A year ago, the Eagles entered the final quarter of the season with a 9-3 record. We all know what happened down the stretch. This year, the Eagles have a much different record, but the opportunity is the same.
Off the heels of last Sunday's 35-28 win over the New England Patriots, the Eagles have a 5-7 record, but are tied for first place in the NFC East with both New York and Washington. The Eagles end the regular season against those two teams. But to remain in position, the Eagles welcome the Buffalo Bills to Lincoln Financial Field for the first of three consecutive home games.
The last time the Buffalo Bills were in the playoffs, Andy Reid was a rookie head coach in Philadelphia. Rex Ryan was an assistant coach with the Baltimore Ravens. LeSean McCoy was 11 years old.
Ryan and McCoy are in their first season with the Bills. They can't change what happened in the past, but are quickly looking to make Buffalo a legitimate postseason contender.
The Bills come to Lincoln Financial Field this Sunday on the heels of a 30-21 win over the Houston Texans. With a 6-6 record, Buffalo is just one game out of a Wild Card berth.
Ryan and McCoy are no strangers to Philadelphia. Ryan is the son of former head coach Buddy Ryan, who charmed Eagles fans with his braggadocio. McCoy is the Eagles' all-time leading rusher, who was traded this past offseason.
McCoy is the centerpiece of the Bills' rushing attack. After a slow start to the season, McCoy has rushed for over 100 yards (112 to be exact) in three of his last five games. For the year, McCoy has 792 yards rushing (4.6 yards per carry) and three touchdowns.
Ryan arrived in Buffalo with plenty of toys to work with defensively. Up front, the Bills have three former first-round picks in ends Mario Williams and Jerry Hughes and nose tackle Marcell Dareus. If the Eagles can protect quarterback Sam Bradford, he should have some opportunities to attack the Bills' secondary. Talented cornerback Stephon Gilmore, the 10th overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, is out due to a shoulder injury.
For a complete look at the matchup, here is our Bills-Eagles preview ...
Catch up with some of the Buffalo Bills' key players that the Eagles will face in Week 14. View the full gallery here...
Last Time They Met
Eagles 31, Bills 24
October 9, 2011 - Ralph Wilson Stadium
The Eagles entered the 2011 season with high hopes, but after opening their season with a 31-13 win over the Rams on the road, the team dropped each of its next four games, including this heartbreaker against the Buffalo Bills.
In many ways, Philadelphia outplayed Buffalo for most of the days, but Michael Vick's four interceptions coupled with an uncharacteristic fumble by wideout Jason Avant allowed the Bills to jump out to a 28-7 lead early in the third quarter. Over the final quarter and a half of play, though, the Eagles fought hard to get back in the game, pulling within a touchdown with 9:29 left to play.
But with 1:23 left in the game and the Bills facing fourth-and-1 on the Eagles' 49-yard line, the team committed one final undisciplined error to waste away their last shot at a comeback. Instead of punting outright, Buffalo sent its offense out onto the field in an attempt to draw Philadelphia's defense offside and earn a first down. Everyone in the stadium, from the announcers, to the fans, to head coach Andy Reid knew that the Bills weren't going to snap the football, but defensive end Juqua Parker didn't appear to get the message. He lunged forward with moments left on the play clock, drawing an encroachment penalty, effectively ending the game, and prompting radio play-by-play man Merrill Reese to give one of his most memorable calls in recent years – "The Eagles jumped! They jumped! Juqua Parker jumped, and just cost the Eagles their last chance."
Vick finished with 405 yards from scrimmage and set the NFL's all-time record for most yards rushing by a quarterback breaking the mark previously held by Randall Cunningham. LeSean McCoy led the Eagles in rushing with 80 yards on 11 carries. Avant hauled in nine catches for 139 yards, while DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin each caught a touchdown pass. Cullen Jenkins logged the Eagles' only sack, while Jamar Chaney picked off one quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick.
- Max Rappaport
When The Eagles Have The Ball
Looking only at the box score, one might assume that the Eagles' offense struggled to get much going during last week's 35-28 win over the Patriots. But although Philadelphia gained just 248 total yards, only 120 of which came through the air, which was more a result of circumstance than poor execution.
The Eagles fell behind 14-0 early in the second quarter, before quarterback Sam Bradford trimmed the deficit to seven with a 5-yard strike to tight end Zach Ertz in the back of the end zone with 4:10 to go before halftime. At that point, the Eagles' offense had been on the field for 11:49 and had gained 70 yards on 9-of-15 through the air. From that point until the start of the fourth quarter, the offense would control the ball for just 4:29, and Bradford would attempt just four passes.
This occurred thanks largely to three huge scoring plays by Philadelphia's special teams and defense over a short span – a blocked punt by Chris Maragos that was returned for a touchdown by Najee Goode, an 83-yard punt return touchdown by Darren Sproles and a 99-yard interception return for a touchdown by Malcolm Jenkins. The Eagles looked to milk clock the rest of the way after taking the two-touchdown lead, passing the ball just six times in the second half.
But beyond the stats, Bradford looked sharp in his return to action against New England, putting together his third consecutive start without an interception after opening the year with 10 in seven games. His average passer rating in those contests is 106.5, and he's completed 68.2 percent of his passes during that span.
The Eagles will hope that trend continues Sunday against a Buffalo team that's notched just one interception in its last three games. The Bills have struggled to get pressure on the quarterback all season long, ranking 29th in the league with 18 sacks through 12 games. Still, they've only allowed one 300-yard passer this year, Tom Brady in Week 2. That's thanks in large part to the team's cornerback tandem of Ronald Darby and Stephon Gilmore, who rank second and third in the league, respectfully, in passes defended. And although their defense isn't one that necessarily makes a lot of big plays in the passing game, the Bills rank 12th in the league in yards allowed per passing attempt (6.3). It should be noted that Gilmore will miss Sunday's game with a shoulder injury.
