Orchard Park, NY (WGR 550) -- One game in and all of the high hopes fans had for the Buffalo Bills in 2012 have been tarnished a bit after the team's 20-point loss to open the regular season.
Just how important is their Week Two contest, the home opener against the Kansas City Chiefs, to their playoff-sized expectations?
A Week Three matchup with Cleveland notwithstanding, let's put it this way: If the Bills only manage to win one of their first three games, their road heavy 6-game swing featuring New England twice, San Francisco, Arizona and Houston doesn't exactly breed much optimism for the Bills to stay afloat long enough to get their manageable seven-game stretch to end 2012.
The upcoming contest versus the Chiefs could be vital in the Bills trying to end the 12-year streak.
Let's take a look at the matchup:
1) Fitz Finding Himself
- To say that the focus of Bills' fans will be on Ryan Fitzpatrick during Sunday's game against the Chiefs is an incredible understatement. Before the debacle in New Jersey, hopes were high in the Bills and many thought 2012 could be the season to end the playoff drought for good. Three interceptions within the first 35 minutes of the game put a stop to all the optimism heading in to the first contest. With the home opener on the horizon, Fitzpatrick knows he has to be better. He has only one win in his last 10 starts, throwing a whopping 19 interceptions to only 13 touchdowns. Is he going to be the player that leads the Bills back to the postseason? With every interception he throws and every loss he accrues, the skeptics grow both in number and volume. With a daunting schedule ahead of them, the upcoming contest against the Chiefs is increasingly important to the psyche of Bills fans. A solid performance by the quarterback could help some off the ledge. Another bad one? Well, we heard what last Monday sounded like. It can only get worse with a less than stellar outing.
2) All Eyes on Mario
- The Bills' prized possession of the off-season came under fire in many different ways this past week. There was his own complaints of hands to the face about his opponent on Sunday, both Damien Woody and Rodney Harrison essentially calling him out as well as some second-guessing from media and fans alike. How will he respond? Whatever he does, he needs to get some heat on the quarterback -- or at the very least force the pocket to collapse and allow his teammates to rack up the sacks on Sunday. He's guaranteed $50 million, owed $100 million if he sees the end of his contract. A player paid like that has to be a presence each and every week. There really isn't any wiggle room, not when you're the recipient of the richest contract for a defensive player in NFL history. Williams will be up against former Texans teammate Eric Winston the entire game. The players must know each other's on-the-field strengths and weaknesses quite intimately. It will be interesting which former Houston player gets the upper-hand on Sunday.
3) Corners Getting Physical
- As you heard and read from both Buddy Nix (on WGR) and Dave Wannstedt (in The Buffalo News), the plan this week is to eliminate the soft coverage from biting the Bills' behinds in Week Two. The young cornerback duo of Stephon Gilmore and Aaron Williams played off the line of scrimmage for a large majority of the game against the Jets. While Williams didn't have a negative game, Gilmore really struggled all the way through the contest. He's a bigger style of corner drafted to be physical at the line of scrimmage, and that's what they'll be expecting from him against the Chiefs. The other worry is about Leodis McKelvin at nickel corner against the likes of Dexter McCluster, who was targeted 10 times by Matt Cassel against the Falcons. Chan Gailey said using Justin Rogers in the game would be a possibility, which usually means it will happen. How much time will Rogers get? That's yet to be determined. However, with the game McKelvin had against New York, it's tough to make the case for keeping him on the field for a large portion of the game.
4) C.J.'s Challenge
- After Fred Jackson went down with an injury, C.J. Spiller was able to step up for the Bills even though the game was already lost. His 169-yard performance was a career-high, and even more impressive was how he accomplished it. His vision, explosion out of cuts, patience and physicality to break tackles was as well-rounded as a running back he's been since entering the NFL. In Week Two, he faces off against a Chiefs defense that limited Michael Turner and the Falcons' rushing attack to just 84 yards on 23 carries. With the passing offense struggling the way it was early on against the Jets, it's fair to expect Spiller to be a big part of establishing themselves on offense.
5) Hali's Debut
The last three times the Bills have faced the Kansas City Chiefs, pass rusher Tamba Hali has enjoyed some success. With 13 tackles and 3.5 sacks to his credit over those three games, the Bills will be seeing a charged up Hali in this contest. After serving a one-game suspension, the game at Ralph Wilson Stadium is his first opportunity to strap on the pads in the regular season in 2012. With the Chiefs only registering one sack against the Falcons, there will be a big difference in how much pressure Fitzpatrick faces with Hali in the lineup as opposed to backup Andy Studebaker. He'll be up against rookie Cordy Glenn for most of the contest. It's a big chance for the rookie to show the things he's learned through his first few months on the job.
Injuries Buffalo OUT: HB Fred Jackson (knee)
Kansas City QUESTIONABLE: CB Brandon Flowers (foot), CB Jalil Brown (groin) OUT: NT Anthony Toribio (ankle), S Kendrick Lewis (shoulder), DE Allen Bailey (ankle), WR Devon Wylie (hamstring)
Prediction: Chiefs 24, Bills 21
- The Chiefs can stop the run, and the return of two key defenders (Brandon Flowers and Tamba Hali) swings the momentum pendulum in to the Chiefs' favor. While Ryan Fitzpatrick and the Bills will find some open space to work with in the secondary, it won't nearly be as easy as it was for Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons last week against Kansas City. Two evenly matched teams, but the Chiefs just have a few more playmakers on both sides of the ball that gives them the edge.