The linebacking corp of Nigel Bradham, left, Brandon Spikes, centre, and Preston Brown have been the strength of the  Buffalo defence. Brett Carlsen / AFP
The linebacking corp of Nigel Bradham, left, Brandon Spikes, centre, and Preston Brown have been the strength of the Buffalo defence. Brett Carlsen / AFP

Paying the Bills their due - defence has them on verge of NFL play-off spot

Two weeks ago, a winter storm hit America’s north-east. It got so bad in upstate New York that the Buffalo Bills had to postpone their game against the visiting New York Jets because Ralph Wilson Stadium was under several feet of snow.

Playing football in Buffalo means playing in the cold. So when temperatures hit a freezing point, that is when the Bills defence tends to heat up.

Since the snow has started to fall – the postponed game against the Jets was moved to Detroit – the Bills (7-5) have held their past two opponents to a combined 13 points and won both games with ease.

They visit another winter wonderland in the Rockies today, where the Denver Broncos (9-3) also like to play in the cold conditions and have one of the best quarterbacks the league has ever known in Peyton Manning.

Not that the Buffalo defence is intimidated by Manning or anything.

“If it’s daunting and you’re worried or you’re scared about [playing against Manning], I don’t want to play with you,” said Bills defensive tackle Kyle Williams. “It’s a challenge, obviously. Great players. But we feel like we’re pretty good players, too.”

When talking about a Bills defence that ranks in the top 10 in the NFL against both the run and the pass, it always starts with the defensive line, and justifiably so.

Buffalo leads the NFL in sacks thanks to Jerry Hughes, Marcell Dareus and Mario Williams, who each have produced at least 9.5 sacks. But it takes more than a strong defensive line to get to where the Bills are defensively. Buffalo is fifth in the NFL in total yards allowed per game and have given up just 217 points, second-fewest in the league.

One year ago, the Bills could get after the quarterback, but stopping the run was a major issue. Three new starting linebackers have made a world of difference and turned the unit into one of the league’s finest.

Rookie Preston Brown has made a big impression, and Nigel Bradham has put a one-game suspension for violating the NFL’s policy on substance abuse behind him.

Bradham is ranked as the fourth-best 4-3 outside linebacker in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus. And Brown, the wide-eyed rookie, ranks sixth in the league. Back in the summer, when Bills star linebacker Kiko Alonso tore aknee ligament, the talk was all about whether the Bills could replace him. Now, the linebacker position is one of the team strengths.

“I really like our linebackers,” Bills coach Doug Marrone said. “I think that each one of them brings a lot to the table.”

Even though the Bills defence still has a date with Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers and a second tilt against New England quarterback Tom Brady before the year is out, it will first try to contain Manning to gain valuable ground in the AFC play-off picture.

Having won two straight, the Bills are in the thick of a tightly contested division and enter December with a winning record for the first time since 2000.

So with four games left in the regular season, both the Broncos and Bills are already thinking about the play-offs and neither team wants to be left out in the cold.

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