This week, we’ve invited Matthew Byham of Buffalo Rumblings to help us preview tonight’s matchup between the Chargers and Bills. He left no stone unturned as he answers all of our questions so to save everyone some time this holiday weekend, we’re jumping right into it.
1) Gabe Davis has an opportunity to hit free agency this year, and it’s hard to understand his value to the Bills from the outside looking in. He was a breakout candidate for many in 2022 after having a record-setting four touchdowns in a single postseason game, but hasn’t sustained the success you’d expect from a starting receiver in an explosive offense. How important is it for Buffalo to bring him back, and are their rumblings as to what the contract might look like?
It’s such a challenge to critically discuss Gabe Davis, because he’s such a fantastic person from everything we as outsiders understand about him. He absolutely is important to the Bills’ success, which, in turn, explains why they’ve struggled at times when he’s been less productive and seldom involved.
All anyone can recall is what he did to the Kansas City Chiefs in the playoffs, in which he played more like an elite WR1 than the WR2 his role requires. His greatest game may have blossomed into his biggest detriment.
I believe it’s more important for the Bills to bring Gabe Davis back than it is for the fan base to see him brought back. But that’s also at the right price for Buffalo, and other teams might see a different version — perhaps Big Game Gabe — of the player they seek to handsomely pay.
Davis is, by and large, a very misunderstood cylinder in Buffalo’s offensive engine. He’s a consummate teammate — a pro’s pro. That said, if he’s to carry the mantle of “wide receiver 1A” as quarterback Josh Allen once put it, or minimally WR2 as we’ve come to understand — he needs to play a larger role, and should find opportunities to catch passes on a more regular basis.
Many fans bemoan Davis’ drop rate, perceived limitations running a diverse route tree, and struggles gaining separation. Those are all valid concerns, but it’s not as simple as claiming Davis is poor at each and every one of those things without considering his situation. He’s very clearly been asked to function as a downfield blocker more than anything else in recent weeks. That’s especially been the case since interim offensive coordinator Joe Brady took over play-calling duties.
Davis has been nothing but a good soldier this season, but I sense a bit of understandable frustration over his usage in recent weeks, based on his mid-week press conference.
“It’s not that easy, but you know I gotta do it. I gotta be and do what my team asks me to do and all I can do is control what I can control. But, you know, I’m doing good in the blocking game and... real confident in that.”
He further added:
“Me and Josh had a conversation and, you know, again, that’s what the game brings. You know, we both know that we want each of us to be successful — my success is his success, and vice versa when he’s throwing me the ball. So, it’s not that we don’t want it to happen, but you know, the league is tough and all the stars gotta align for stuff to go your way all the time.”
Davis takes a lot of pride in what he brings to the team, no matter what the job entails. It has to be difficult for him, going four games with scant targets and zero receptions. That rarely favor’s a receiver’s marketability in free agency. Teams looking beyond that will find a player willing to step up in any way needed, and someone who has shown an ability to rise up as a receiver in big moments. It’s possible that the inconsistent way he’s been utilized this season has played a large role in his continued drops and downfield miscommunications. But you’ll struggle finding a Bills fan who thinks his struggles catching the ball are more trend than trait.
For all the complaining about Davis, it isn’t that he lacks production — but he too-often fails to produce in expected moments. On the season, Davis has 39 receptions (on 70 targets) for 595 yards with six touchdowns.
In terms of a contract? I would only be able to provide you with an educated guess of somewhere between $8-$12 million per season based on what others received this past spring. It’s unlikely the Bills can afford to spend that much on Davis, but I’ll never say never until it’s impossible, especially when it comes to a player as beloved and valued as Gabe Davis is by the organization.
2) Dalton Kincaid was a favorite pick to mock for Chargers fans, given our weakness at tight end. Sam LaPorta has received the bulk of the national media’s attention, but what can you tell us about Kincaid’s transition to the NFL?
Dalton Kincaid has been an incredible addition to the Bills’ offense. Everything that was said about him is true — and he’s played above most expectations when you consider the transition period for most tight ends. He’s more jumbo receiver than tight end, but he’s taken a shine to finding contact down the field as a blocker.
On the season, Kincaid’s caught 61 passes (on 74 targets) for 495 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
Kincaid is someone who’s provided Josh Allen with a reliable tempo setter early in games. He catches almost everything thrown his way and then some. He’s dropped more passes of late, but he’s also dealing shoulder and thumb injuries — both of which he tends to downplay.
Kincaid’s best stretch of the season found him as the featured tight end in 11-personnel looks, while fellow tight end Dawson Knox recovered on Injured Reserve following wrist surgery. From Weeks 7 through 11 (five games), Kincaid caught 31 passes (on 38 targets) for 281 and those two scores. Suddenly, everyone was asking why he wasn’t utilized this way before — and wondering if Dawson Knox should and would land elsewhere.
If there’s room for improvement, it’s with his use down the field and in the red zone. Kincaid’s an X-factor against most linebackers, but he rarely finds himself targeted far beyond the line to gain. That said, he’s a YAC stud, which is something the Buffalo Bills hadn’t seem much out of from the position before his arrival. I find it surprising he only has two touchdowns on the season, but remind myself that he is a rookie, and the Bills have plenty of hands to feed at the goal line.
3) All but the most hopelessly optimistic Bolt fans are predicting a loss on Saturday, and many are actually pulling for a loss and thinking ahead to draft position. Besides just getting out of this game healthy, what are Bills’ fans hoping to see when they tune into this game?
