NFL Preview - Buffalo (0-1) at Green Bay (1-0)
By Tony Moss, NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - The tundra will not be anything close to frozen when the Green Bay Packers welcome the Buffalo Bills to Lambeau Field for their home opener on Sunday, though expectant Packers fans hope they'll be watching multiple games in those extreme elements come January.
For now, Packers fans will have to settle for a strong performance in a more mild climate, as Green Bay continues a campaign that many believe will include a deep playoff run when all is said and done.
The Pack just about lived up to the preseason hype last week, going into Philadelphia and outlasting a scrappy Eagles team, 27-20. The win, Green Bay's first in the City of Brotherly Love since 1962, snapped a nine-game losing streak for the organization in Philadelphia.
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers didn't quite pick up where he left off in a surgical preseason sampling, throwing for just 188 yards on 19-of-31 passing with a couple of interceptions and three sacks absorbed, though Rodgers did throw touchdown passes to Greg Jennings and Donald Driver to help keep the wolves at bay.
The Packers were somewhat limited offensively by a first-half ankle injury to running back Ryan Grant, who was lost for the year with an ankle injury in the win. Brandon Jackson, the expected starter this Sunday, carried 18 times for just 63 yards against the Eagles.
Green Bay's defense also had a bit of trouble, as a team that had game-planned primarily for drop-back passer Kevin Kolb found itself chasing around his more athletic injury replacement Michael Vick in the second half. Vick carried 11 times for 103 yards in a losing effort, as the Packers nearly let a 17-point fourth quarter advantage slip away before flexing their muscles late.
Based on the way the Buffalo Bills offense looked last week, the Packers probably won't be losing much sleep over the potential of another near- collapse.
The Bills opened the Chan Gailey era with a 15-10 home loss to the Miami Dolphins, a defeat that looked not dissimilar to Buffalo's plodding work of much of the last decade.
Quarterback Trent Edwards, who won a preseason competition over Ryan Fitzpatrick and Brian Brohm for the starting job, led the team to just nine first downs and was 18-of-34 passing for 139 yards and a touchdown on the afternoon. Perhaps more disconcerting was the work of the running game, purported to be a team strength coming into the year. C.J. Spiller (7 carries, 6 yards), Fred Jackson (4 carries, 19 yards) and Marshawn Lynch (3 rushes, 13 yards) combined for just 38 yards on 14 carries for the day.
The Bills finished with just 166 yards of total offense in the loss, and lost the time of possession battle by a count of 36:53 to 23:07.
The Bills hold a 7-3 edge in their all-time series with the Packers, including a 24-10 home victory when the teams last met, during the 2006 regular season. Green Bay won the previous meeting, a 10-0 triumph at Lambeau Field in 2002. Buffalo is 0-2 in Green Bay since notching its lone win there in 1974, though the Bills did win a road game against the Pack in Milwaukee during the 1991 season.
Packers head coach Mike McCarthy is 0-1 against the Bills as a head coach. Buffalo's Gailey was 1-0 against the Packers while serving at the helm of the Cowboys (1998-99), and will be meeting McCarthy for the first time head-to- head.
WHEN THE BILLS HAVE THE BALL
Gailey was billed as an offensive mastermind when he got the Bills job in January, but the fact that his new team accumulated an NFL-low 166 yards in Week 1 would not seem to support that description. The key for Buffalo will be getting the running game untracked, specifically Spiller, who had as inauspicious a debut as could be imagined but will remain the de facto starter. The team also needs Edwards to get over his seeming allergy to making big plays down the field. The Stanford product may have begun to break out of that funk with a 31-yard fourth-quarter touchdown to Roscoe Parrish last week, the team's lone TD of the day. Starting wideouts Lee Evans (4 receptions, 34 yards) and Steve Johnson (3 receptions, 40 yards) also had their moments against the Dolphins, just not enough of them. A young Bills offensive line allowed three sacks and eight hurries of Edwards last week, numbers that will have to go down if Buffalo is to have a chance at the upset.
