(WGR 550) -- One week ago, fans of the Buffalo Bills were circling the team's upcoming contest with the Kansas City Chiefs as the one they could potentially steal from a good team at home. Knowing what they do now, the matchup seems all the more daunting.
Yet another injury to the most important position in football has left the Bills with three choices. They can either start a quarterback who could barely twist his torso on Friday, an undrafted rookie who has never started a game in the NFL before or a castoff veteran who was benched quite quickly by his last two teams.
The Bills certainly have their work cut out for them against the Chiefs, but it still isn't an impossibility. Kansas City is the NFL's lone remaining undefeated team, but have some glaring weaknesses when you watch them play.
Here are some things to watch throughout the game:
1) Tuel Time?
- With Thad Lewis listed as doubtful to play due to sore ribs, the team will look to either Jeff Tuel or Matt Flynn to be the starting quarterback on Sunday. All three options are not necessarily ideal against one of the best defenses the NFL has to offer. If Lewis cannot play, it appears that Tuel is the man that will likely get the start. Last time he was seen in a game was during a Thursday night game against the Browns -- granted, a very difficult situation to walk into -- but the rookie quarterback missed badly on the majority of his throws when the game was still close. He lacks the mobility to run the read-option, which is why the Bills are likely still clinging to any hope that Lewis can possibly play. For Tuel, it will be simple: don't hang onto the ball too long, only take chances down the field when they've got a one-on-one matchup and let your running backs do the rest. If the Bills are going to win this game, Tuel needs to keep the ball out of the hands of the Chiefs defense. Unless Buffalo's defense forces some turnovers, it likely won't be a high-yielding point total for the Bills so they must play the field position game with Kansas City. If Tuel turns the ball over early, it could get ugly quickly.
2) Beware of the overload
- The Kansas City Chiefs are mainly known on defense for the play of their two outside linebackers. Justin Houston and Tamba Hali have been two of the most statistically pertinent pass rushers in the NFL through the first half of the season, combining for 20 sacks between the two of them. Despite less sacks, Hali is the more impressive of the two. He's a relentless pass rusher that makes great use of his hands to get into the backfield. Houston on the other hand is more of a bull rush type that is less violent with his hands, but is effective nonetheless. Part of the reason they've been such an effective pair is because the Chiefs defense has been able to put their opponents in many third-and-long situations, leading to their aggressive side coming out. You won't see a lot of blitzes from Kansas City on first and second down, but on third down they'll provide their scariest look from time-to-time. You'll see Hali and Houston line up on the same side of the line, essentially attempting to overwhelm the right or left tackle. They've been quite productive from that look.
3) Charles in charge
- There might not be a player more important to the success of his team on offense this year than Jamaal Charles with the Kansas City Chiefs. You saw it last year with Adrian Peterson and the Minnesota Vikings, and now it's the 8-0 Chiefs following Charles to all their victories. Although he doesn't have the most solid of builds, the running back has the blend of speed, vision and even physicality at times to key a lot of big runs. He's a very squirmy runner too. When it looks like a play might be dead, he has the knack for finding the littlest of room to get back out into open space. After that, it doesn't take long for him to ramp back up to full speed. He's their running back, one of their top pass catchers and by far the most valuable player to the team. Despite their success against the run at times this season, the Bills will be tested by Jamaal Charles.
4) Defensive line must key Bills
- When you look at the Chiefs' offensive line, there are some weaknesses to it that can be exploited with the right personnel. In his first season, top overall pick Eric Fisher has struggled a bit as the team's starting right tackle. It's likely he has a date with Mario Williams for the majority of the game, with the pass rusher having perhaps his best two-game stretch since he's been a member of the team. Williams will need to provide consistent pressure off the edge when Alex Smith does more than just a quick-hitting throw. That is the majority of the Chiefs' offense, so the opportunities may be scarce. However, when they're there, Williams must take advantage. The same goes for both Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams. Left guard Jeff Allen has been solid, but does get caught lunging sometimes. A pass rushing type of interior lineman like Kyle Williams could certainly have an impact against that style of play. All in all, the defensive line will be the key factor if the Bills are to pull off the upset. Pressure, at the very least, will cause incompletions and better field position. At best, it will cause turnovers and shorten the field for Bills' short-handed quarterback situation. The play of those three will be vital on Sunday.
5) Screen game reigns supreme in K.C.
- The one area that the Chiefs offensive line does not struggle is getting out in space in the screen game. They employ some very athletic offensive linemen like Rodney Hudson, Jon Asamoah and even Branden Albert can get out into space effectively. When the Chiefs have the type of running back like Charles, who needs only a little open field to burn a defense for a big gain, the screen game can be deadly. They don't like to take a lot of chances with Alex Smith down the field, so the screen has really been one of their most effective tools. It leads back to the defensive line once again. They need to be able to hold the offensive linemen releasing for the screen just long enough to allow their linebackers and safeties to blow up the play. If they don't, big plays are on the way.
Injuries Buffalo OUT: QB EJ Manuel (knee) DOUBTFUL: QB Thad Lewis (ribs) QUESTIONABLE: WR Chris Hogan (back) PROBABLE: HB C.J. Spiller (ankle), HB Fred Jackson (knee), DE Mario Williams (hip), DL Kyle Williams (Achilles), WR Stevie Johnson (hip), LB Manny Lawson (hamstring), G Kraig Urbik (knee), WR Marquise Goodwin (elbow)
Kansas City OUT: DE Mike Catapano (ankle) PROBABLE: WR Donnie Avery (shoulder), FB Anthony Sherman (knee), CB Ron Parker (toe), HB Jamaal Charles (knee), LB Dezman Moses (toe), TE Anthony Fasano (knee), WR Dwayne Bowe (groin), TE Sean McGrath (knee), T Eric Fisher (knee), S Kendrick Lewis (ankle)
Prediction: Chiefs over Bills
- If EJ Manuel were playing in this game, one shouldn't hesitate in picking the Bills to win even though he is not a finished product as a quarterback. The Chiefs aren't explosive in any one area, but they are consistently putting themselves in positive situations throughout all their games which has led to their undefeated record. This game is not an impossibility for the Bills, even with Jeff Tuel as their starting quarterback. It's a very slim chance against a good defense that forces turnovers of mediocre quarterback play, which isn't exactly a great omen considering the Bills' quarterback situation. If Tuel can just keep himself off the turnover page and allow the rushing attack to key all the efforts, then this could be a very close game through and through. However, if they turn the ball over deep in their own zone one or two times, then they'll be forced to play catch-up with an inexperienced quarterback. And against a great defense, that can turn very quickly and lead to a lopsided loss. Even in a tight game, Alex Smith does enough to limit his mistakes and make some plays to keep the Chiefs ahead of a sore-ribbed Thad Lewis, Jeff Tuel or Matt Flynn-led team.