ORCHARD PARK — The national narrative is that the Buffalo Bills rely too heavily on Josh Allen.
Allen leads the NFL with 35 touchdowns heading into Sunday’s game against the Dallas Cowboys, a week after joining Cam Newton (2015) and Kyler Murray (2020) as the only NFL quarterbacks to throw 25 touchdowns and run for 10 in a season.
With that rationale, if Allen guides the Bills to a win over the red-hot Cowboys — who are surrendering 17 points per game in their five-game winning streak — it should move him into the MVP conversation. Although the Bills would be 8-6 with work left to do to get into the playoff race and truly solidify his candidacy, besting a firm MVP contender in Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott should inch Allen closer.
While Allen has thrown interceptions in a career-high nine consecutive games and leads the NFL with 14, he is averaging 325 total yards per game and has nine touchdowns in three games since Joe Brady took over as offensive coordinator, two of those games coming against two of the top-six defenses in the league, with the No. 3 defense on deck.
The quarterback on the opposite sideline, Prescott, may be the hottest quarterback in the league, though. He has 15 touchdowns and one interception over the last five games, while currently boasting an NFL-best 28 touchdown passes.
Prescott and San Francisco 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy — who has 304 passing yards per game to go along with 13 touchdown passes and two interceptions in his last five games — are currently the two frontrunners for MVP.
Oddsmakers are torn on choosing Prescott or Purdy, but both have +200 odds or better across the board. Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson is the consensus No. 3 pick, with Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts at No. 4 and Allen at No. 5.
While the Bills last five games have come against four teams above .500, the Cowboys have played just one team with a winning record and Carolina’s fourth-ranked defense is the only unit they’ve played ranked higher than No. 22 during that time.
But Prescott has less room for error, being surrounded with better weapons and a better defense. Allen will likely need an MVP-level performance for the Bills to win and there could be opportunities if he safely navigates a defense with 13 interceptions this year.
“They are very aggressive,” Allen said. “They like to jump things. They play really good with each other. We’re going to have our hands full. I’ve got to make sure I’m not scripting my passes and making sure I’m switching my eyes up and my feet up so they’re not able to jump some of our routes.”
Dallas edge rusher Micah Parsons can cover, while also having 12 ½ sacks, joining Reggie White as the only players in NFL history with at least 12 sacks in their first three seasons. But while the Cowboys have 39 sacks, they are 16th in the NFL in pressure percentage (21.7%), 25th in quarterback knockdowns (34) and hurry percentage (6.2%).
The Cowboys are eighth in the league in blitz percentage (31.5%). That means there will be man-to-man opportunities, which creates running chances for Allen if the Bills handle the pass rush — something they struggled with in the second half against Kansas City — because Dallas has given up the sixth-most yards rushing to quarterbacks (298) this season.
“You can call it a zone because they’re not really matching guys on first and second down, but it plays out like man,” Allen said. “A lot of what they do on third down is man. So again it’s going to take some individual battles, and we’ve got to win those battles.”
Playoff odds and scenarios
More important to the Bills than the MVP is race is getting into the playoffs and beating the Cowboys would exponentially increase those odds.
The Bills have an outside chance to get into the playoffs even if they lose to Dallas and win the remaining three games to reach 10-7, but beating the Cowboys could be a game-changer.
Prior to beating the Kansas City Chiefs, Upshot’s playoff simulator gave the Bills a 30% chance to reach the playoffs, but odds have increased to a 51% chance and the number jumps to 69% if they win.
If the Bills lose Sunday, odds of making the playoffs drop to 33% and if they were to go 3-1, no other game loss on the schedule gives them fewer odds. But at 7-6, Buffalo is still No. 11 in the AFC heading into Week 15, stuck behind five other teams with the same record.
The Bills currently lose all tiebreakers to the 7-6 teams ahead of them, including head-to-head losses to Cincinnati and Denver, which are in the top spots above them. But Buffalo can help itself and get some help this weekend.
Minnesota Vikings (7-6) at Cincinnati Bengals (7-6), 1 p.m. Saturday: The Bills need a win from the Vikings in this game. Joe Burrow’s season-ending hand injury four weeks ago was thought to signal doom for the Bengals, but backup Jake Browning has pulled them out of three-game skid to secure back-to-back wins over the Jaguars and Colts. Browning has thrown for 285.3 yards and four touchdowns on 79.3% completions in his first three NFL starts. The Vikings are clinging to a playoff spot with Nick Mullens expected to be their fourth starting quarterback this season, but still have an outside shot at the NFC North title if Detroit loses.
Pittsburgh Steelers (7-6) at Indianapolis Colts (7-6), 4:30 p.m. Saturday: Anything but a tie for the Bills is beneficial in this game. Mitch Trubisky is expected to start again for an injured Kenny Pickett for a Steelers team that has lost three of their last four. Pittsburgh is somehow still holding a playoff spot despite not reaching 20 points in four games, something it’s done eight times this season. Indianapolis holds the seventh and final playoff spot despite Cincinnati winning by 20 to end a four-game winning streak led by quarterback Gardner Minshew. The Colts have the more favorable schedule with a trip to Atlanta before closing the season at home against Las Vegas and Houston. Pittsburgh has Cincinnati at home and then trips to Seattle and Baltimore, so a Steelers win wouldn’t hurt long-term.
Denver Broncos (7-6) at Detroit Lions (9-4), 8:15 p.m. Saturday: Another easy one. The Bills need a win from the Lions, who could seal the NFC North with a win and a Vikings loss. Denver is the turnaround story of the league. The Broncos have won six of their last seven after starting 1-5 and they finish the schedule with home games against the Patriots and Chargers, followed by a trip to Las Vegas, meaning there may not be many opportunities for them to lose again.
Chicago Bears (5-8) at Cleveland Browns (8-5), 1 p.m. Sunday: The Browns are still cooking despite turning to 38-year-old Joe Flacco as their fourth starting quarterback this season. The Bears have little to play for, but have won three of their last four, with back-to-back wins over the Vikings and Lions. The Browns snapped a two-game skid to beat the Jaguars last week and finish the season at Houston, home against the Jets and at Cincinnati.
Houston Texans (7-6) at Tennessee Titans (5-8), 1 p.m. Sunday: Houston rookie sensation C.J. Stroud is still in concussion protocol after leaving during a 30-6 loss to the Jets last week. The Titans are on the outside looking in, but had a miracle comeback against the Dolphins Monday, keeping Buffalo’s AFC East hopes alive. The Bills could use another favor, especially if Davis Mills is the starter for Houston, which is 5-19-1 when he starts dating back to 2021. The Texans finish the season by hosting Cleveland and Tennessee, before traveling to Indianapolis.
Baltimore Ravens (10-4) at Jacksonville Jaguars (8-5), 8:20 p.m. Sunday: The Bills would prefer Jacksonville to win the AFC South because they would lose another head-to-head tiebreaker if they finish with the same record in the wild card race. The Jaguars have lost three of their last five, with gut-wrenching losses to the Bengals and Browns over the last two weeks, neither of which benefited the Bills.