(WGR 550) -- Collecting their first victory on the road in over a year, the Buffalo Bills once again will attempt to find the way to a win outside the confines of Ralph Wilson Stadium just a week later.
This time around, the level of difficulty has kicked up a few notches. The Bills will take on the New Orleans Saints and might be without two of their best players from 2013.
How do the Bills match up with one of the best teams in the NFC? Here are a few story lines to keep an eye on throughout the game:
1) The Fred Jackson Show
- Since he suffered an ankle injury against the Baltimore Ravens, running back C.J. Spiller just hasn't been the same player in any singular contest. We've seen flashes of his normal abilities, but that's normally been followed by a bit of a limp and some plays off over on the sidelines. Through the past three games, Spiller has been on the field for only 20.7-percent of the team's offensive snaps. With an ineffective game against Miami in the rearview mirror, the Bills are finally contemplating resting him after the running back failed to practice in any of the three leading up to the weekend. If he can't play, Fred Jackson becomes the focal point of the offense once again. Even though he's nursing a knee injury of his own, Jackson must be the man to key the offensive efforts with a run-heavy offense, due in part to an inexperienced quarterback in Thad Lewis. Jackson won't do it alone, he'll have Tashard Choice spelling him in spots. If Spiller can't play, losing him this week will be a negative in the interim. In the long run however, this could end up being the best possible thing for Spiller.
2) Bills could catch a break with Graham
- Over the past few years, one of the most explosive offensive talents throughout the NFL has been New Orleans tight end Jimmy Graham. He's off to another big start to the season once again, catching 37 passes for 593 yards and six touchdowns through the team's first six games. However, adding injury to the insult of quite a slow game against the New England Patriots in Week Six, Graham hurt his foot and has been attempting to rehab it since. The Saints held the tight end out of practice for the first two sessions of the week, only for him to return on a limited basis on Friday. Listed as questionable for the game, Graham's absence could be a philosophy changing ordeal for the Bills. Rather than assigning one of their defensive backs onto him all game long, they can instead mix their coverages and attempt to make one of the lesser known targets beat them. If Graham does play, perhaps it will be Aaron Williams to be the player to try and shut him down. Williams moved back to safety at practice this week, and possesses the size and skill set to potentially stick with the tight end.
3) Brees could be the best the Bills face
- With or without Graham, Buffalo has their hands full with quarterback Drew Brees. The 34-year old is having another Pro Bowl caliber season, and could end up being the best passer the Bills face all season long. It's really a 'pick your poison' situation with Brees. He's extremely well-versed in how to beat a blitz. If you choose to sit back in a zone, he'll burn you that way as well. Brees forces teams into a man-to-man look and for a four-man front to be the only way to get pressure on him. A potential X-factor in this game though is whether or not starting right tackle Zach Strief can play. He's questionable with an ankle injury, and without him, defensive end Mario Williams could have a major opportunity against either Bryce Harris or Terron Armstead to hurry Brees up. The quarterback has no shortage of targets he utilizes. Besides Graham, he's got Marques Colston, Lance Moore, Darren Sproles, Pierre Thomas, Kenny Stills, Robert Meachem and Ben Watson… and he doesn't play favorites.
4) Much improved Saints D
- One of the biggest issues for New Orleans since Sean Payton has taken over has been how porous their defense has been at times. Despite having a fairly successful unit in Dallas, Rob Ryan was let go as their defensive coordinator and the Saints scooped him up. Since his hiring, New Orleans has implemented a 3-4 base defense, and the coach has implemented the typical Ryan family defensive outlook with disguising coverages and bringing pressure. So far, it's worked for the Saints. They're fourth in the NFL in points allowed (17.2) and 11th in the league with yards allowed per game (338). The uprising of players like defensive end Cameron Jordan, free agent acquisition and cornerback Keenan Lewis as well as rookie safety Kenny Vaccaro have turned this defense into quite a formidable unit. They give up the majority of their yards on the ground, however, which plays right into the Bills' strengths.
5) Angry Saints?
- As if playing in The Mercedes-Benz Superdome wasn't difficult enough against these New Orleans Saints, add a couple of different layers onto it. First, the Saints are coming off a close loss to the New England Patriots. In the past three seasons that Sean Payton has roamed the sidelines (which does not include 2012), the Saints have lost back-to-back games only twice. Both happened during a three-game losing streak during the 2009 campaign to end the season, after the team started the year 13-0. Second, the Saints are coming off their bye week. Over the past four seasons New Orleans has not lost their game out of the bye week, and have averaged 41.5 points per game. Their lowest point total? 34. If recent history has any say in it, this could be a tough contest for Buffalo's defense.
Injuries Buffalo OUT: QB EJ Manuel (knee) DOUBTFUL: HB C.J. Spiller (ankle), LB Manny Lawson (hamstring) PROBABLE: HB Fred Jackson (knee), DL Kyle Williams (Achilles)
New Orleans OUT: S Roman Harper (knee), CB Rod Sweeting (hip), DT Tyrunn Walker (knee) QUESTIONABLE: TE Jimmy Graham (foot), DE Cameron Jordan (ankle), T Zach Strief (ankle), Mark Ingram (toe) PROBABLE: S Malcolm Jenkins (back), WR Lance Moore (hand)
Prediction: Saints over Bills
- It's not an impossible feat, but it appears the deck is stacked against the Bills in this one. If the Bills want to potentially pull this rather large upset, their offense is going to have to go score-for-score with the Saints which not many teams can say they've done successfully. For Buffalo's defense to be successful, they'll need their front four to hurry Brees up in the pocket. If they can't apply the necessary pressure, the future Hall of Fame quarterback will pick them apart, and then they'll have to rely on Thad Lewis to keep them in it. If the Bills lose this game by more than one possession, it shouldn't make you think of them any less. And if they keep it within one possession, this Bills team will have really shown something. This is a Super Bowl contending Saints team.