The most significant storyline you, me, and the Buffalo sporting community cares about right now is the health of Damar Hamlin. I will have the latest we know as the top storyline below, but it doesn’t feel right to start any article without stating the fact that we are all praying and pulling for Hamlin to make a speedy, full recovery. Until then, I hope to respect Damar Hamlin while attempting to also look forward to what we believe will take place on the field.
The Buffalo Bills enter Week 18 riding a six-game winning streak, including a 24-10 Thursday night win up in Foxboro at the beginning of December. They captured their last game in a late 22-point destruction of the Bears in Chicago. That win locked up the Bills’ third straight AFC East championship and kept them in the AFC race for the number one seed and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. As hard as it has to be physically, mentally, and spiritually to return to practice, the Bills now prepare for a divisional matchup with the New England Patriots Sunday afternoon. With that, here are five storylines to keep an eye on as we get closer to things kicking off from Orchard Park.
Do it for Damar
There are few better motivational magnets than playing for a teammate who’s battling for his life.
That is exactly where the Bills are when they take the field Sunday at home versus New England. The Bills and the NFL community received amazing news Thursday as doctors from the University of Cincinnati Medical Center said Hamlin has shown “substantial improvement” in his recovery from cardiac arrest during Monday night’s game. The most uplifting part was learning he was aware of his surroundings, even writing to the doctors upon awakening, asking if the team had won. The doctors had the most poetic response “The answer is yes, Damar, you won. You won the game of life.” The game of football seems so minuscule in comparison to the fight Hamlin still has in front of him, but the safety has already won and will certainly be an inspiration for his teammates to do so Sunday and beyond.
Now that we know the NFL has eliminated the Bills vs. Bengals game it is time to look forward and see how things shake out. There are many proposed outcomes where things could end up being a neutral site AFC championship game. Instead of my re-typing the email the NFL sent out, here is a link to Ian Rapoport’s tweet which explains it all.
Here are the options for the AFC title game: pic.twitter.com/PWpbwadSiw— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) January 6, 2023
Taron Down the House
Unfortunately, Damar Hamlin wasn’t the only Bill injured during the game in Cincinnati. Corner Taron Johnson left the field in the first minute of play with what we now know was a concussion. The 26-year-old is listed as limited in the latest Bills’ injury report, he was also limited in yesterday’s report, but there wasn’t a practice. Friday will be a big day for Johnson. If he can practice fully, it will show the team is hoping he can take the field Sunday. If he continues to be limited, he might be trending toward sitting out the season finale.
Pulverize Patriot Pat
The Bills beating the Patriots is always fun. I don’t care if it’s week one, week 18, or a game of Yeti in my Spaghetti, just win, baby! However, this week could mean so much more as the Bills can immensely hinder New England’s playoff chances by handing them a loss. No, the Bills can’t mathematically eliminate the Patriots on Sunday, but if they beat New England would need the Dolphins to lose to the Jets, the Steelers to lose to the Browns, and the Titans to lose to the Jaguars to earn the number seven seed.
There are a handful of Bills’ statistical milestones to keep an eye on heading into Week 18. Quarterback Josh Allen needs 330 passing yards to usurp Drew Bledsoe for the third most in a single season in Bills’ history. Allen already has the first and second most ever for the franchise. Wide receiver Stefon Diggs needs one more touchdown to set a new career-high with 11 trips to the endzone.
Linebackers Tremaine Edmunds (95) and Matt Milano (91) are both closing in on 100 tackles for the season. Running back Devin Singletary is just 81 yards away from a career-high in rushing yards for a season, while rookie back James Cook sits at 462 rushing yards, only 38 away from hitting 500. There are many more statistical markers that could be reached on Sunday, but these are a few that are easy to track during a game.