AFC East: Bills-Broncos
What a fine job the Buffalo Bills have done infuriating their supporters, but on Sunday they provided a lot of hope for some fan bases that normally wouldn't care one bit about them.
The Bills hung on to defeat the Denver Broncos, 30-23, at Invesco Field at Mile High, a thrilling finish for San Diego Chargers fans and an encouraging result for those who root for the New York Jets and Baltimore Ravens.
Now San Diego can get into the playoffs by beating Denver in the regular-season finale.
But in the AFC East, the fact the Bills are showing signs of life could indicate a competitive game Sunday against the New England Patriots in Ralph Wilson Stadium.
If the Bills can manage to knock off the Patriots, the Jets can win the division by surviving against the Dolphins.
Somehow, the Bills won despite being out-gained 532-275. They fell behind 13-0 and then scored on each of their next four possessions to win for only their second time in their past nine games.
Buffalo quarterback Trent Edwards returned to the field after missing two games with a groin injury and completed 17 of 25 passes for 193 yards and one touchdown with no interceptions.
Edwards, who was spectacular in the fourth quarter early in the year but then fell apart, guided the Bills on two fourth-quarter touchdown drives.The victory also means Buffalo still can finish .500 and avoid a fourth straight losing season. But if they fall to the Patriots on Sunday, then the Bills will be 7-9 for a third consecutive year.
The three AFC East teams that don't play in a tropical climate broke from their normal routines and practiced outside this week to prepare for nasty weather in the Northeast and the other side of the continent.
The forecast for every AFC East game is inhospitable, and they all have playoff implications.
Here are the matchups with the Weather Channel's projected kickoff conditions:
- Arizona Cardinals at New England Patriots in Gillette Stadium (33 degrees, 70 percent chance of snow, 18 mph winds).
- Miami Dolphins at Kansas City Chiefs in Arrowhead Stadium (8 degrees, mostly sunny, 8 mph winds).
- New York Jets at Seattle Seahawks at Qwest Field (32 degrees, 70 percent chance of snow, 8 mph winds).
- Buffalo Bills at Denver Broncos at Invesco Field at Mile High (15 degrees, partly cloudy, 8 mph winds).
The Jets rarely practice outside in the snow, but head coach Eric Mangini made an exception this week.
"I've always seen value in that," Mangini said of practicing in wintry elements. "You can't simulate it. You can talk about it. You can try to educate on it, but until you do it, it's different.
"We practice a lot in the rain and the cold, all the different elements. It's real value to it if you can draw from the experiences the next time you face that stuff. With this situation, we're talking about just a couple of days."
Bills coach Dick Jauron on Thursday took his team outside the field house for the first time in a month.
Bill Belichick also took his Patriots outside this week.
"I think it definitely helps," said Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski, according to Boston Globe reporter Mike Reiss' blog. "Whether it's cold or windy, whatever it is, it's always good to get used to it in practice. It gets your blood thickened up a little bit.
"It's always good to make it tougher for yourself during the week so it seems easier on game day."
Dolphins coach Tony Sparano said he would practice in a freezer if he could, but the best he could do in South Florida was put a bunch of footballs on ice to get quarterback Chad Pennington and his receivers a tiny hint.
Usual starter Trent Edwards returned to practice for the first time since aggravating his groin injury three games ago, and if he can't play Sunday against the Denver Broncos, then the Bills will go with Gibran Hamdan.
"We're hopeful that Trent will be the guy, and that's as far as it will go," Bills coach Dick Jauron said in describing Edwards' status. "But if it got to the [No. 2 quarterback], right now we'd put Gibran on the field mainly because we haven't seen him in that situation, and we have a good deal of faith in him.
"Again, as I said, hopefully we won't be in that situation on game day."
Jauron was asked if the depth-chart shuffle reflected lost confidence in Losman, who has been dreadful in Edwards' absence and fumbled away an apparent victory Sunday against the New York Jets. In his four games (all losses), Losman has a 62.3 passer rating."I don't think so," Jauron replied. "The decision was made primarily because Gibran, if we got there -- and, again, Trent's feeling pretty good -- but if we got there, we just hadn't seen him. Having the confidence in him, we'd kind of like to see him out there."
That means Losman's mini-tryout for the other 31 teams appears over. He will be a free agent after this season and almost certainly won't be back with Buffalo. His relationship with Bills management deteriorated after they named Edwards the starter last year and reconfirmed the decision heading into the offseason.
There's no need to invest any more time in Losman, but Hamdan is well-liked by the front office, is close to Edwards and likely will be on the roster next year.
The Bills might as well find out more about what Hamdan can do before they go shopping for another backup.
Whether the Bills can afford to draft a longer-term project or need to sign a veteran free agent will depend on their opinion of Hamdan, an NFL Europa MVP whose lone NFL game was in 2003 with the Washington Redskins.