(WGR 550) -- With the way the season has progressed for the Buffalo Bills, fully staffed it seemed they could have given the Cincinnati Bengals a run for their money in their upcoming contest this Sunday.
Unfortunately for the Bills they'll be without rookie quarterback EJ Manuel for the first time this season, and now the keys to the car get turned over to former practice squad quarterback Thad Lewis. Against one of the better defenses in the league, how will the Bills fare on Sunday?
Here's a look at five things to keep an eye on during this weekend's contest:
1) Thad's debut
- On paper, this seems like a nightmare scenario for the Bills. They lose their first round draft pick for a considerable amount of time and now instead of having their normal backup start a game in his place, they leapfrogged him with their practice squad quarterback. Normally, the panicking logic that ensues with those roster moves are well deserved. In this case, the Bills might actually have a better chance with Thad Lewis (their practice squad call-up) than Jeff Tuel (their backup). At this point in his career, Tuel is a raw, developmental player that the Bills hope they can groom into a long-term backup. Based on his lone start in the NFL, Lewis shows the ability to move the ball with quick intermediate passes. He'll miss his fair share of throws and struggles with deep ball accuracy, but can get the job done in between 1 and 15 yards. It's not the ideal scenario for the Bills by any means, but Lewis won't be incompetent as the signal caller.
2) Left guard timeshare
- Now that Doug Legursky is fully healthy for the Bills, the poor play of Colin Brown through the first five weeks has cost the Bills many opportunities for big plays. Head coach Doug Marrone recognized Brown's struggles, and declared it an open competition once more. Both Brown and Legursky will get the opportunity to play against the Bengals in an undetermined rotation. Marrone admitted that if one player is having a superior afternoon, that very rotation could be thrown to the curb. Whoever is lined up at the position will have their hands full with defensive tackles Geno Atkins and Domata Peko. The duo keys the Cincinnati front-seven and makes them one of the most potent duos in the league.
3) Gilmore & Byrd, how much will they play?
- It seems as though the Bills will have Jairus Byrd back on the field at least in some capacity when they take on the Bengals. The franchised safety seems to be over his lingering case of plantar fasciitis in both feet and is probable for the game. He's been in with the secondary for three-safety sets, so perhaps he won't get the full chunk of the game just yet. Cornerback Stephon Gilmore is much more of a question mark as he attempts to return from his fractured wrist. The second-year player is a game-time decision and will have to sport a fairly hefty cast on his hand if he were to play. If the Bills don't have their top cornerback, expect Aaron Williams to get yet another start at his old position.
4) Kickoff return possibilities
- The Buffalo Bills will see the return of one of their rookies when Marquise Goodwin takes the field for the first time since the first game of the season. The speedy wide receiver is recovered from a fractured hand and now will have the opportunity to bring an element to the Bills that they've been lacking in the first five games. Buffalo has had the second-lowest amount of kickoff returns in the NFL, as well as the second-lowest yards per return average. Goodwin, who ran a 4.27 40-yard dash at the 2013 NFL Combine, joked that all he needs is a kick in bounds to try and make things happen. Against a Bengals team that has a bottom-five touchback conversion rate, the opportunities could be there for Goodwin.
5) Good Andy or Bad Andy?
- The Cincinnati Bengals are approaching quite a conversation regarding their starting quarterback. Since Andy Dalton has taken over the reigns, the Bengals have made the playoffs in two straight seasons, but they've been held back by the lack of big plays from that position. It's been a week-to-week battle for Dalton. Some weeks he's good for one quarter, sometimes it's one half, and occasionally it's a full game. Whatever the case, it's too scattershot for the Bengals with the amount of weapons they have on offense. Wide receiver A.J. Green, running back Giovani Bernard and tight ends Jermaine Gresham and Tyler Eifert provide many opportunities for Dalton to move the offense, but the consistency for whatever reason just hasn't been there. If the Bills can get Dalton inside his own head just a little bit, they could potentially stick around in this game longer than anyone expected.
Injuries Buffalo OUT: QB EJ Manuel (knee), CB Ron Brooks (foot) QUESTIONABLE: WR Stevie Johnson (back), CB Stephon Gilmore (wrist), HB C.J. Spiller (ankle) PROBABLE: S Jairus Byrd (feet), WR Marquise Goodwin (hand), DL Kyle Williams (Achilles), WR Marcus Easley (ribs)
Cincinnati QUESTIONABLE: DE Michael Johnson (concussion), LB Michael Boley (hamstring), CB Leon Hall (hamstring), CB Brandon Ghee (thigh) PROBABLE: OT Andre Smith (shoulder), G Mike Pollak (knee)
Prediction: Bengals over Bills
- This game could be a lot closer than most give it credit for because of the way the Bills have been playing defensively, but the interior defensive line and the offensive playmakers of Cincinnati make it a little bit too daunting for the Bills to overcome with Thad Lewis at the controls. Expect A.J. Green, as he should be each and every week, to be the focal point of Cincinnati's offense. Keep an eye on Giovani Bernard, an emerging and slippery pass-catching running back that has been getting more and more involved as the season has gone alone. This will be tight to start, but eventually the Bengals may just wear out the Bills.