GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) — Buffalo’s Stefon Diggs and Arizona’s DeAndre Hopkins are two receivers who have flourished in their new homes after being traded to their respective teams just hours apart in March.
They’ve also helped turned their teams into some of the most exciting in the NFL.
Now the Bills travel to face the Cardinals in a game (airing LIVE on News 3 at 4:05 p.m. Sunday) that’s vital for both teams in their chase for the playoffs. Buffalo (7-2) is trying to win its first AFC East title since 1995. Arizona (5-3) is in the hunt to get back on top of the NFC West for the first time since 2015.
Diggs and Hopkins are two of just three receivers in the league with at least 60 catches and at least 700 yards receiving so far this year. Diggs spent five years with Minnesota before coming to Buffalo. Hopkins was with the Texans for seven seasons before the surprising trade that brought him to the desert.
Arizona coach Kliff Kingsbury said there’s little doubt both are pumped for Sunday’s matchup.
“I definitely think they’re competitors, and they know what the other one has been doing this season, there’s no question about that,” Kingsbury said. “I can’t speak for Stefon, but I know DeAndre, his expectation is to play at an elite level each and every day, particularly on Sundays and catch a lot of footballs.”
Diggs is having a career year with the Bills while teaming with rising young quarterback Josh Allen. He already has 813 yards receiving and is on pace to smash his previous career high of 1,130 yards from last season.
“As far as like people doubting me, they’ve been doubting me for a very long time,” Diggs said. “I’m kind of just relishing the moment of continuing to grind and continuing to take those steps, build it brick by brick, and let the results be what they be.”
Hopkins, a three-time All-Pro, is on pace to easily eclipse 1,000 yards receiving for the sixth time in his eight NFL seasons and has developed an instant rapport with second-year quarterback Kyler Murray. He had a season-low 30 yards receiving in last weekend’s loss to the Dolphins and Kingsbury said the Cardinals have to find a way to get him the ball more often.
Diggs said he’s always admired Hopkins’ abilities from afar.
“One thing I can say is he’s going to catch the ball,” Diggs said. “He’s got great hands. He’s fast. He can do pretty much everything.”
The Bills’ defense might finally be finding an identity with coordinator Leslie Frazier taking a more aggressive approach.
In its past three games, Buffalo has generated 13 sacks and seven takeaways, including forcing Russell Wilson to throw two interceptions and lose two fumbles last weekend. That’s a switch from Buffalo’s first six outings in which it combined for 11 sacks and seven takeaways.
“We’ve figured out something that we believe is working, and been a lot more aggressive these last couple of weeks, so we’re staying with it,” safety Jordan Poyer said.
The sacks and takeaways have made up for a defense which ranks 18th in the NFL in yards allowed, after finishing third last year, and second in 2018.
TWO BIG GAMES IN FIVE DAYS
Arizona’s entering one of the most difficult parts of its schedule with two tough games in five days. The Cardinals face the Bills on Sunday and then have just three days to prepare for a Thursday night road game against NFC West rival Seattle.
The Cardinals beat the Seahawks 37-34 in overtime on Oct. 25.
“This is the part of the season where you start to separate the contenders and the pretenders,” Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson said. “We want to be a contender. Nine times out of 10 the schedule gets harder in the back half.”
THROW IT TO COLE
Diggs might be leading the NFL with 63 catches and 813 yards receiving, but he’s open to spreading the wealth.
Diggs shifted the attention to Cole Beasley by saying his teammate deserves more targets.
“Shout out to Cole in always being open,” Diggs said during a video conference call with reporters. “I want you guys to never forget that. Cole Beasley, you watch the tape, he’s always open.”
Beasley ranks second among Bills players with 44 catches and 533 yards.
Beasley credited the offseason addition of Diggs for making it easier for him and fellow starter John Brown to get open.
“It’s a lot easier to take away two guys than it is three,” Beasley said. “Adding Stef was huge for us.”
Brown, who has missed two games with knee and foot injuries, ranks third on the team with 314 yards receiving.
BACK TO DEFENSE
The Cardinals’ defense has struggled a bit in the past two games, giving up 34 points to the Seahawks on Oct. 25 and 27 of 34 points that the Dolphins scored last weekend. Arizona hopes that the return of a few players can help.
Linebacker Devon Kennard and cornerback Byron Murphy Jr. are expected to return after missing the Dolphins game because they were on the reserve/COVID-19 list. They also hope cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick can return from a thigh injury.
Allen is enjoying a breakout season since being selected with the No. 7 pick in the 2018 draft. With 415 yards passing against Seattle, he matched a career best set in Week 2, and joined Drew Bledsoe in 2002 to become Buffalo’s second player with two 400-yard outings in one season.
Allen’s two 415-yard outings pushed Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly out of the top five on the team list in most passing yards in one game.
With 2,587 yards passing already, Allen is 502 short of his 16-game total last year. His 19 touchdowns passing are one short of his total last year, but still 14 shy of the single-season team record set by Kelly in 1991.
AP Sports Writer John Wawrow in Orchard Park, N.Y., contributed to this story.