When thinking about all the twists and turns of the Bills’ last seven days, the term ‘whirlwind’ comes to mind. By the time they are through their upcoming game with the Lions, they’ll have an uprooted home game, six feet of snow in one day, four flights in six days, two games in Detroit and not a single day to rest.
But after successfully defeating the Browns on Sunday, they’ll attempt to do the same — in the same building — on Thanksgiving afternoon against the Lions. It’s the Bills’ final tune-up before a pivotal three-game stretch against AFC East opponents.
Heading into the game, here are five Bills’ thoughts ranging from big-picture possibilities to what could happen on Thanksgiving against the Lions.
1. Micah Hyde leaves the door open to returning this season
When Bills star safety Micah Hyde injured his neck in the first month of the season, the initial thought was that his season was over. Hyde and his teammates used the #23in23 hashtag, alluding to the safety’s number and his return for the 2023 season. Hyde successfully underwent a neck procedure that has helped solve the pain he had been dealing with for a long time and returned to Orchard Park nearly a month ago to be with the franchise. It’s long been a foregone conclusion that his year was over, but some recent activity has been, at the very least, interesting.
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Ahead of the Bills’ game against the Browns on Sunday, Hyde was seen getting some work in with other inactive players under the guidance of the strength and conditioning staff. Then again on Tuesday, the Bills’ lone practice of the week, Hyde was again going through some running drills with injured members of the 53-man roster. After practice, The Athletic caught up with Hyde following the recent developments.
Hyde revealed that he was just cleared to run “a little bit,” and said he’s taking it one day at a time. But when asked if there was any possible hope of coming back this season, Hyde left the door open to the idea — a slight departure from when initially placed on injured reserve.
“I would love to. I would love to. We’ll see,” Hyde told The Athletic Tuesday. “It’s not really up to me. It’s kind of up to the doctors. Historically, no. But I’m not dealing with… those are other people, other situations. So, we’ll see what happens.”
The fact that Hyde didn’t immediately shut down the idea meant that a potential return this season is possible, even if it’s only a slight chance. Hyde’s reference to those “other people” and “other situations” is also pretty impactful. It’s also worth pointing out that players will always veer on the optimistic side, and there’s no doubt that Hyde would love to be a part of the season he and the organization have been building toward over the five previous seasons. But if the Bills did get Hyde back, it would be an incredible boost to a defense capable of excellent results without him. But there’s a long way to go and several things that have to go right before the idea becomes a reality.
2. Bates says, “I’ll be at center” if Morse doesn’t play
On the first play of the Browns game, starting center Mitch Morse suffered an ankle injury that he had to play through the rest of the way. Morse didn’t miss a snap and had an excellent outing. But after the game, several reporters spotted Morse in a walking boot. He didn’t participate in Monday’s walkthrough, or Tuesday’s full practice, which put his status for Thursday in doubt due to the short week. When Morse missed time earlier this season, the Bills replaced him with backup Greg Van Roten, which led to some difficulties in the quarterback-center exchange with Van Roten and quarterback Josh Allen. Even if Morse doesn’t play, it likely won’t be Van Roten getting the start at center.
“I’ll be at center,” starting right guard Ryan Bates said Tuesday, only if Morse couldn’t play. That would likely mean one of Van Roten or Bobby Hart would be the starting right guard, with Van Roten probably having the edge because of how much they like using Hart as a sixth offensive lineman on some snaps to help the running game. Bates has been playing incredibly well as of late and has more experience at center than Van Roten, both in general and with Allen as the quarterback. Morse has been their best offensive lineman this season, so it will be a huge loss against an improved Lions defensive line. But getting Morse a full week-and-a-half off the ankle injury, ahead of a big three-game stretch against the Patriots, Jets and Dolphins could be
3. Could we see A.J. Klein as the starter only a week after being claimed?
The Bills released veteran linebacker A.J. Klein from his contract with the team in the offseason in a cap-saving move, but Klein has since been on the move. He began with the Ravens, before getting traded to the Bears, and once the Bears waived him last week, the Bills successfully claimed the veteran on waivers on a much more team-friendly contract. Klein has long been a favorite of coach Sean McDermott, both in his two seasons in Buffalo and for all the time the pair spent together in Carolina. Klein has been a part of the Bills roster this season since Thursday, with only one practice with the team on Tuesday to his name.
