Struggling Bengals, Bills have little margin for error
The Cincinnati Bengals host the Buffalo Bills on Sunday in what could amount to an elimination game in the AFC wild-card race.
The Bills (4-5) and the Bengals (3-5-1) are currently 11th and 13th in the conference standings.
With one more loss, Cincinnati won't be able to finish with 10 wins. If Buffalo loses on Sunday, it would have to run the table to finish with 10 victories.
"Generally, 10 gets you in (the playoffs)," Bills coach Rex Ryan said. "It's not all the time, but generally that's what happens."
Buffalo hasn't won 10 games since 1999, and hasn't had a winning record after 10 contests since 2000. Coming out of the bye week, the Bills are searching for consistency after losing three straight following a four-game winning streak.
"Our focus has to be on Cincinnati and that's it," Ryan said. "You can't worry about getting to 10 wins. Shoot, we have to worry about getting five wins, so I think that's where we have to look at it. We haven't earned the right to think about anything further than that."
At this point a year ago, the Bengals were 8-1 on their way to an AFC North championship. Cincinnati's impressive mark included a 34-21 win in Buffalo.
"You don't get qualifiers for that, though," Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said. "You don't get to play from the green tees because of the past. We have to play back from the championship tees and move forward."
Pro Bowl left tackle Andrew Whitworth doesn't believe the Bengals' losing record reflects their ability to win games going forward.
"I could go back over the last five or six years and as good as people think we have been, there have been a lot of games that we eked out at the end. Another team made a mistake and we got a lucky break that went our way, that's NFL football," Whitworth said, according to the team website. "With this team though, the character we have, we can keep our heads down and keep working and turn this thing around."
The Bengals are banged up and on short rest coming off Monday night's 21-20 loss to the New York Giants.
Cincinnati is playing at Paul Brown Stadium for the first time in four weeks and hasn't won a game since then, despite being outscored by just one point in the last two contests - including a 27-27 tie with the Redskins on Oct. 30.
"Our margin for error right now is not very big," Lewis said.
A victory could go a long way for the Bengals. They are only 1.5 games back of the Ravens in the AFC North standings, but play four of their final six games against division foes - including two matchups with Baltimore.
"There's still so much to be determined in these last seven games," quarterback Andy Dalton said. "We haven't lost confidence in ourselves because we've been close in these games."
The Bills were hoping to get healthy during the bye week but still have holes to fill in the lineup. They could have as many as five new starters on Sunday.
Most of the changes will come on defense. Buffalo signed veteran safety James Ihedigbo this week with Aaron Williams (neck) likely out for the season and backups Duke Williams (who was cut) and Robert Blanton playing poorly.
Cornerback Ronald Darby was benched in favor of Corey White in a loss to Seattle last week and could lose his starting job permanently.
Pro Bowl defensive tackle Marcell Dareus (groin) is still limited in practice and is questionable. Dareus' primary backup, Corbin Bryant (shoulder) is out for the second straight game. Linebacker Jerry Hughes (hand/questionable) was also limited in practice this week.
On offense, either Patrick Lewis or Ryan Groy will be the new starting center after Eric Wood (broken leg) was placed on injured reserve.
"I think the most important player on our offense is Eric Wood," Bills running back LeSean McCoy said. "We put a lot of pressure on him to make the right calls and put us in the right protection and right schemes. As a whole, we have to do a better job of that and of knowing ourselves, instead of letting him tell us what to do."
Seantrel Henderson could also replace Jordan Mills at right tackle.
Henderson has missed the first nine games due to suspension for violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy and his recovery from Crohn's disease.