The Game Matchups Preview series is dedicated to breaking down how the Buffalo Bills match up with their opponent in each game of the 2022 NFL Season. This series will look at five key matchups; Bills Pass Offense vs. Opponent Pass Defense, Bills Rush Offense vs. Opponent Rush Defense, Bills Pass Defense vs. Opponent Pass Offense, Bills Rush Defense vs. Opponent Rush Offense, and Bills Special Teams vs. Opponent Special Teams. This entire analysis will conclude with three sections; “Why Buffalo Will Lose”, “Why Buffalo Will Win”, and a score prediction for the game.
Below I present 2022’s 15th iteration of this analysis for the Bills’ Week 16 clash with the Chicago Bears. Included is a scale ranking the advantage in each matchup from 👏 (Minimal Advantage) to 👏👏👏👏👏 (Massive Advantage).
Bills Pass Offense vs. Bears Pass Defense
There are few quarterbacks in the NFL capable of near single-handedly willing their team to victory, and the Bills have one of those quarterbacks. Josh Allen’s four-touchdown game against Miami is one likely to be lost in the annals of an impressive career but for now is yet another example of why Buffalo can win any and every game. Adding to that optimism is a major shift in interception trends which saw Allen go from a three-week 3:6 TD:INT ratio to a five-week 10:1 TD: INT ratio. With the weather beginning to shift and competition ramping up, this is the exact version of Allen the Bills will need in order to keep their season going. That season continues this week, in Chicago, in nightmarish weather conditions, in a game that the Bills may not need but could sorely use.
That game is against a Bears team who has struggled against the pass this season. Their 91.5 Passer Rating against ranks 15th but their Pass Defense DVOA, which takes into account quality of competition, ranks 30th in the NFL (+22.8%). Much of the issues are due to youth and/or inexperience as Chicago’s rebuild is in full effect, even accelerated by Eddie Jackson’s (S) recent season-ending injury. Both of their 2022 second-round picks, Kyler Gordon (CB) and Jaquan Brisker (S), have seen significant play and while both have been impressive, they are occasionally prone to typical rookie mistakes. The two rookies are joined by DeAndre Houston-Carson (S) and Jaylon Johnson (CB) as well as a slew of other outside CBs in nickel packages to make up an underwhelming secondary. In neutral conditions this very well could be the least talented secondary the Bills have seen this season, but the conditions will be anything but neutral on Saturday.
The conditions in Chicago at best will be winds north of 40 MPH and at worst winds north of 40 MPH with precipitation. Josh Allen’s arm strength does nullify the effects of such conditions slightly but there is a limit to even those abilities. This means less passes down the field and more thrown behind the line of scrimmage or in the intermediate. Key in on the likes of Dawson Knox, James Cook, Nyheim Hines, and even Cole Beasley who do their best work in that area of the field and should test the young DBs and weak LB group of the Bears. Chicago will get a few opportunities to steal this advantage from Buffalo as the conditions will force a few balls to sail which makes this matchup much closer than it should be. This was close to our first 👏👏👏👏👏 of the season but Mother Nature had other ideas.
EDGE: Bills 👏👏👏
Bills Rush Offense vs. Bears Rush Defense
The Bills seem to have found their rotation at RB. Fairly consistently now the share is around 55 – Devin Singletary, 35 – James Cook, and 10 – Nyheim Hines. With this rotation, Buffalo has been able to produce the much-needed average traditional ground game where on the season they have gained 1,137 yards on 251 carries. For context, in 2022 the Giants’ possible All-Pro RB, Saquon Barkley, has amassed 1,170 yards on 269 carries. The Bills do not possess an elite traditional ground attack and as long as Josh Allen is their quarterback they don’t need it to be elite. That said, the do-it-all Singletary, speedy Cook, and quick Hines seem to be more than enough for Buffalo to succeed in 2022.
With the weather set to be an issue, the Bills will likely rely on their RBs more this week than in weeks past. The good news for Buffalo is they will take on a Bears team that has given up 4.6 Y/A this season and ranks 27th in run defense DVOA (3.2%). Making matters worse for Chicago is the loss of starting LB Jack Sanborn to injury who has filled in nicely for the since-departed Roquan Smith. The result will be one of the following handling MLB duties: journeyman specialist Joe Thomas (not the retired offensive tackle), seasoned vet Nicholas Morrow, or special teams ace Matthew Adams. None of those three actively inspire confidence in the center of the Bears’ defense, which will not be more susceptible than before. Add to that a sub-par defensive line whose most consistent contributor, Justin Jones, is dealing with an illness this week, and the Bears will be in trouble against this Bills team.