The simplest answer is a win. The Bills have zero room for error these last three weeks of the regular season. In trying not to sound braggadocios, I believe the Chargers have no business winning this game in terms of available talent vs. available talent. But motivation. It’s real, and I expect the Chargers will be plenty motivated to ball out Saturday night.
On a deeper level, I suspect many within Bills Mafia hope to see a bit of the magic re-enter the picture between Josh Allen and Stefon Diggs. Buffalo’s receivers, overall, have underwhelmed too often in 2023. Diggs is still Diggs, but he can’t do it all — and teams are taking him away while ancillary targets haven’t stepped up enough. Dalton Kincaid has helped, for sure. Still, it’s rare this season that Buffalo’s offense finds explosive down-field passing plays.
For those hoping to see Allen’s name more meaningfully enter the MVP conversation, I suppose another game without a turnover while engineering key points is on ask.
But you’re absolutely correct — this game is all about player health... and, of course, that coveted W.
4) The Bills are on pace to have their first 1,000 yard rusher for the first time since 2017. The Chargers have followed a similar offensive model, largely relying on their quarterback to move the chains, but they are much more hesitant to unleash Herbert as a threat in the run game the way the Bills have. What do you think is more integral to the Bills’ success: Josh Allen’s ability to pick up first downs or touchdowns with his legs, or the emergence of James Cook as a featured back?
Well, it’s Cook for a number of reasons. His emergence forces defenses to play more honest ball. Plus, it theoretically removes some wear and tear on Allen. With Cook running the ball well and the offensive line playing the way they are, it opens up everything else.
The Bills have found success with running backs in prior seasons during Allen’s tenure, but none were focal points, so what’s transpired this season feels entirely new. Where before teams could key in on Allen running the ball in certain situations, now they have to contend with Cook — especially when they diversify the calls out of both shotgun and play-action looks.
Josh Allen as a runner will always be integral to the team’s success and his legacy, but it can only be enhanced through a more substantial rushing attack elsewhere. Allen’s so dynamic in everything he does, and his ability to ad-lib at any moment is one of a kind. Giving him a complementary rushing attack to further confuse defenses almost seems unfair.
Teams have dedicated resources to shutting down Stefon Diggs, which appears to have opened the door for James Cook to find more snaps as a receiver. It’s unlikely defenses planned on that happening, and they’ve been unable to play on the same chess board to this point. Should defensive coordinators seek to negate Cook and the run game, that will further open up windows for Josh Allen in the passing game — and, in turn, as an off-script runner. Rare is the defense capable of shutting down every aspect of an opponent’s offense, at least each and every week. Buffalo’s commitment to developing a more robust rushing attack, and its success, couldn’t have come at a better time. Time will tell if it has the glue to stick as needed.
5) DraftKings Sportsbook have given this game an 11.5-point spread, a huge swing from where it would have been if Justin Herbert was still healthy. Would you take the Bills against this spread, and believe they’ll run up the score?
Again, I mean no disrespect in anything written here regarding the Chargers. It’s a terrible situation for those who put in so much effort, sacrificed so much, and expected something vastly different than they found. And that’s all before even considering what this has been like for the fans.
But facts are facts. The facts are that these Chargers aren’t the team anyone expected, and the results are anything other than good. And now they’ve run into a team motivated to realize their postseason goals — and up against real adversity of their own.
It’s unfortunate, what’s played out for the team and Chargers fans. I’m still not certain if it’s largely due to injuries or the tenure of Brandon Staley. It was time for him to go, because teams don’t just fold up like they did last week... if they believe in their head coach.
Interestingly, the Buffalo Bills could have found themselves in a very similar situation after a juicy expose about head coach Sean McDermott hit during the team’s bye week three weeks ago. There were over 20,000 words and 25 testimonials (both off- and on-record) that painted the picture of a micromanaging leader who seemed out of touch in key ways, and other even less-desirable reveals. But all it did was find the team rallying around McDermott, and most of the fan base as well. When it first hit, people figured McDermott was a goner — even perhaps immediately.
Anyway, to try and answer your question...
Unless the Chargers follow the Denver Broncos’ model in the (yes, understood, long-term) aftermath of their 70 burger (and go on a tear), I think taking the Bills against the spread is a perfectly reasonable risk. But it’s still a risk. I remain concerned how the Bills will play on a short week against a team coming off a demoralizing loss with extra time to prepare for Week 16.
Sean McDermott isn’t new to this game, however. He has a fantastic record in December games, and for certain he’s prepared the players to be wary of any letdown following a thorough thrashing of the NFL’s hottest offense. The Bills can’t afford to take any team lightly — they’ve essentially entered their own version of March Madness. Any loss would almost certainly doom their chances at the playoffs, especially losing to another AFC team.
But back to that spread — I believe they cover it and more. The Chargers, as you know, are up against it with significant injuries, a QB whose name many struggle to recall, and an interim head coach who’s never led an NFL team. It all plays into that spread. Right? But you know what else does? The Chargers’ offense is fairly similar to the Dallas Cowboys, and the Bills now have some on-field experience defending against it.
Having said all that, I don’t expect McDermott to run up the score if the evening goes the way they’ve planned. He’s a stand-up guy who appears to value karma. That said, few leads in the NFL are safe these days, and McDermott has shown a weakness this season in coaching with a late, but narrow, lead. If things play out like last weekend versus Dallas, expect to see most of Buffalo’s starters hit the bench by the fourth quarter.
Should the Bills fail to secure a W, it would likely mean they find themselves at home far too soon following the holidays. It’s the season of believing, and I believe the Buffalo Bills win, keeping their postseason dreams vividly alive.