Different week. Different opponent. But it’s the same story for the Buffalo Bills. As was the case against the Kansas City Chiefs in week two, the Bills face their second must win game of the young season in week three at Cleveland.
If the Bills are going to make the playoffs they will likely have to reach at least ten wins. This is one of the games, on paper, that should be one of those wins. As bad as the Bills have been for the last decade, the Browns have been worse.
A win here means the Bills are 2-1 going into the toughest stretch of the schedule starting with a September 30th matchup with New England at Ralph Wilson Stadium. That’s followed by what looks to be a sure fire loss in San Francisco.
With a victory over the Browns, the worst case scenario has the Bills at 2-3 going to Arizona in week 6. A loss to Cleveland not only hurts their record but psychologically it could do some damage as well. The Browns havent’t won more than five games in any of the last four seasons and are 18-46 over that stretch.
Buffalo has lost its last eight games on the road, the longest active road skid in the NFL. If the Bills can’t win in Cleveland, what road games can they win?
They were a train wreck in the road opener with the Jets and in addition to the 49ers and Cards, the Bills travel to Houston(perhaps the best team in the AFC), New England(Buffalo has never won at Gillette Stadium), Indianapolis and Miami(where the Bills were smoked last season.
You can do the math folks. If you believe it will take at least ten wins to earn a post season berth, even if you are a perfect 8-0 at home, you have to win at least two road games. Again, that’s if you run the table at home. Cleveland and Indianapolis are the two most winnable road games on the schedule.
The sad thing is the Browns are thinking the same thing. 0-2 after close losses to Philadelphia and Cincinnati, Sunday’s matchup and a December visit from Kansas City look like the “easiest” games on their home schedule. This game is followed by visits to Baltimore and the defending Super Bowl Champion Giants so the Browns are looking at an 0-5 start if they lose to their Lake Erie neighbors.
This game might be one for fans of “old school” football who believe the key to winning is run and stop the run. The strength for both offenses is their top running back and both run defenses were ranked near the bottom of the league last season.
For the Bills, C.J. Spiller has picked up where he left off last season and leads the NFL in rushing after the first two weeks. The Clemson product is averaging an unheard of 10.1 yards per carry. Unheard of since 1963 anyway. That’s the last time a back averaged more than 10 yards a carry after two weeks. Ironically it was Jim Brown and he will be at Cleveland Stadium on Sunday for the Browns Alumni weekend.
As dazzling as Spiller has been, fans in Cleveland are hoping they have an elite running back who will remind them of Jim Brown. First round pick Trent Richardson topped 100 yards rushing in last week’s loss to the Bengals and seems poised to breathe life into a Browns ground game that has been ranked in the bottom five of the NFL in 9 of the last 13 years.
The 5-9, 230 pound Alabama product will provide the season’s first true test for a Bills run defense that has been one of the worst in the league for quite some time. Try bottom 11 for the last 7 years.
In a week where we heard Bills Head Coach Chan Gailey say he would run the ball on every snap if he could, one would think there will be a steady diet of Spiller against a Browns run defense that finished 30th last season.
But there are two things you need to consider. One, Spiller has never carried more than 19 times in a game. Gailey said he believes Spiller could handle a 25 carry game but he probably wouldn’t ask Spiller to shoulder that load.
Secondly, the Browns pass defense is horrible. This is where I think NFL Coaches can outsmart themselves. The Bills know Spiller and the team’s run blocking is their best offensive attribute at this point. But the Browns know that too and you would expect they will stack the box in an attempt to keep Spiller in check.
So does Gailey still feed Spiller the ball and make the Browns stop him or since Cleveland is expecting the run, does he surprise them and use a pass heavy game plan?
I hope not since Ryan Fitzpatrick has not gotten off to a good start but keep in mind the Browns pass defense has given up 600 yards in the first two games and five touchdowns.
Joe Haden, their best cover corner, is out due to a suspension. 11 year veteran Sheldon Brown has lost his starting job to second year pro Buster Skrine who had a nightmarish day last week in Cincinnati. Maybe Gailey figures its best to test the secondary?
No matter what happens, there will be a streak that will come to an end on Sunday. Either the Bills will snap that eight game road skid that dates back to the week one romp in Kansas City last season or Cleveland will end an eight game losing streak overall, the longest active streak in the NFL.