All of the discussion above doesn’t even consider the Bills’ best runner, Josh Allen. Allen now ranks 24th in the NFL in rushing yards (705) while ranking third in yards per carry (6.5). His unique running style that perfectly melds finesse and brute force is the perfect counter to poor weather conditions, and if needed, will be on full display in Chicago. With the Bears’ turnover at LB, the task of slowing down Allen becomes even more dire with the likely result being the spy coming in the form of a player like Jaquan Brisker. This means less help in the secondary as Buffalo attempts to pick apart the Bears’ defense while Allen and the Bills’ RPO game should set up a few big runs or so. This game is likely won on the ground, and though it will surprise a lot of people, this may be the Bills’ biggest area of mismatch on Saturday.
EDGE: Bills 👏👏👏👏
Bills Pass Defense vs. Bears Pass Offense
The Bills Pass Defense is a weird mix of dominant and unsatisfactory. The secondary’s dominance is on full display in their sticky coverage and the rareness in which their schemes break down. At the same time, it’s unsatisfactory the number of contested catches they give up and the number of missed tackles that they produce. Still, this is a unit that consists of Pro Bowler Jordan Poyer (S), continually improving former All-Pro Tre White (CB), and underrated nickel CB Taron Johnson. The question becomes whether or not the other two positions can be filled admirably by Damar Hamlin (S) and Kaiir Elam or Dane Jackson (CB). That question will likely be answered next week against Cincinnati while this week the weather and competition don’t project to prove much.
Bears quarterback Justin Fields has improved leaps and bounds in 2022 but has a ways to go as a passer. His 88.0 Passer Rating is respectable while his 15:10 Pass TD:INT ratio is fine, but none of these numbers reach the levels that you’d expect of a franchise quarterback. To be fair, the Bears’ roster construction does him no favors as his skill players are amongst the worst in the NFL. With Darnell Mooney suffering what is believed to be a season-ending injury, Fields is left with a top three of Equanimeous St. Brown, Dante Pettis, and Chase Claypool at receivers. Amongst those three, St. Brown leads the Bears with an astoundingly low 18 Receptions. This has forced targets to Cole Kmet (TE) and David Montgomery (RB) who account for 35.9% of Fields’ completions and 31.9% of his passing yards. The Bills will scheme to take these two out of the passing game and force the ball downfield, whether or not Fields can take advantage of that will go a long way in deciding this game.
Taking away the short game should prove advantageous for the Bills not just based on Fields’ target usage but also on his inability to stay upright in the pocket. In 2022 Fields has been sacked more than any other QB, a whopping 46 times for 299 yards. What’s even more concerning for the Bears though is the rate at which it occurs, with Fields sacked on 14.1% of dropbacks, 4.6 points higher than any other QB in the league. Buffalo may be without Von Miller but the play of players like Greg Rousseau and Ed Oliver has proved this DL more than capable of getting after opposing quarterbacks. This week things may get even easier with both of the Bears’ starting guards dealing with injuries, making the possible return of DT Jordan Phillips even more game-changing. Fields may be forced to run from pressure all day on Saturday and while that will surely degrade their air attack it may be a boon for the Bears on the ground.
EDGE: Bills 👏👏👏👏👏
Bills Rush Defense vs. Bears Rush Offense
The Bills went into the game against the Dolphins sporting one of the best run defenses in the NFL, and got gashed. Miami went for 188 rushing yards on 25 carries including four rushes of 10+ yards. Missed tackles factored heavily into this with Bills’ defenders accounting for seven on what has been an issue the entire season. Still, there’s no reason to view this one-off as a greater issue that could plague the Bills as the season progresses. With Buffalo specifically scheming to slow down the pass, the running lanes opened for the Dolphins who took advantage of them, until they inexplicably didn’t. This week against the Bears, the Bills will likely reverse scheme, which will provide a good indicator of just how dominant or porous Buffalo’s run defense currently is.
The challenge this week for Buffalo will be a unique one as they are set to take on arguably the league’s best rushing quarterback in Justin Fields. Last week Fields became just the third quarterback in NFL history to eclipse 1,000 rushing yards in a single season and is well on his way to breaking Lamar Jackson’s single-season record of 1,206. His unique speed and elusiveness make him one of the tougher tackles in the open field and at 6’3″, 228lb, he isn’t as easy to bring down as most quarterbacks. Buffalo likely will employ the same gameplan they did against Jackson earlier this season where they exclusively spy the quarterback with Matt Milano and only rush four defensive linemen in an effort to get the ball out of the quarterback’s hand. An interesting caveat, in this case, is that Fields’ inexperience may work in his favor. Buffalo wants him to throw the ball, Fields very well may ignore that trap and do exactly to the Bills what Raheem Mostert did to them just last week.
