By: Will Strome & Chris Lovi of NFLWeather.com
Can C.J. Spiller and Buffalo’s backfield weather Stephen Jackson’s Rams?
When the schedules came out it didn’t seem like a marquee matchup at the time, but wildcard spots in both conferences are on the line when the Buffalo Bills host the St. Louis Rams on Sunday. Consider this a practical playoff game! After Sunday, only one team can continue pressing on for a coveted nine-win season and a shot at the playoffs. Both sides will have to endure and fight through volatile weather conditions in upstate New York.
NFLWeather.com forecasts mostly cloudy skies; that’s after a week of showers and an extended forecast of a 30% chance of rain with a high temperature just under 40. But it’s the wind that’ll cause the most problems with an eastern breeze starting around 7-12 mph that is expected to increase up to 16-21 mph by the afternoon. Gusts could get as high as 31 mph, so add in the piercing rain and it’s nothing shy of arctic conditions inside Ralph Wilson Stadium. Rain or shine on Sunday, the ground will be wet, the wind will be wild, receivers’ hands will be near frozen and both teams will be playing for their seasons.
Bills fans are used to these frigid game day elements, but not the visiting team that plays eight games a year indoors. According the NFLWeather.com historical analytics, Buffalo has won their last two home rain games and the last time the temperature dipped below freezing, the Bills hung 40 points on the Denver Broncos. In the Rams lone rain game of the season the New England Patriots thrashed them 45-7 with zero positives to take from it.
ICONBills running back Fred Jackson is no stranger to inclement weather.
Both teams have plenty to be positive about once they look past the weather. St. Louis (5-6-1) responded to a Week 11 loss with back-to-back crucial victories over NFC West rivals in impressive fashion. After a 31-17 win over the Arizona Cardinals down in the desert, the Rams hosted and stunned a division-leading San Francisco 49ers team whom they previously tied earlier in the year. Winning out doesn’t necessarily guarantee a playoff spot, but losing is a knockout blow to a team that feels it could go deep if it can get in.
Buffalo (5-7) is coming off of a 34-18 drumming of the Jacksonville Jaguars in a driving rain following a disappointing 20-13 loss to the Indianapolis Colts, a playoff contender. That’s the inconsistent year it’s been for the Bills, but a late push could salvage an otherwise below-average season.
The unpredictable winds will force both teams to hit the ground running. A solid St. Louis defense will have their hands full with the league’s fourth-best rushing attack that is averaging just under 150 yards per game. Last week, Fred Jackson took 25 touches for 109 yards while CJ Spiller carried only 14 times, but scored on a 44-yard scamper in a downpour. And the rain obviously had an impact on the play-calling with Ryan Fitzpatrick dropping back only 17 times. The Buffalo signal-caller completed 9 of his 17 attempts for two scores and an interception and shouldn’t be expected to throw the ball much more this week.
Sam Bradford, on the other hand, doesn’t have the luxury of an overpowering and versatile ground game. Bradford dropped back 39 times in the team’s 16-13 overtime win over the 49ers a week ago and still accounted for only one touchdown. Even with Steven Jackson lined up behind him, the fate of the Rams rests in the hands of Bradford. In a game where conditions are unfamiliar and uncomfortable, however, Jackson will be called upon early and often to relieve some of the pressure and protect the ball.
One characteristic that likely won’t carry over from last week is a 54-yard field goal to win the game. Greg Zuerlein booted the winner with 26 ticks left on the clock to avoid a second draw of the season and received the game ball in the locker room, but the rookie likely won’t be put in that position again. In unfavorable field conditions with an inexperienced kicker, the Rams desperately need to focus on winning the field position battle.
The same goes for the Bills, as capitalizing on mistakes will be key. More importantly, avoiding said mistakes is even more valuable. The weather will keep this game close but the Bills have been living in it all December. With the forecast changing all weekend, mental strength, playoff drive and determination to win will determine the outcome.
Robert Griffin III to run against the Baltimore Ravens defense
Also on Sunday’s schedule are two potential playoff teams in need of a win for different reasons. The Baltimore Ravens travel down the beltway to Washington in search of a win to keep the possibility of a first-round bye alive. A win in Washington could eliminate the possibility of a playoff trip to Foxborough. On the flip side, the Redskins need a victory to keep their playoff hopes alive. NFLWeather.com’s forecast for Washington is cloudy with a 40% chance of rain.
RG3 looks to keep the 'Skins playoff hopes alive on Sunday.
While both teams have explosive offensive capabilities, expect the rain to limit some of that production. Coming off an impressive win on Monday night, Robert Griffin III and the Redskins will face yet another tough defense at home. This time, with weather a contributing factor, expect more pocket passing out of RG3. FedEx Field’s grass surface will limit option plays and outside running so running back Alfred Morris should see more carries inside.
The Ravens will definitely have to change their game plan on Sunday, being that part of their offense involves deep pass attempts. If forecasts are correct, rain will definitely limit Flacco’s vision downfield and ability to grip the ball. Look for the Ravens to attack the weak Redskins secondary through 10-20 passes and screen plays to Ray Rice. If Flacco can show accuracy on those throws, you might see a couple of over the top passes to try to slip-up some Redskin defenders.
Overall, this will be an exciting one to watch. There will definitely be more pressure on the Redskins to get this win at home. Although it will be interesting to see how the Ravens respond after their disappointing loss to the Steelers last week.