GREEN BAY—So far, the NFC North has kept the Buffalo Bills on the fringe of the AFC playoff race.
Buffalo is just 4-6 against AFC foes but has gone 3-0 against the NFC North, with Green Bay visiting Ralph Wilson Stadium on Sunday.
All three of the Bills’ NFC North wins have come down to the wire, and they’ll have the home crowd on their side Sunday should this game follow that script. They’ve been resourceful at crunch time and impervious to late-game pressure in beating the Bears in overtime and rallying from late deficits to knock off the Lions and Vikings with last-second scores.
The Bears needed a field goal with 30 seconds left in regulation to reach 20 points against Buffalo’s defense back in Week 1, and that has remained the high-water mark for the NFC North as the Lions and Vikings managed only 30 points combined.
Their blueprint on defense of getting sacks and turnovers has gotten the job done. The Bills recorded 13 sacks and seven takeaways in the three wins.
The numbers pitting Buffalo’s defense against Green Bay’s offense paint an intriguing picture. The Bills are second in the league with 25 takeaways while the Packers are first in the league with only eight giveaways. Buffalo ranks first in third-down defense, Green Bay ranks fourth in third-down offense.
It’ll come down to “whoever can do what they do best better,” quarterback Aaron Rodgers said.
The Bills even overcame an uncharacteristic minus-two turnover ratio against Minnesota when QB Kyle Orton drove the offense 80 yards in just over three minutes and threw a game-winning TD pass to rookie Sammie Watkins with just one tick left on the clock.
That thrilling comeback took place in Buffalo, a place from which the Packers have never returned victorious (0-5 all time) and haven’t visited in eight years. Only three current players were on the roster for that 2006 trip – Rodgers, A.J. Hawk and Jarrett Bush.
“It’s a difficult place to play,” Head Coach Mike McCarthy said. “They need it. We need it.”
The Bills’ playoff hopes took a major hit when they lost by a touchdown in Denver last week, but they’re not out of it at 7-6. An upset of the Packers would give them all the confidence in the world should they face the Patriots in Week 17 with a shot at a playoff spot, which they haven’t earned in 15 years.
Meanwhile, Green Bay reached the previously magical 10-win mark last week but hasn’t clinched a thing, despite entering the week tied for the top record in the conference with just three games left.
“You might have to revise it to 11, maybe 12,” McCarthy said of the playoff-qualifying win total. “I think everyone understands the state of the NFC.”
Indeed, six teams have nine or more wins, and one of those six will be home in January because one playoff spot will go to the NFC South winner with an 8-8 mark or worse.
The Packers haven’t swept an AFC division since 2007, and they can do so on Sunday. That year, they finished 13-3, the same record they’re on pace for this year should they win out.
“There could be a team that gets 11 wins that doesn’t get in, which is crazy,” right tackle Bryan Bulaga said. “We have everything laid out in front of us, so we just need to take care of our own business, and everything will take care of itself. That starts with Buffalo.
“To me, every game is a must-win game, especially these last three weeks, and it starts this Sunday.”
For all the Packers-Bills preview headlines, click here.