After rough stretches, the Buffalo Bills and St. Louis Rams are back in the playoff conversation.
That could change for one of them Sunday at Ralph Wilson Stadium.
After splitting their first six games and being tied for the AFC East lead, the Bills dropped three in a row. Buffalo, though, has won two of three to improve to 5-7 and is tied with Miami and the Jets, with all three in pursuit of Indianapolis (8-4), Pittsburgh (7-5) and Cincinnati (7-5) for the two wild-card spots.
Buffalo still has a chance to snap its 12-year playoff drought - the league's longest such skid - following last Sunday's 34-18 victory over lowly Jacksonville, but the team knows there is little room for error.
"What happened before is in the past, and we just have to keep pushing," defensive end Mario Williams said. "We are still there. Even though nobody else thinks of it that way, we do."
The Rams (5-6-1) are in a similar position in the NFC, needing to move past a handful of teams in the final four weeks to make the playoffs for the first time since 2004.
"This team is focused on Buffalo. It's our next opponent," said coach Jeff Fisher, whose club has won two straight following an 0-4-1 stretch. "There's too much that could happen right now. I don't even know what the record is of some teams in the division. So, we just go play."
St. Louis is eyeing its first 3-0 run since the final three games of 2006 and first set of back-to-back road victories since Nov. 28-Dec. 5, 2010.
The Bills, meanwhile, could be extremely short-handed as they try to win three in a row at home.
Center Eric Wood is out for at least two weeks with a torn MCL, right tackle Chris Hairston (right foot) is not expected to play, and wide receiver Stevie Johnson (left hamstring) and cornerbacks Aaron Williams (right knee) and Leodis McKelvin (back) are all nursing injuries.
It's also uncertain if quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, a former seventh-round draft pick of the Rams, will have wide receiver Donald Jones to throw to after he missed last Sunday's game with a calf injury.
The Bills' makeshift offensive line, which could include Kraig Urbik, David Snow and Sam Young, could have its hands full with a Rams defense that has 13 sacks in the last four games - including three in last Sunday's 16-13 overtime win versus NFC West-leading San Francisco.
"They do a great job of rushing the passer and (Chris) Long will be a challenge over there for Sam," Bills coach Chan Gailey said. "That will be a real challenge for him. To be honest with you, they rotate through a lot of guys that can play. This might be overall as athletic of defensive front, and powerful combined with quickness a defensive front, as we have played all season."
St. Louis' Sam Bradford has faced plenty of pressure this season - he's been sacked 30 times - and he could be on the run again with Buffalo's defense recording 10 sacks while holding its last three opponents to averages of 17.0 points and 244.0 yards. The Bills had 11 sacks and gave up averages of 34.3 points and 440.7 yards in their previous six games.
"I'm not worried about a month ago," defensive tackle Kyle Williams said. "Obviously, yes, we wish we could've played this well earlier. But the only thing I can control is what's in front of me."
Rams leading receiver Danny Amendola (heel) is questionable after missing the last game, but the Bills' defensive backs need to keep rookie Chris Givens in front of them. Givens has 16 receptions for 207 yards and a touchdown in the last two contests.
St. Louis running back Steven Jackson had 187 yards in those games to move within 135 of becoming the 27th player in league history with 10,000.
The Bills had a season-best 232 rushing yards last Sunday, with Fred Jackson running for 109 and C.J. Spiller finishing with 77 - including a 44-yard TD.
Buffalo is 5-1 in the last six matchups with St. Louis, winning 31-14 on the road in the last meeting Sept. 28, 2008.
The Associated Press News Service
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