On the ground, the Eagles are hoping that the return of Ryan Mathews, who missed three games because of a concussion and groin injury, will help bolster a rushing attack that has looked good even in his absence. Philadelphia has rushed for 332 yards on 86 attempts (3.9 yards per carry) since Mathews' last game. The team's leading rusher on the season, DeMarco Murray, contributed 118 yards on 35 carries during that span, as the bulk of the production came from Darren Sproles and Kenjon Barner, who've combined for 197 yards on 46 carries over the past three games. With Mathews, the Eagles' most efficient rusher this season at 5.7 yards per carry, back in the rotation, it will be interesting to see how head coach Chip Kelly divvies up the touches.
It's worth noting that the Bills have allowed their opponents to rush for an average of 4.3 yards per carry, which ranks 22nd in the league. And after holding their opponents under 100 yards on the ground in all but one game in their first five contests, the Bills have seen that number balloon to 4.9 yards per carry, the NFL's third-worst mark.
- Max Rappaport
When The Bills Have The Ball
This week, all the talk has been centered on LeSean McCoy and his return to Philadelphia, but he's not the only weapon the Bills have on the offensive side of the ball. Tyrod Taylor and Sammy Watkins are also two key playmakers the Eagles' defense will need to contain in order to find success on Sunday.
In his first season as a starting quarterback, Taylor has been an integral piece of Buffalo's attack. He has thrown for 2,171 yards, posting a 64.9 completion percentage and a 104.3 rating, the fourth best in the NFL. Currently, Taylor has just four picks to his name on the year. Entering Week 13, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady only had four interceptions as well, but that didn't stop Philadelphia from adding two more. The Eagles' defense will look to do the same this Sunday with Taylor.
Unlike Brady, Taylor is not limited to the passing game and has already rushed for 318 yards and three touchdowns in 2015. Because he is a dual-threat quarterback, opposing defenses are presented with an even bigger challenge than usual when it comes to stopping him.
The Bills currently rank fourth in rushing yards per game, with an average of 140.9, much in part due to McCoy and Taylor. McCoy has accumulated 792 yards on the ground this season (4.6 yards per carry) with three touchdowns. For the second straight game, the team will be without its No. 2 running back, Karlos Williams, who is out with a shoulder injury. This means McCoy could see a heavier workload just as he did against Houston last Sunday. The running back ran for 112 yards in that matchup.
In the air, Watkins is the Bills' No. 1 receiver and it's easy to understand why. Standing at 6-1 and blessed with top-end speed, he is a difficult player to defend. He leads the team with 635 receiving yards, six touchdowns and is averaging 18.7 yards per catch. He was hindered at the beginning of the season because of injury, but in his last two games alone has recorded performances of 158 and 109 yards, respectively, and three total touchdowns.
The team's No. 2 receiver is tight end Charles Clay, who has been featured on this week's injury report. He was limited during all three practices due to his knee, but is probable for Sunday. On the season, he has accumulated 519 yards and is coming off a game that included his longest reception of the year, a 40-yard touchdown grab. He may not be operating at 100 percent come Sunday, but the tight end is another key player the Eagles will need to keep their eyes on.
Overall, this talented Buffalo team is explosive in the pass and run game. If the Eagles want to leave Lincoln Financial Field with a win in hand, they'll have to limit more than only Shady McCoy.
- Julie Bacanskas
RB LeSean McCoy vs. Eagles Run Defense
This matchup is obviously the one most people will be watching for come Sunday. Will Shady dominate in his return to Philadelphia or will the Eagles' defense buckle down and keep him from causing damage? This season, McCoy has been part of the Bills' electric rushing offense, contributing to the team average of 140.9 yards on the ground each game. He has recorded three 100-yard rushing performances as well, and clearly, he is looking to make a statement on Sunday.
The Eagles' run defense, on the other hand, has lacked consistency this season. However, in its last two outings, it has been getting back on track, allowing a total of 211 yards.
CB Eric Rowe vs. WR Sammy Watkins
As of late, Watkins has turned on the heat, putting up consecutive 100-yard receiving games and scoring three touchdowns in those two matchups. However, in his first start, Rowe held his own against the Patriots, recording three passes defensed and playing 97 percent of the snaps.
It will be interesting to see these two go head-to-head, especially due to their size matchup. Watkins will not have the usual advantage in that area as he faces off with a corner of the same height.
OLBs Connor Barwin and Brandon Graham vs. QB Tyrod Taylor
Barwin and Graham have combined for 12 sacks this season, four of which came in last weekend's game against New England. Graham has reached a new career high and leads the Eagles with 6.5 on the year, while Barwin has accounted for 5.5. Facing Taylor, the duo will look to continue their ways.
The quarterback has been sacked 21 times this year. However, his run ability will serve him well in this area, and both Barwin and Graham will need to be ready for it.
- Julie Bacanskas
Trends To Watch
Eagles Vs. The AFC
The Eagles are 7-1 in their last eight games against the AFC including last Sunday's win in New England. This year, the Eagles have won two of three games against the AFC East with the only loss coming in Week 10 against Miami.
Sproles Is Special
Darren Sproles leads the NFL in punt return average (12.9) punt return yards (387) and punt return touchdowns with two. Since joining the Eagles last season, Sproles has four punt return touchdowns. No other team in the NFL has more than three punt AND kickoff touchdowns combined.
Cox Brings The Heat
Last Sunday, defensive end Fletcher Cox had eight quarterback pressures of quarterback Tom Brady. Cox leads the Eagles with 24 quarterback hurries, the most by any Eagle since 2012 with four games still to play. The entire Eagles defense had a season-high 18 quarterback pressures at New England.