 yards and one receiving touchdown.

BTB: Josh Allen has the production, but also the turnovers. What’s your take on how he is playing this year?

BR: Often this season, I’ve been asked about Allen and his turnovers. Personally, I believe Josh Allen would be considered an MVP favorite on the nearly same level as Dak Prescott if the Bills had a better W-L record. He’s been responsible for 78% of the team’s offense, and Allen leads the NFL in total yards (3,821 combined) and total touchdowns (35 combined) through 13 games.

Josh Allen (13 games)

Passing: 318-of-475 (66.9%) for 3,447 yards, 25 passing TDs, 14 INTs

Rushing: 72 rushes for 374 yards, 10 TDs, 4 FMBs

Dak Prescott (13 games)

Passing: 312-for-450 (69.3%) for 3,505 yards, 28 passing TDs, 6 INTs

Rushing: 44 rushes for 185 yards, 2 TDs, 2 FMBs

Certainly, Dak’s numbers are better, more efficient. But with Allen being responsible for almost 80% of the Bills’ offensive production, his potential to put the ball in harm’s way is magnified.

I suspect Cowboys fans can sympathize with those analysts and media personnel who perhaps over-accentuate quarterback turnovers. Prescott has been on a tear this season and Dak’s lower turnover rate has allowed his accomplishments to shine. Stats do often do a wonderful job imprinting a number, void of context. How many of a quarterback’s interceptions come in end-of-half moments, or when a receiver fails to make a routine catch... that flips to the defense? Not the majority of them, for sure.

Still, I’ll live with Allen’s turnovers if it continues to include all the other magic he creates on a football field. For all of Allen’s oft-mentioned turnovers, it’s a challenge to recall many games where he outright cost the Bills a chance at winning in the final moments of an undecided game. As one example, people will say: “Wrong, look at their Week 1 loss against the Jets to open this season — Allen had four turnovers!” True, but they came early and often, and Allen directed the offense to a score that forced overtime — which the team ultimately lost on a walk-off punt-return touchdown. More often than not, week after week, season after season — Allen’s found his efforts go for naught... let down by a defense surrendering game-deciding points in the final moments.

As I shared last week with Arrowhead Pride, consider the clip below:

Mike Greenberg begins by stating Allen’s (at that point) eight-game turnover streak, and that he leads the NFL in turnovers over the last four years. But this isn’t another bit of film intent on bashing Josh Allen...

Lately, too many analysts go straight for that “but,” ignoring the stats that nearly every other quarterback would be and currently finds themselves praised over. For those who don’t click on the embedded tweet, the figures Greenberg pointed out were as follows (prior to Week 14):

Seventeen more touchdowns than turnovers this year (a ratio behind only Dak Prescott)

Allen has a +94 turnover ratio the last four seasons (second only to Mahomes’ +97)

No team has scored more points than the Bills in those four seasons

Only the Chiefs have a better record in the last four years

In those four seasons, Allen has 163 TDs

Should Allen score seven more TDs this season, he will become the first QB ever with 40+ TDs in four consecutive seasons

Yet, all anyone wants to hang their hat on are those turnovers.

TLDR: Josh Allen is as awesome as he’s ever been. The Buffalo Bills and the fans are lucky to have him. There’d be a lot more losing without QB17.

BTB: Who are a couple of young players that you really like on the Bills, but that we might not have heard too much about?

BR: I’d love to spend more time highlighting defensive end A.J. Epenesa, who’s set to become a free agent next spring. He has an incredible nose for the football, with an uncanny ability to deflect passes at the line. A fun bit of statistical schadenfreude is that Epenesa has as many interceptions at Sauce Gardner. But Epenesa is currently dealing with a ribs injury suffered early against the Kansas City Chiefs, when he made one of his tip-pass drill interceptions.

