The Buffalo Bills have to take care of business. Simple as that. They host the Atlanta Falcons, a deceiving 7-8 team heading into Week 17 with a chance to clinch a playoff spot for the fourth time in five years.
The Falcons have only beat one team with a winning record this year in the Miami Dolphins and that was by only two points back in October, during the Dolphins seven-game losing streak. In one sense, the Falcons are beating the teams that they should beat, but they’re not rising up to beat teams that they shouldn’t. Looking at the schedule, they remind me of the Bills of yesteryear. Several good players, all around not great and they do just enough to fend off tank talk, but revel in mediocrity.
The Bills are on a mission and the Falcons are their latest challenge. While being favored by double digits according to Vegas, they still can’t be overlooked as we learned the hard way with the Jaguars.
The Falcons are also relatively healthy injury wise coming into this game, besides COVID issues. The Bills do have several guys working through their own injuries, but most appear to be minor. Below are the injury reports for both teams.
BUFFALO BILLS INJURIES
DT Ed Oliver (Ankle)
Oliver has been incredibly durable during his career in Buffalo, not missing a game due to injury dating back to his rookie year. Appearing on the injury report this week with an ankle injury isn’t all too concerning. It’s surprising that this is an ankle injury as Oliver did require attention from the training staff due to a right forearm/elbow injury, missing several snaps before returning.
He played in 67 percent of snaps which is actually a season high for him indicating that this may not be much of an issue. While there is not a clear mechanism of injury on film, this is possibly an ankle contusion or possible low ankle sprain that can be taped up. He may lose some explosive push off the affected side upon initial engagement with the offensive lineman, but still can use a variety of moves and power to get into the backfield.
He has been deemed questionable prior to Friday’s practice. This may be more of a personnel decision whether he suits up or not. My guess is that he plays as he has not missed a game up to this point.
WR Emmanuel Sanders (Right Knee)
Sanders continues to work through a right knee injury sustained against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers that forced him to miss the Panthers game but he returned to play against the Patriots in Week 15. In practice last week, he looked fantastic and not someone who was limited. He played in 82 percent of snaps and did not require assistance from the training staff on broadcast.
As I discussed on Locked On Bills with Joe Marino, Sanders typically takes a veteran rest day on Thursday’s which could have been the case working through his injury as he has a lot of miles on him throughout his career. It was noted Friday that Sean McDermott doesn’t know whether this was a setback or he’s fighting though the injury.
He has been deemed questionable and with two practices where he did not participate does not present a reasonable opportunity to play Sunday.
S Jordan Poyer (Shoulder)
Poyer was a new addition to the injury report this week despite playing in 100 percent of snaps Sunday. He never appeared to require attention from the training staff nor appear slow to get up following a play. In practice this week, he wore a red non-contact jersey practicing in full through a walk-through practice Wednesday, limited in Thursday’s practice and
There doesn’t appear to be anything on film that suggests a shoulder injury, but it is important to note that he suffered a left shoulder injury in practice prior to Week 9. He was observed in the game wearing tape on the area to provide extra stability without requiring bracing. Any observations will be noted again Sunday but impossible to know if this is a recurrence from Week 9 or a new, unrelated injury.
S Micah Hyde (Forearm)
Another surprise to the injury report this week is Micah Hyde dealing with a forearm injury. Like Poyer, he also played in 100 percent of snaps and did not appear labored following any plays on video. He was able to practice in full all week and I’m not certain that a forearm injury should limit him in any way. I suspect that there is a contusion to the area that may make wrapping up his tackle painful, but not significantly limit him. He may require padding on the area which would identify which forearm is injured.
DE Mario Addison (Vet Rest/Forearm)
Addison is a regular on the injury report with his weekly veteran rest days, but had a new addition with a forearm injury this week. He was able to participate in 50 percent of snaps Sunday which is on par for what he typically plays in a given game. Like Hyde, it isn’t clear when he injured the area but padding can certainly help protect the injury.
RB Devin Singletary (Right Ankle)
Considering the positional demands, having to engage and shed blocks, tackle, hand fight; it’s surprising we don’t see more forearm injuries. This is also an injury I’m not too concerned about heading into Sunday.
Singletary suffered a right ankle injury early in the third quarter on a routine run that got the first down, but unfortunately, his right ankle rolled up under him, suffering what appeared to be a right low-ankle sprain. He left for several plays, likely to get his ankle taped up and returned to play. He has practiced in full all week indicating the ankle is a minor issue.
While I do expect him to play, I would not be surprised if he has more of a timeshare this week to give his ankle a rest and get both Zack Moss and Matt Breida more involved in the run game as they gear up for the playoffs.
