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Pollock: Broncos could give Bills unexpected Monday night test

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A column by CHUCK POLLOCK, Sun Senior Sports Columnist

If perception is reality, this week’s pro football odds provide an interesting talking point.

When the Bills host the Denver Broncos Monday night at Highmark Stadium, Buffalo is favored by 7½ points, the second-longest odds on the board, trailing only the 17 the Cowboys are giving the woeful Giants.

But here’s what’s odd.

The Bills, 5-4, have lost three of their last five games and haven’t once covered the spread over that span. Worse, facing the NFL’s toughest season-closing schedule, they’re on the verge of playing their way out of the AFC playoff race.

Still, nationally, bettors remain on the Buffalo bandwagon.

But the reality is, the Bills are off to their worst start since the 2018 team opened 2-7 en route to a 6-10 finish.

And, for the umteenth time this season, Buffalo is facing a “must win,” this one against an intriguing foe at the season’s midway mark.

DENVER, 3-5, was the laughingstock of the league when it was eviscerated by the potent Dolphins, 70-20, at Miami Gardens in the season’s third game.

But since that embarrassment they’re 3-2 and one of the Broncos victims is defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City, by a 24-9 count in Denver. In addition, they lost their first two games of the season by a combined total of only three points.

The other factor is quarterback Russell Wilson, who had a woeful 2022, has been rejuvenated under new coach Sean Payton. Wilson, in the last five games, has thrown 10 touchdown passes with only two interceptions.

Meanwhile, Buffalo, in its last five games, has gotten off to painfully slow offensive starts and in that same span has lost three key defenders — cornerback Tre’Davious White, outside linebacker Matt Milano and tackle DaQuan Jones — for the season  and Friday’s injury report indicated that two other starters — cornerback Christian Benford (hamstring) and safety Micah Hyde (neck) — didn’t practice.

By contrast, Denver, coming off a bye, is completely healthy.

LATE this week, Buffalo coach Sean McDermott and quarterback Josh Allen were quizzed about how the Bills can emerge from the five-game malaise that has put them on the brink of missing the playoffs for only the second time in seven seasons.

When asked about his hopes for a turnaround, McDermott was adamant: “(I’m) confident in our team,  confident in our coaches, confident in our players, confident in our staff.

“It doesn’t mean we don’t have work to do, it doesn’t mean we don’t have a gap to close and there’s different things that make up that gap. We’ve got to continue to drill down on those areas and play better as an overall team, complementary-wise and reset some things that we need to reset and go back and reteach certain things or establish things at this time of year.”

He added, “What I’ve learned being around the NFL is, even being 14-0 years ago and going to the Super Bowl (at Carolina) is every year, it seems like you’re banging your head against the wall … every year is hard. But  you come out of it saying, ‘Hey, we were pretty good.’ We learned some lessons all the way through it. It’s never easy and I feel like these guys know what’s ahead of us … they also know we’ve got to take it one game at a time and I think they’re ready for the challenge.”

ALLEN was more upbeat than he’s been in weeks.

“We’ve got our best football to play … it’s in front of us,” he said. “We’re not gonna let the fact we’re 5-4 divide us apart. We’ve had stretches where we haven’t played up to our standard in the past and we’ve always found a way through those and we’ve got an opportunity Monday night at home against a hungry Denver Broncos team.”

Allen continued,  “We understand that adversity is going to happen to every football team … injuries or lulls in your schedule. It’s gonna happen and that’s part of the game. But I’m supremely confident in the group of guys we’ve got here and the leadership that we’ve got.”

Of Monday night’s game (8:20, WKBW-TV, 95.7 FM, 100.1 FM, 550 AM), he said, “The key for any team throughout the year is you have to win at home … you have to make them count. Our crowd making it tough on the opposing team and their quarterback gives us an advantage.

“My coach in college used to say, ‘They remember November.’ This is where real football is starting to be played. You’ve got to play your best football going into the latter part of the season and that’s something we’re looking forward to and we’re excited about.”

Allen concluded, “The process we have is proven to work, maybe not the results we wanted the last few weeks, but we’re sticking to that and trust what we’re being told and trust what we’re doing because if we get this thing right, things will be just fine.”

Bills 27, Broncos 21

(Chuck Pollock, a Wellsville Sun senior sports columnist, can be reached at cpollock@wnynet.net

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