Apart from Epenesa, it’s worth pointing out a pair of offensive rookies, and two second-year players. Rookies Dalton Kincaid and O’Cyrus Torrence continue putting together impressive seasons. Tight end Dalton Kincaid is a near automatic to make the catch and yards after the catch any time the football is close by. Through 13 games, Kincaid has caught 61 passes for 495 yards and two touchdowns. Kincaid is second on the team in targets (72) and catches. As for right guard O’Cyrus Torrence, he’s been a stabilizing force on the O-line — far from perfect at this stage, he’s a nasty road-grading lineman who’s played a key role in improved play on the Bills’ right side of the line.

Second-year wide receiver Khalil Shakir has really stepped up, catching 26 passes (on 31 targets) for 422 yards and two touchdowns. In a season where wide receiver Gabe Davis hasn’t been able to impact games catching the ball, Shakir has taken up the mantle as a WR2 in spurts. With Davis entering free agency next March, Shakir could be primed to fill his role should he sign elsewhere. He appears more than ready as it relates to on-field production, but it will be interesting to see how he responds to defenses that have more game tape to study of him.

I’m not sure how much national attention second-year linebacker Terrell Bernard has received this season, but he’s put together a phenomenal campaign with 112 tackles (65 solo), 3.5 sacks, six TFLs, five PDs, three INTs, and three FRs. Bernard’s task this season was replacing linebacker Tremaine Edmunds, a task most outsiders thought was impossible. At this point, Bernard has played better than Edmunds ever did in five seasons with Buffalo. This is a player who barely contributed as a rookie, found a hamstring injury during his second training camp that caused him to miss most of the summer and every preseason game. Bernard was given a green dot and slotted in next to All-Pro linebacker Matt Milano. Then five games in, Milano was lost and Bernard became the focal piece at linebacker. He’s played far above anyone’s expectations (at least outside of the Bills’ organization), turning a perceived weakness into one of the team’s defensive strengths.

BTB: DraftKings Sportsbook has Buffalo as 2-point favorites. Is that a fair line? How do you think the game plays out?

BR: Certainly, the line is fair. The Dallas Cowboys are an uber-talented team able to score points at a near-constant and prolific pace. But let’s consider some more stats and trends, shall we? The Bills are 5-2 at home this season (5-1 at games in Highmark Stadium), while the Cowboys are 3-3 in road games. However, Dallas hasn’t lost a game since October with six straight victories, while Buffalo hasn’t won consecutive games since a Week 4 throttling of the Dolphins. In their previous five games, the Cowboys have averaged 40.2 points per game (incredible), while the Bills have averaged an NFL-respectable though pale-in-comparison 25.2 points in that same span.

Interestingly, points could be at a premium on Sunday, with Buffalo’s defense giving up an average of just 18.9 points per game, and Dallas even stingier — only surrendering 17.9 points per game.

Considering all that? I really don’t have a firm grasp how things will play out. The one thing all those stats fail to do is account for motivation, of which both teams have. The Cowboys are on an absolute tear, and they have their sights set on the NFC East and the top seed in their division. But it’s worth wondering if they’re perhaps peaking too early, or at minimum set up for a let down against an AFC foe that appears vulnerable.

As for the Buffalo Bills, there’s a palpable sense of determination. The Bills are a team motivated to prove the naysayers wrong about their demise, that head coach Sean McDermott is ill-suited to remain in charge — and they’re ready to re-route the narrative that they can’t and won’t win on the biggest stage.

This Sunday is one of those big-stage moments, and we’re about to find out if they’re ready for the spotlight in what could have the feel of a championship game. The Bills are no stranger to must-win games and building momentum. The key will be how Buffalo’s defense, a patchwork unit due to a massive strain of injuries, holds up against what may be the biggest challenge of the season. If the Bills’ offense can keep pace with Dallas, it’s anyone’s game, but that will require the offensive line having well-contained edge rusher Micah Parsons and the rest of the defensive line. Doing that is far easier said than done, as you know.

The weather is now slated to be windy and full of rain, and Allen has played remarkably well in such conditions — with games at the Baltimore Ravens last season, and a few weeks ago in South Philly against the Eagles as two examples. The question is how Dallas will fare in those conditions. With so many interesting variables to consider... buckle up — here we go!

Thanks for the knowledge, Buffalo Rumblings.

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