The Rams (5-6-1) and Bills (5-7) square off this Sunday in a game that, for all intents and purposes, is a must-win for both sides.
Despite the losing record, Buffalo sits a modest two games back in the AFC wild-card picture. Two of the three teams it's chasing––Pittsburgh and New York––are starting unreliable backup quarterbacks (to put it nicely) in Week 14. And the one team who isn't, Cincinnati, plays a very losable game against Dallas.
In other words: Should Buffalo win on Sunday, it could find itself a mere one game back with three games left to play. Not too shabby for a team that sits at 5-7.
St. Louis, fresh off yet another marathon against the 49ers––this one a victory, not a tie––is also clinging onto playoff hope by a thread. The Seahawks' victory in Chicago last week was an awful result; had the Bears won, the Rams would sit just half a game out of the wild-card spot. Instead, they trail Seattle by 1.5 games with only four games remaining.
If the Rams play like they did against the 49ers, however, they control most of their fate. A win vs. Buffalo would get them to 6-6-1, with games against Minnesota, Tampa Bay and Seattle––three teams they're competing with for the final wild-card spot––still on the horizon.
It won't be easy, especially since the final two games are on the road, but it's hard to see the Rams getting shut out of the playoffs at 9-6-1.
It may not appear like much at first glance, but this game does have the potential to launch a last-minute playoff run.
Let's take a closer look.
When: Sunday, Dec. 9th, 1:00 p.m. EST
Where: Ralph Wilson Stadium, Orchard Park, N.Y.
TV: Fox (check local listings)
Live Stream: NFL Sunday Ticket
Spread: Buffalo -3 (via VegasInsider.com, LVH)
The books are giving Buffalo three points at home, indicating that they value the Bills and Rams evenly. But the Bills have also moved from -110 to -120, indicating that the early money is on their side.
That makes sense. Buffalo has been markedly better at home this season, winning both of its last two games at Ralph Wilson Stadium. It's also 3-1 ATS (against the spread) in its last four games.
The Rams, meanwhile, are 1-3-1 away from the friendly confines of St. Louis, but their last two road games have been a win at Arizona and an impressive tie at San Francisco.
The key factor here might be the weather. With freezing rain in the forecast, the dome-conditioned Rams might be a little out of their element (pun very much intended).
Personally, I'd pass. But for the sake of this preview, I'll take the Bills to cover three.
Over/Under: 42.0 (via VegasInsider.com, LVH)
The line seems a little low at first glance. Combined, Buffalo and St. Louis average about 41.5 points scored and 50.1points allowed per game. But the cold, rainy forecast knocks off a few points––and rightfully so––making 42 a fair number.
The Rams, despite averaging only 18.4 points per game, have actually been an over machine as of late. Prior to last week's game with the Niners, they hadn't hit an under since Week 6.
But trends like that are usually hokum. Two low-scoring teams playing a cold-weather game with a ton at stake? Sounds like a slugfest to me.
Take the under.
St. Louis Rams Injury Report (via USA Today as of Dec. 6, 12)
|RB Steven Jackson||Foot||Probable|
|TE Mike McNeil||Thigh||Questionable|
|C Scott Wells||Knee||Questionable|
|WR Danny Amendola||Foot||Questionable|
Buffalo Bills Injury Report (via USA Today as of Dec. 6, 12)
|WR Stevie Johnson||Hamstring||Probable|
|LB Nick Barnett||Knee||Questionable|
|DT Kyle Williams||Ankle||Questionable|
|CB Leodis McKelvin||Back||Questionable|
|WR Donald Jones||Calf||Questionable|
|FB Corey McIntyre||Ankle||Questionable|
|CB Aaron Williams||Knee||Questionable|
|DE Mark Anderson||Knee||Questionable|
Fantasy Big Plays
St. Louis Rams: Steven Jackson, RB
Owners who have stuck with Jackson through modest ups and downs could be rewarded in Week 14. The Bills give up 139.2 yards per game on the ground, good for third-worst in the NFL.
The Rams haven't played New Orleans or Jacksonville (the only two teams that allow more rushing yards than Buffalo), but against the 29th-ranked Jets, Jackson averaged 6.2 yards per carry––his second best total of the season. He finished with an underwhelming 81 yards in that game, but did so because the Rams spotted New York a lead and abandoned the run.
If the Rams can keep this one close, Jackson should see 20-plus touches and put up pretty big numbers in Buffalo.
Buffalo Bills: C.J. Spiller, RB
Spiller owners are a little apprehensive after Fred Jackson's 25-carry, 109-yard performance last weekend. Against St. Louis, however, their qualms should be put to rest.
Chan Gailey stated before last week's game that Spiller stands to get most of the Bills' backfield work. And even though Jackson then proceeded to get 11 more carries, a lot of that had to do with the lead Buffalo was sporting. Plus, even with fewer touches and yards, Spiller's fourth-quarter touchdown still made him the better fantasy player.
In what will be a decidedly closer contest, Spiller should get back to his 20-carry, 100-plus-yard ways. Jackson might vulture some red-zone touches, but Spiller is still the back to own.
Key to Victory: Buffalo Pass Rush vs. St. Louis Offensive Line
The Bills' front seven hasn't been what it was expected to be before the season. Picked by many to be one of the most improved––if not one of the best––units in the league, it has instead been a little bit of a letdown.
Fortunately, this week it gets to go up against the Rams' equally underwhelming offensive line. Even though the Rams rely on quick timing passes, they've still allowed 30 sacks on the year.
If the Bills' front seven can feed off the energy of the crowd, overwhelm the Rams' blockers, and make Sam Bradford uncomfortable, it should be able to shut down their passing game.
Likewise, if the Rams can keep Sam Bradford comfortable, he and Danny Amendola could carve Buffalo's defense like a Thanksgiving turkey.
Both teams are coming off impressive victories, and both teams need this game to keep their faint playoff hopes alive.
It's sure to be close, and it's sure to be physical. But in the end, home-field advantage for the Bills––who are attuned to playing outdoors in cold weather––will be the ultimate difference.
Predicted Score: Bills 21, Rams 16