By Chuck Pollock, Senior Sports Columnist
Funny how things change over the course of a National Football League season.
Back when the schedule was released in May, the Bills, viewed as one of the league’s elite, faced one of the NFL’s toughest slates.
They would play both Super Bowl teams — Kansas City and Philadelphia — on the road, AFC East title contender Miami twice, NFC South favorite Jacksonville in London, the AFC North defending champion Bengals in Cincinnati and NFC title candidate Dallas in Orchard Park.
Then, down near the end of Buffalo’s schedule, was a meeting with the potent Chargers in Los Angeles. A season ago, they went 10-7 and lost a heartbreaking wild-card playoff game to the Jaguars in Jacksonville, 31-30, blowing a 27-point lead.
Still, the Chargers were led by elite quarterback Justin Hebert and had that same talented roster.
So much so, that when the preseason odds were released, Buffalo was only a 1-point favorite in that meeting.
Today, the Bills, in their sixth prime-time game of the season, are favored by 12½ points when they face the Chargers at SoFi Stadium Saturday night (8 o’clock, NBC and Peacock 95.7 FM, 100.1 FM, 550 AM).
Los Angeles (5-9), projected to give the Chiefs a run in the AFC West, has collapsed.
First, Herbert, two games ago, broke the index finger on his throwing hand and was lost for the remainder of the season. Then, a week later, the Chargers were eviscerated, 63-21, by the Raiders in Las Vegas. The day after, both coach Brandon Staley and general manager Tom Telesco were fired.
Now the Chargers are coached by interim Giff Smith, a one-time Bills assistant, and quarterbacked by a person named Easton Stick, the victim of that 42-point loss.
Small wonder Buffalo is giving the second-most points in the NFL this week.
LA’s problems are myriad, including the fact when the Bills play in that city, an inordinate number of fans show up.
BUT WHILE this game looks easy with Buffalo (8-6) regaining its footing following impressive wins over the Chiefs and Cowboys, this is a short practice week ended by a cross-country flight. Meanwhile, the Chargers have had nine days to reorganize.
And Bills coach Sean McDermott addressed that very reality.
“You have to take your best measure each week to play your best football … whether it’s last week or this week, because if you’re not on your ‘A’ game it shows up rather quickly … then you head to the busses with sour faces.
“There’s a way to get the results in this league and it starts with putting in the work and earning the right to win.”
He added of the impressive 31-10 victory over Dallas, which came in with a 10-3 record,
“It should help our confidence, No. 1, beyond that, though, the good teams do it more than once. I think that’s where our focus has to be this week, doubling down on the focus, doubling down at least on the preparation of the execution … the details we have to have on game day.
“It’s a short week for us, we’re coming off six days rest and they’ve had nine.”
BUT TIME frames aside, there’s also the issues of injury.
For Buffalo, it will again be without Micah Hyde (neck/stinger), wide receiver Justin Shorter won’t play (hamstring) and defensive tackle Jordan Phillips (wrist) went on injured reserve. In addition, defensive end A.J. Epenesa (ribs) is unlikely to play and running back Ty Johnson (shoulder) is questionable.
Two other Bills came off injured reserve but defensive tackle DaQuan Jones (pectoral) probably won’t be activated and cornerback Kaiir Elam (ankle) is questionable but might possibly see action.
Meanwhile, the Chargers got their own bad news as No. 1 wide receiver, Keenan Allen is out with a heel injury and pass-rush specialist Joey Bosa (foot) remains on the injured list.
In addition, three starters are uncertain: cornerback Deane Leonard is doubtful with a heel problem while nickel back Essang Bassey (back) and defensive lineman Nick Williams (shoulder) are questionable.
THE POINT is this, no matter the circumstances of the opposition, it’s irrelevant. The Bills need to win the game, no matter.
As of now, there are five 8-6 teams in the AFC and Jacksonville (South division lead), Cincinnati and Indianapolis are in as of today. Buffalo and Houston are on the outside.
Oddly, though, the Bills can still win the AFC East if they beat the Chargers and Patriots and then go to Miami and beat the Dolphins IF they lose to either Dallas at home Sunday or at Baltimore a week later and Buffalo wins out..
But a loss Saturday night at LA and the Bills postseason hopes would be virtually dashed.
They don’t need a blowout … merely a win.
Bills 30, Chargers 20
(Chuck Pollock, a Wellsville Sun senior sports columnist, can be reached at email@example.com.)
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