The Panthers go on the road to take on the Bills in Buffalo on Sunday, and they’re looking to snap a three-game losing streak. That won’t be easy against a Bills team that features the number one defense in the NFL and a top 10 offense. Yes, the Bills have lost three of their last four games. But last week it was an overtime loss to the Bucs, and they’re still second in the AFC East. “They’re extremely dangerous,” said Panthers coach Matt Rhule. “Their ability to take the ball away is one thing that really stands out, and obviously the quarterback is fantastic. It will be a tremendous challenge.”
Moving the ball against the Bills defense will no doubt be a challenge. They are allowing just 289 yards and under 18 points per game. And as Rhule mentioned, they are opportunistic, ranking third in the league with 26 takeaways, five of those by veteran safety Jordan Poyer. Add in All-Pro safety Micah Hyde and Pro Bowl cornerback Tre’Davious White, and you’ve got one of the best secondaries in the NFL.
The Bills also have a strong front line featuring plenty of former Panthers, including defensive tackles Star Lotulelei and Vernon Butler, and defensive end Mario Addison, who leads the team with four sacks. Pro Bowl middle linebacker Tremaine Edmunds leads the team in tackles. They’ll be facing both Cam Newton and P.J. Walker, as Rhule said this will be another week of rotating quarterbacks.
Barring injury, the Bills will be playing just one quarterback and he’s a good one. Josh Allen is a dual threat, he’s thrown for over 3500 yards with 28 touchdowns, and is second on the team in rushing with 531 yards and three more scores. The fourth year player has been dealing with a sprained foot but is expected to play. And he won’t be easy to slow down. “He’s strong, he’s big, he’s one of those guys that when you do get your hands on him you’ve got to make sure to wrap him up,” said Panther linebacker Haason Reddick. “It all starts with him, he’s a big playmaker for them.”
Allen has plenty of help making plays, with a stellar receiving cast featuring All-Pro Stefon Diggs. The speedster led the NFL in catches and yards last season, and has 972 yards and seven touchdowns so far this year. Pro Bowler Emmanuel Sanders has a sprained knee but Cole Beasley has been effective in the slot with 72 catches, and how about tight end Dawson Knox – he’s got 40 catches, eight of them going for touchdowns. The good news is that the Panthers defense is number one in the NFL against the pass allowing just 178 yards per game. The bad news is, they’re not so good against the run, giving up over 115 yards a contest. And the Bills have a solid trio of running backs in Devin Singletary, Matt Brieda and Zack Moss, they’ve combined for nine touchdowns.
This is just the 8th matchup between these teams, the Bills lead the series five games to two. The Panthers did win the most recent matchup in 2017. Can they do that again today? They’ll have to be at their best, and that means eliminating the turnovers, establishing a run game, and getting off the field on third down. And none of that will be easy – the Panther are facing the league’s number one defense and an offense loaded with weapons. And oh yeah, it’s going to be cold and windy with snow on the ground. But Panther linebacker Jermaine Carter says, bring it on. “It’s football weather,” said Carter. “You just look forward to going out there and having fun. And it’s just another opportunity to go out there and go 1-0.”
Let’s hope they can do that and get back in the win column.
by Sharon Thorsland