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NFL storylines: Buffalo gets its chance to prove that times are different

On Fridays during each week of the NFL season, will take a look at what we believe to be the five most interesting storylines for that weekend’s games.

It could be about a player, a team, maybe a trend that’s developed over time that might impact a matchup. In other words, we’ll be fluid, reacting to what has happened in the league and what might be coming next.

Sean McDermott

(Photo by Timothy T. Ludwig/Getty Images)

The Bills are due

The resurgent Bills are 3-0 for the first time since 2011 and have an offense and defense both ranked in the Top 10. In fact, Buffalo’s defense hasn’t allowed an opponent to score 20 points yet.

That sounds nice. But we’re compelled to throw a caution flag: Those victories have come against the Jets, Giants and Bengals, teams with a combined record of 1-8.

The real test comes on Sunday against the New England Patriots (3-0), the defending Super Bowl champions.

Not only are the Pats averaging 35.0 points, they are the first team in the Super Bowl era not to allow a passing or rushing touchdown in the three weeks of the season.

“There’s nothing that’s really been accomplished so soon in the season,” said Bills receiver Cole Beasley. “We could win our first eight games, lose the rest and not make the playoffs. You can’t really think about recognition or anything like that, you really just have to take it one game at a time.

“Everybody says that and it seems cliché, but I’ve been in this league eight years now and if you take any approach but that one, it’s not going to bode well for you. Any time you get too ahead of yourself, that’s when you kind of start shooting yourself in the foot a little bit.”

Maybe the Bills will find some consolation in knowing Tom Brady doesn’t practice every day anymore.

“Football is a contact sport. I wouldn’t say I’m a spring chicken anymore,” said Brady, who is 42. “I’m trying to just feel as great as I can, and we’ll see how it goes tomorrow. But I feel pretty good.”

Pat Mahomes

(Photo by Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images)

Chiefs walk into the Lions den

The Lions (2-0-1) have not been undefeated through the first four games since 2011. And if they want to end that draught they are going to need to stifle the NFL’s most prolific QB, Pat Mahomes.

Mahomes will play inside for the first time in his career and we shudder to think what he might be capable of without needing to compensate for wind, rain or cold.

Against Baltimore last week, Mahomes threw for 374 yards and three TDs without an interception. He’s the first QB in league history to throw for at least 350 yards and three TDs without an interception in each of the first three weeks of a season.

Since the start of last season, Mahomes has thrown for 6,292 yards and 60 touchdowns with a passer rating of 117.3 and 9.07 yards per attempt. No one has done better than that over the last 20 games.

“To me, Tom Brady is going to be the best ever for my whole life, that’s just how it is,” said Lions safety Quandre Diggs. “But the way Pat’s going, he’s going to break every record in NFL history if he keeps this up. I love it, though. ..I’m cool with that. As long as it’s not against us.”

Lions coach Matt Patricia made his reputation as the defensive coordinator of the Patriots. Let’s see what he can conjure to stop the Chiefs.

Saquon Barkley

(Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

Keeping up with the Jones

No NFL player had a more impressive day last weekend than Giants rookie QB Daniel Jones. In the first start of his career, he led the Giants back from an 18-point halftime deficit at Tampa Bay by throwing for 336 yards with two TD passes and two rushing touchdowns. He was the NFC’s offensive player of the week.

His second start comes at home against the desperate Redskins (0-3). But before counting Washington out, remember the Giants will be without halfback Saquon Barkley. He will miss at least a month with a high ankle sprain. The Giants do not plan to IR Barkley, which would sideline him for eight weeks.

“At this point, no. … I want to be clear, [the plan] doesn’t involve putting Saquon on IR,” Giants coach Pat Shurmur said.”Rehab him and get him ready to go. See how that plays out.”

Meanwhile, the Redskins have ignored the temptation to replace veteran QB Case Keenum with rookie Dwayne Haskins. Keenum has thrown for 933 yards, seven touchdowns and three interceptions.

“Well, we’ve played three games and there’s 13 games left in the season,” said Redskins coach Jay Gruden said “This season is not lost. It’s not over. I know everybody wants to say, ‘It’s over and the season is over so go ahead and play Haskins.’ We feel confident we can turn this thing around. … If we feel like Dwayne gives us the best chance to win in a coming game, we’ll definitely put Dwayne in there.”

Gruden may not have a choice soon. Keenum missed a walk-through Wednesday because of a sprained right foot, although he did look better in practice on Thursday.

Dalvin Cook

(Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images)

Vikings need to take Cook out of the kitchen

The Chicago Bears will be wearing uniforms from their 1936 season, a touch of nostalgia they hope will inspire them. They will need it against Dalvin Cook, the NFL’s top rusher this season.

Cook has 375 yards, is averaging 6.6 yards per carry and has gained 111 yards vs. Atlanta, 154 vs. Green Bay and 110 against Oakland.

“It’ll be all hands on deck to take care of him,” said Bears defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano. “He’s a game-wrecker as we know, not only toting the thing. but in the pass game. So we got to do a great job.”

The Bears are fourth in the NFL in rushing yards allowed per carry (3.1). And if that trend continues, they will be able to put more pressure on Vikings QB Kirk Cousins. And that usually means trouble for the Vikings.

Maybe that’s why the Vikings have focused more on the run this season. Cousins has just 502 yards and three touchdowns passing through three games. At this point last season, he has 965 yards and seven touchdown passes.

Sean Payton

(Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Saints hope to avoid a repeat

You might recall last season’s game between the Cowboys and Saints in Week 13. The Saints were on a 10-game winning streak and looking extremely powerful.

The Cowboys shut them down and won 13-10. And that was with Drew Brees playing QB. This week in New Orleans, Teddy Bridgewater will be making his second start of the season in place of the injured Brees.

“Man, they beat us,” said Saints coach Sean Payton said. “It was a tough game for us. We didn’t get much going. We didn’t protect the passer well. Penalties … they made the plays in the game that they needed to. It was a difficult game. It was one as a team that you try to shake off and get to the next week.”

Keep in mind that the Cowboys (3-0) have allowed an average of only 14.7 points this season. And if they can control Bridgewater and the passing game, it will give them more of a chance to also shut down the dynamic Alvin Kamara, who has 161 total yards (92 rushing, 69 receiving) last week against the Seahawks.

In last season’s meeting, the Cowboys became the only team to hold both Thomas and receiver Michael Thomas to 72 or fewer yards since Kamara made his debut with the Saints in 2017.