RB Taiwan Jones (Left Knee)
Jones continues to deal with a left knee injury sustained in the Buccaneers game that originally appeared to be a contusion, but is more probable that it is an MCL sprain. He has played with a brace the last few games and has been exclusively on special teams. He has shown this trend the past several weeks of not practicing Wednesday and Thursday before getting a limited or full practice on Friday and playing Sunday.
DT Vernon Butler (Illness)
Butler did not practice Wednesday or Thursday with an illness, making his status for Sunday in doubt. My biggest concern is that the illness presents as a cold or the flu and progresses to COVID which we have seen happen around the league.
S Jaquan Johnson (Illness)
Johnson missed Wednesday’s practice with an illness but was able to practice in full Thursday and Friday indicating that this was an isolated illness that knocked him down for one day. Johnson will be important to have as depth if Poyer or Hyde are limited in any way and he continues to be an essential contributor to special teams.
LB Tremaine Edmunds (Thumb)
Edmunds was added to the injury report with a thumb injury following Friday’s practice. Sunday may show what side and possible injury he is dealing with. This will likely not affect his ability to play other than possibly catching an interception.
ATLANTA FALCONS INJURIES
CB Fabian Moreau (Ribs)
Besides an injury designation for Moreau, not much is known regarding the severity of his rib injury. There doesn’t appear to be any acknowledgement of an injury during the game on Sunday from the Falcons beat reporters from what I can find and he played in 100 percent of snaps.
Getting a doubtful designation isn’t ideal for a player as under 2 percent of all players with that designation actually suit up. They have not had a doubtful player play since 2017.
DE Dante Fowler Jr. (Illness)
Fowler missed practice Friday with an illness but practiced the two days prior. He does not have a gameday designation.
The Falcons currently have 13 players as of Friday afternoon on the COVID/Reserve list and will have to have negative tests in order to be available to play Sunday. It is not clear who is vaccinated and who is not which may affect their return timeline.
Of the players on the list that were dealing with injuries include:
WR Tajae Sharpe (Foot)
Tajae Sharpe was working through a foot injury originally suffered against the 49ers, forcing him to miss the Lions game last week. At the time, he was considered day-to-day.
DB Richie Grant (Ankle)
He was on the injury report in Week 15 with an ankle injury that did not limit him in practice and the game, but worth noting that he may be still dealing with the effects of the injury if he is cleared in time.
DL Johnathan Bullard (Ankle)
Bullard was also working through an ankle injury in Week 14 that, like Grant, did not limit him in practice but has not played in the last four games dating back to Week 11. These appear to be healthy scratches as he was not ruled out for injury.
He did play in 40 percent of the snaps against the Lions in Week 16 which is on the lower side of his participation this season but in line with his other snap counts.
All current Falcons on the COVID list:
DL Jonathan Bullard
QB Feleipe Franks
S Jaylinn Hawkins
TE Hayden Hurst
OL Willie Beavers
WR Tajae Sharpe
DL Marlon Davidson
LB Brandon Copeland
LB Dorian Etheridge
LB James Vaughters
DB Richie Grant
OL Jason Spriggs
BUFFALO BILLS INACTIVES
WR Emmanuel Sanders
DT Vernon Butler
DE AJ Epenesa
CB Cam Lewis
OL Cody Ford
Update: the Bills elevated DT Eli Ankou as a practice squad elevation.
ATLANTA FALCONS INACTIVES
CB Fabian Moreau
*With the amount players on the COVID list and the unknown of who will suit up, this makes it difficult to determining inactives including what players will be called up from the practice squad.
Update: the Falcons activated Brandon Copeland, Felipe Franks, and Richie Graham from the COVID/Reserve list.
The Falcons are the healthier team with regards to physical injuries, but are at a significant disadvantage with the number of players on the COVID/Reserve list all at once. This could significantly affect their depth and conditioning during the game, stressing the team even further.
While the Bills are dealing with mostly smaller injuries, they have to remain healthy for this final stretch in order to have a deep playoff run. This game could play out like a boxing match in how each team approaches their game plan. The Falcons have to come out fast and score early, shocking the Bills into playing catch up. The Bills may have to take the rope-a-dope approach, outlasting the Falcons depth and conditioning, delivering knockout scores at the end to secure the win.
I am biased in this statement, but the Bills should win this game handily as a -14.5 favorite according to Caesars. We have seen them lose games like this despite being favored by multiple scores, but the Bills have been locked in since the second half of the Buccaneers game which makes me believe that they won’t let up.
It will be a cold and snowy day in Orchard Park on Sunday which may make for slick field conditions, limiting some injuries, but possibly increasing the soft tissue injuries such as calf and hamstring injuries. Hopefully the Bills get in, take care of business, and get out with a win and ope that either a combination of the Ravens, Chargers, or Raiders lose to secure a playoff spot and lock up the AFC East next week.