All of the sudden, the Philadelphia Eagles (5-7) have a burst of life after defeating the New England Patriots in Week 13 to move into a three-way tie for first place in the NFC East. After allowing 90 points in the previous two games, Philadelphia's defense clamped down in the win and we finally saw the return of edge rusher Connor Barwin (two sacks).
The Buffalo Bills (6-6) are coming off a major victory of their own. In Week 13, they put up 30 points against one of the NFL's hottest defenses -- the Houston Texans. The Bills will now embark in a three-game stretch against the NFC East -- the Washington Redskins and Dallas Cowboys are up next on the schedule. In a crowded race for the two wild-card spots, the Bills can't afford to slip up now -- it's going to take at least nine and most likely 10 wins to earn a wild-card spot in the AFC.
Of course, the storyline that has dominated this game is LeSean McCoy's return to Philadephia. The franchise running back was shockingly traded this past offseason to the Bills for linebacker Kiko Alonso. After the trade went through, McCoy made some controversial remarks about Eagles head coach Chip Kelly. They meet again for the first time this Sunday.
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Here are three keys to the game for both the Bills and Eagles.
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1. Win the battle of field position by limiting Darren Sproles
The Eagles knocked off the New England Patriots on Sunday, and a big reason why is because of their play on special teams. They blocked a punt for a touchdown and returned another for a score, which ultimately helped lift them to victory. Additionally, they recovered a drop-kick by the Patriots, giving them good field position which they turned into a touchdown. The Bills will need to limit the Eagles' special teams, particularly return man Darren Sproles, if they want to win this one.
2. Continue to target Sammy Watkins
Good things happen when Tyrod Taylor targets Sammy Watkins. There's no way around it. He's now recorded back-to-back games of 100-plus yards and has caught four touchdowns in his past five games. The Eagles aren't overly talented at cornerback, so Watkins should be able to take advantage and have another 100-yard performance. Byron Maxwell has been susceptible to double-moves and deep routes, which Watkins has been known for in the NFL.
3. Don't let Zach Ertz, Brent Celek beat you
The Eagles have two talented pass-catching tight ends in Zach Ertz and Brent Celek. Though they've only combined to catch four touchdowns this season, they've showed the ability to beat safeties with their route-running ability. Against the Miami Dolphins in Week 10, they caught 11 passes for 202 yards, dominating the middle of the field. Bacarri Rambo has emerged as a consistent safety, but the absence of Aaron Williams could lead to a strong showing by Celek and Ertz.
1. Focus the defensive game plan around LeSean McCoy
You don't need the Chip Kelly or the returning home narratives to know that McCoy is going to be a major part of Bufalo's plans on offense. Over the past four games, McCoy has racked up 93 total touches and he has not seen fewer than 21 in any single game. With talented backup running back Karlos Williams likely to miss another week, you can expect to see a heavy dose of McCoy again in this matchup. The Eagles need to make sure they keep an eye on McCoy out of the backfield, as well. Although he hasn't been as featured in the passing game as he was for most of his Eagles tenure, he has had a few big plays in the passing game almost every week.
2. Keep Darren Sproles involved on offense
In Week 13, the Eagles made the decision to utilize Darren Sproles as the lead back on offense. He finished with 19 total touches and 100 yards rushing and receiving. He added another 83 yards on a punt return touchdown to bring his total to 183. The 32-year old veteran is just as explosive and elusive as he's ever been, and the Eagles' offense operates well when he is involved in the offense. With Ryan Mathews (concussion) set to return, and DeMarco Murray hoping to reclaim a big share of the offensive snaps, it would be too easy for Sproles to fade into the background again. That would be a major mistake.
3. Don't use single coverage against Sammy Watkins
The Eagles' secondary caught a break last week in a matchup with an injury-ravaged Patriots wide receiver corps, but that won't be the case in Week 14. Watkins has turned it on down the stretch now that the Bills are making a concerted effor to get him the football. Over his past two games, Watkins has racked up nine receptions for 267 yards and three touchdowns. The Eagles have struggled to defend opposing No. 1 wide receivers all season, dating back to an early matchup against the Falcons' Julio Jones, and their aggressive scheme deserves some of the blame. The Eagles cannot take an aggressive approach in this matchup, leaving one of their cornerbacks in one-on-one coverage with Watkins on the outside. Shading a safety over the top of Watkins on every play is the only way to keep him in check.