To look simply at the records, it would be easy to assume that the Vikings will blow out the Buffalo Bills Sunday. After all, they were the last team to win a game in the 2010 season (they started 0-8) and have struggled on both sides of the ball.
But to hear the Vikings talk, they're going up against the 1985 Bears. While they may be underselling the matchup, there is reason for concern. Buffalo has lost five games by five points or less, four games by three points and three road games in overtime.
The Bills have been dangerous on the road this season against quality opponents. They got blown out in Week 2 by the Packers at Lambeau Field, but, as gamblers learned long ago, the Bills have been a bet killer on the road, despite losing four of five away from home. They rallied before falling 38-30 at New England. They got in a shootout with the tough Ravens defense before losing 37-34 in overtime. The next week they had to go to Kansas City and fell 13-10 overtime. After beating Cincinnati 49-31 in their last road game, the Bills are a team to be reckoned with.
"They're a great team for their record," defensive end Ray Edwards said. "They played Pittsburgh last week and they should have won that game. We aren't looking at them at being easy by any stretch. We know what they can do, they've just been having some tough luck – kind of like what we've gone through."
Edwards spoke of Buffalo's third overtime loss of the season, which ties a single-season NFL record, in a 19-16 loss to Pittsburgh. Buffalo rallied from a 13-0 halftime deficit and had a chance to win the game in overtime when Steve Johnson dropped a perfectly thrown bomb in the end zone.
Cornerback Lito Sheppard, who played Buffalo twice last year as a member of the Jets, said that the Bills are, in many ways, in a similar boat as the Vikings. With the exception of the Green Bay loss, a case could be made that the Vikings had a chance to win all of the games they lost in the fourth quarter. Buffalo has also been saddled with a schedule that has been brutal. Of their first 11 opponents, all but two of them have winning records. Eight of their 11 opponents would be playoff teams if the season were to end today. It has been a murderer's row, much like the Vikings' schedule to start the season, and Sheppard sees a lot in Buffalo that he has seen with the Vikings.
"It kind of reminds of our situation," Sheppard said. "You look at the record and you see 2-9. It would be easy to say these guys aren't a good team. But one thing you can say about them is that they play for four quarters. Whenever you continue to play hard throughout a game, eventually things will turn for you. We've just got to be prepared for a fight. Their record doesn't show the kind of team they are."
Tight end Jeff Dugan said he has been blown away by the Bills on film. They are a team capable of playing a low-scoring defensive battle and get in offensive shootouts. He said there's reason to be concerned about them coming into the Metrodome with nothing to lose.
"The thing you see with them is that, even though they aren't winning, they play hard for 60 minutes," Dugan said. "They were down by 13 to Pittsburgh and they're the kind of team that doesn't lose games like that. They came back in the second half and should have won. They've had a few games like that, so you can't count them out."
Greg Camarillo spent the last three seasons with the Dolphins playing Buffalo twice a year. He said that fans shouldn't get lulled into a false sense of security. Buffalo is a team on the rise heading into December and, while they've already been officially eliminated from postseason contention, they're a team that brings a lot to the table and are improving rapidly.
"They aren't as bad as a lot of people might think," Camarillo said. "They're a solid team that plays hard, but games are usually decided on three or four big plays. Unfortunately for them, they've been on the wrong side of those few plays too often during the season. Last week, it was a dropped pass in overtime in the end zone. (Johnson) probably makes that catch 99 out of 100 times, but it didn't happen when they needed it. Those kind of things can get into your head after a while – how are we going to lose this game? But they are a team that never gives up and doesn't give their full effort. They've won two of their last three games and should have won all three of them. They're turning things around. It took them a while to figure it out, but they have and they're a dangerous team coming in."
Most people expect the Vikings will take care of their business and the consensus view is that Leslie Frazier will earn his second win as a head coach and – as hard as it is to believe considering we're in December, they would have their first two-game winning streak of the season. The Bills have had a two-game winning streak and, if not for a dropped overtime TD, would be on a three-game roll. If the Vikings are to beat them, it will take the same kind of effort the team put forward against the Redskins to end their own nine-game road losing streak.
"You can see that there's no quit in those guys," kicker Ryan Longwell said. "There's a ton of character and a ton of heart on that team. It's very similar to what we've been through. Our record doesn't speak to the guys that we have in this locker room. We know we're a lot better than our record would say we are. The same is true with Buffalo. There isn't a player on this team that is looking at Sunday as an easy win. They're a team we aren't taking lightly. We'll have to be on our ‘A' game to beat them."
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
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