We also know that usual starter Tremaine Edmunds is unlikely to play Thursday, and last game against the Browns, his replacement Tyrel Dodson struggled in coverage for a second straight week. But given all Klein’s experience with McDermott and that he had served as the starter if either Edmunds or Matt Milano had to miss the game, it would not be a surprise if the Bills turn to Klein even with so little time on task. After all, they know they can trust him within their defense, and nearly everything — scheme, head coach and defensive coordinator — is the same as last season.
4. A potential explosion spot for the passing offense
After a more than shaky start on Sunday against the Browns, quarterback Josh Allen and the passing offense turned it around and were excellent the rest of the way. He completed 14 of his final 17 passes for 170 yards, and, most importantly, displayed the confidence, zip and accuracy that had been missing at times against the Jets and Vikings. He also showed poise in the pocket, patience with letting his routes develop, and took what the defense gave in two-high looks rather than forcing the ball into coverage. Now with that success and two complete games since he suffered his elbow injury, Allen and wide receivers Stefon Diggs and Gabe Davis have all the potential to serve up a reminder this week about what their attack is capable of in a single game.
The Lions come into this game with the third-worst defensive pass EPA per dropback in the NFL, according to TruMedia. Jeff Okudah, their top boundary cornerback, has also missed both days of practice this week and looks unlikely to play against the Bills. It would leave Diggs and Davis to work against two of Mike Hughes, Amani Oruwariye and Jerry Jacobs. Oruwariye and Hughes have been two of the worst coverage cornerbacks in the league this season, and Jacobs hasn’t had a ton of snaps to his name this year just yet. As long as the offensive line can keep Allen clean, Diggs, Davis or both could go off with huge days on Thursday.
5. A great opportunity to keep the ground game going
Last week, the Bills were up against the worst run defense in the league by a considerable margin and put forward their best collective rushing day of the season. Due to the opponent, it doesn’t mean the Bills have solved all their rushing woes. But the good news for them is that they have another excellent opportunity to keep it going this week against a similarly bad run defense. While the Browns were the worst in rush defense Expected Points Added this season and the fifth-worst since the 2000 season, according to Tru Media, the Lions are the second-worst in 2022. Similarly to the Browns, the Lions’ defensive tackle group has proved to be a liability in run defending. The quartet of Alim McNeill, Isaiah Buggs, Michael Brockers and Benito Jones have all had their difficulties this season. If the Bills can keep it going with the interior offensive line, Devin Singletary and James Cook, it will make Allen and the passing attack that much more dynamic and potentially explosive.
Bills projected inactives vs. Lions: C Mitch Morse, DE Greg Rousseau, DE A.J. Epenesa, LB Tremaine Edmunds, LB Baylon Spector, CB Tre’Davious White, CB/S Cam Lewis
Bills projected practice squad call-ups: WR Tanner Gentry, DE Mike Love
Prediction: Bills 40, Lions 13
Although the Lions have won their last three games, this looks like a potential explosion spot for the Bills after getting their feet underneath them against the Browns on Sunday. Even though they scored 31 points against the Browns, they failed to capitalize on a handful of drives by settling for field goals. With all the Lions’ struggles defensively against the pass and run, this is a great opportunity for Allen and the offense to get back on track ahead of their AFC East slog. The Lions may have some success with plenty of targets and catches for receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown over the middle of the field, but I’m expecting the Bills to be able to limit quarterback Jared Goff and force him into mistakes when they need a play on third down. Overall, this is a game the Bills can thoroughly control, and despite some injuries to starters, too many things point to the Bills coming away with their eighth win of the season.
(Top photo: Megan Briggs / Getty Images)