After spending their Sunday afternoon and early evening chasing around the quicksilver-like Vick, the Packers should be thrilled to see the more traditional Edwards under center. Looking to get after him will be outside linebacker Clay Matthews, who was positively menacing in the Philadelphia win. Matthews posted seven tackles, two sacks, and a forced fumble in the victory, also knocking Kolb out (eventually) with a concussion. Cornerback Charles Woodson (5 tackles, 1 forced fumble), who figures to match up with Evans, leads a secondary that allowed fewer than 200 passing yards last week. A Green Bay defense that led the NFL in run defense last year got off to a bad start in defending that title, as Vick and company generated 150 yards on the ground. Inside linebackers Nick Barnett (5 tackles) and Brandon Chillar (7 tackles) will be among those seeking to contain Spiller and company, while former first- round pick B.J. Raji (2 tackles, 1 sack) is at the center of a solid three-man front.
WHEN THE PACKERS HAVE THE BALL
Many eyes at Lambeau will be focused on the backfield work of Jackson on Sunday, as he attempts to prove he can be the long-term replacement for Grant. Once considered to be the future for the Packers at the running back position, the former second-round pick out of Nebraska is undoubtedly down to his last chance to be a lead NFL back. Jackson, who has never played in all 16 games during his four-year NFL career, will be making his first start since the 2007 season. John Kuhn (2 carries, 15 yards, 1 TD), who can also play fullback, will spell him. The running back situation places more pressure on Rodgers, who was good enough to win last week even if he did make a few mistakes. The TD passes to Driver (5 receptions, 30 yards, 1 TD) and Jennings (5 receptions, 82 yards, 1 TD) were among the QB's highlights against the Eagles, and McCarthy would undoubtedly like to see him get tight end Jermichael Finley (4 receptions, 47 yards) more involved this week. The Green Bay o-line was not great last Sunday, allowing three sacks on the day.
A Bills team that has had perpetual injuries at the linebacker position in the past few years is dealing with more of the same. Weak side 'backer Paul Posluzsny will not play against the Packers after suffering a knee injury last week, and Keith Ellison (6 tackles) is expected to start in his place. Recently-signed LB Akin Ayodele could also make his debut with Buffalo after being inactive last Sunday. The run defense allowed 127 yards on 31 combined carries for Miami running backs Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams last week, though the new-look 3-4 line including Kyle Williams (7 tackles) at nose tackle and Marcus Stroud (6 tackles) and Dwan Edwards (4 tackles) on the ends played reasonably well. Inside linebacker Andra Davis had eight stops in his Buffalo debut. The Bills will have to be great on the back end on Sunday, with cornerbacks Terrence McGee (4 tackles) and Drayton Florence (10 tackles) likely to be matched up on Jennings and Driver, respectively. Safety Donte Whitner (9 tackles) will be among those watching Finley over the middle of the field, and Jairus Byrd could see more time after playing sparingly in Week 1 following groin surgery.
The Packers did not score points or accumulate yards at the pinball machine- line pace they set in the preseason during Week 1, but that shouldn't dissuade you from starting the likes of Rodgers, Jennings, Finley and perhaps Driver. Jackson will probably earn the start in most leagues, and is going to be on the field enough to justify his presence in fantasy lineups. Kicker Mason Crosby made field goals of 49 and 56 yards last week and is a must-play. The Green Bay defense should also earn its keep on Sunday.
Buffalo doesn't have any fantasy locks, though at some point you have to believe Spiller is going to have a breakout day. Bills kicker Rian Lindell is always solid, but will he get enough chances here?
The Green Bay Packers are a Super Bowl contender in 2010, and whatever the opposite of that is, that's what the Bills are. Not to pick on Buffalo, which is going to get better at some point under Gailey, but is simply not ready to win a road game of this difficulty level at this stage in their formative process. The Packers felt they left some plays on the field last week in Philadelphia, and will look much sharper in what should be a jubilant home opener.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Packers 28, Bills 3
09/15 13:31:10 ET