The Bears are also going to challenge Buffalo in the traditional ground game through a two-headed backfield of David Montgomery and Khalil Herbert. Both Montgomery and Herbert are over 600 rushing yards this season with Herbert the more efficient of the two sporting an impressive 6.0 Y/A. Herbert’s downhill running style will test Tremaine Edmunds’ ability to fill the hole while Montgomery’s ability to pick up yards off tackle will force the DEs to stay home and Milano/Johnson to make tackles in the open field. The weather gives an advantage to the team that can run the ball most effectively on Saturday and while the Bills’ defense may be more stout than the Bears, there should be major concern that this game could quickly shift to a track meet.
EDGE: Bears 👏👏👏
Bills Special Teams vs. Bears Special Teams
Tyler Bass has put together an All-Pro resume in 2022. 27/30 on field goals, 40/41 on extra points, and three game-winning kicks with less than 0:05 seconds on the clock. Bass has quietly been a top-five most important player for the Bills this season. Joining him in kicking duties is Sam Martin whose usage has jumped over the past two weeks. Now a part of punting leaderboards, Martin ranks 13th in Y/P (47.7) and 12th in NY/P (42.2) as a consistent weapon when called upon. The last skill contributor on special teams for the Bills is Nyheim Hines who is a calming force at returner. While he didn’t account for any punt return yards against the Dolphins his ability to cleanly catch the ball in poor conditions proved pivotal.
Kicking for the Bears is 31-year-old Cairo Santos. Santos has been a fairly consistent option in the kicking game the past three seasons for the Bears but his five missed extra points this year are cause for concern. Punting has been even more inconsistent for the Bears off the leg of rookie punter, Trenton Gill. Gill’s 46.3 Y/P is respectable but his 39.3 NY/P is much too low for a team that relies on their punter more than most. Returning though is an area of potency for the Bears as they have two options capable of making game-changing plays. At punt return, Dante Pettis ranks ninth in the NFL with a solid 9.5 Y/PR and rookie Velus Jones is starting to come on at kick return. While he doesn’t qualify for NFL leaderboards, his 26.8 Y/KR is currently league-best.
EDGE: Bills 👏👏👏
Why Buffalo Will Lose
As is tradition bad weather follows the Bills wherever they go and in Chicago, it will be no different. The Bears are best when they run the ball and that’s exactly what this game calls for. Whether it be Fields, Montgomery, or Herbert, Chicago is going to attack the Bills on the ground and try and rip time away from the Bills’ offense. It should surprise no one if the Bears repeat the gameplan of the 2021 Patriots, with the addition of their QB’s legs, and find a way to score just enough points to steal a game against a superior opponent.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Bears are going to try and jump a pass or two while ripping at ball carriers in order to force turnovers. With nothing to lose in this game getting beat once or twice is of little concern and shocking the world is on the Bears’ minds. The best way to do just that is to win the turnover battle and if Buffalo wants to test the elements, they will, Chicago could win the turnover battle. The talent disparity here is pretty large but if the Bears can go plus-two or better in the turnover battle they may just send the Bills home with an embarrassing loss.
Why Buffalo Will Win
The Bills are far and away the superior team here and on paper win this one easily. Josh Allen will be the best player on the field Sunday with plans to unleash his full arsenal of tricks to keep the Bills’ hopes of the No. 1 seed alive. On the defensive side of the ball, the Bears are lacking any truly elite talent which makes this one of the better matchups this season for the Bills’ offense. Buffalo will want a lead early in order to force the Bears to throw and if conditions allow, expect them to attack the Bears with big plays early and often.
On defense, the Bills seem primed to force multiple turnovers against the Bears. Buffalo is going to employ the Lamar Jackson game plan to goad Fields into putting the ball in the air. The difference between this game and the Ravens game is that Jackson is a much better thrower of the football than Fields. The Bills’ defense is complex and difficult to read and the Bears lack the talent to expose it. Chicago will get theirs on the ground on Saturday but at some points, Fields is going to have to put the ball in the air. The question at that point isn’t whether or not the Bills will get an interception, it’s how many.
Prediction: Bills 28 – Bears 16
With the weather playing a major concern in this game the prediction is being kept more conservative than it would be otherwise. This game represents the Bills’ biggest mismatch of the season with the Bears being on par with the Steelers as far as matchups go. The difference though is the Bears’ defense leaves a lot to be desired while their run game makes their offense somewhat of a challenge. Buffalo is going to handle business here and as long as a bomb cyclone isn’t hitting during kickoff they should easily cover the spread.