In Week 10, the Bills (5-3) travel to Dallas to take on the Cowboys (4-4). Despite their slightly superior win-loss record, the Bills come into this game as prohibitive underdogs, with the Dallas Cowboys favored by 5.5 points in this key interconference contest.
It's true that the losses of Kyle Williams and Rian Lindell are going to hurt. However, a Bills victory is not entirely implausible. Let's look at four key factors that could help ensure a Buffalo victory this upcoming Sunday.
In all of the Bills' five victories, Fitzpatrick's completion percentage was above 60 percent. Conversely, in two of the three Bills losses, his completion percentage was below 60 percent. The Bills have thrived when their quarterback is able to find his steady-handed receiving corps.
Fitzpatrick comes into this game ranked fourth in completion percentage. When he has been accurate, he has been able to throw catchable passes even into double coverage.
With Dallas ranked 16th in opponents' passing yards allowed, the Bills should be able to muster an effective passing game against a Dallas team that has been inconsistent in its pass defense throughout the season.
The Bills come into this game ranked seventh league-wide in rushing, due primarily to the stellar efforts of Fred Jackson. Over the past eight games, Jackson has accumulated 803 rushing yards and scored six of the Bills' eight rushing TDs. His rushing yardage exceeds that of the Cowboys top two rushers (DeMarco Murray and Felix Jones) combined.
The Dallas defense has shown it is vulnerable to a powerhouse running game. In their sole blowout loss (against the Eagles), LeSean McCoy rushed for 185 yards against a Cowboys defense that could not contain McCoy's explosiveness.
If Jackson is able to exploit the Dallas D-line in a similar fashion, he could put up some terrific numbers this Sunday.
Dave Rayner, the Bills' kicker for Week 10.
The Bills will need to make the most out of their trips deep into Dallas territory. Three of the Cowboys' four losses have been by four points or less. In fact, the Cowboys' first five games were decided by four points or less.
Since then, the Cowboys have won a blowout, lost a blowout and won by a comfortable margin of 10 points.
If the Bills are unable to capitalize on their touchdown-scoring opportunities, they will need Dave Rayner to have a career game.
Rayner was signed as a replacement this week for the injured Rian Lindell. Rayner's career field-goal percentage (73 percent) stands in stark contrast to the 86 percent pace Lindell was on this season prior to his injury.
If Rayner is able to put up points when called up, the Bills should be able to keep it close or build on their lead, if applicable.
On paper, it appears the defensive disparity is where this game features its most prominent mismatch.
The Cowboys defense has allowed 232 passing yards and 103 rushing yards per game and has recorded 22 sacks this season. In contrast, the Bills have recorded only 15 sacks. However, 11 different players have combined to record the Bills' 15 sacks. On the Dallas side of the defensive line, only seven players have contributed to bringing the opposing quarterbacks to the turf, with DeMarcus Ware recording 12 of these 22 sacks.
The Bills defense came into the season with lofty expectations, having been an area of focus for improvement in the offseason. Marcell Dareus has shown he is the marquee player the Bills hoped he would be when they expended the third overall draft pick on him. In addition, George Wilson and Nick Barnett bolster a solid defensive line that should be able to matchup against the Cowboys' offensive line and put pressure on Tony Romo.
The Bills come into their Week 10 matchup having bounced back from their previous two losses with victories in the following games.
Although they are 1-2 in road games this season, they have proven they can compete with the league's upper-tier teams, having triumphed in contests against quality opponents such as the Patriots, Eagles and Raiders (before the arrival of Carson Palmer).
The Cowboys are 3-1 at home, but their victories have come against the Redskins, Rams and Seahawks (combined 6-18). In fact, the Cowboys have beaten only one team with a winning record, and that was a 27-24 win over the 49ers in overtime in Week 2.
The Bills' second half is not an easy looking one. Although they play the Dolphins twice, their schedule also features key games against the Chargers, Titans, the unpredictable Broncos and rematches against the Jets and Patriots.
If the Bills hope to contend for the AFC East or a conference wild card, they must capitalize on a Dallas team that appears vulnerable to a strong passing attack and power running game. If the game remains close, the Bills could miss Lindell's sure-footed kicking game. However, if the defense is able to play up to its balanced potential, the Bills should be able to bounce back from a tough loss to the Jets and resume their winning ways.