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NFL Preview - Detroit (2-6) at Buffalo (0-8)
By Scott Garbarini, NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - One dubious losing streak is almost certain to end when the Detroit Lions and Buffalo Bills square off this Sunday at Ralph Wilson Stadium in a clash between two of the NFL's least successful teams over the past decade.
Detroit will be entering this Week 10 encounter trying to avoid establishing a new NFL record for consecutive road losses, a mark the current edition shares with a previous Lions' regime that dropped 24 consecutive away games spanning the 2001-03 seasons. This present outfit hasn't prevailed as the visitor since a 16-7 decision at Chicago on Oct. 28, 2007.
The Lions had a respectable, albeit still undesired, result in its last road tilt, a 28-20 setback to the NFC East-leading New York Giants back in Week 6. Detroit has played at home two times following a bye that came after that contest, posting a promising 37-25 victory over Washington on Oct. 31 before being dealt a painful 23-20 overtime loss to the New York Jets last Sunday.
Buffalo comes in as the league's only remaining winless team this season, having fallen short in eight straight outings to begin this 2010 campaign. The Bills have come close in each of their last three games, however, losing in overtime in road matchups with Baltimore (37-34) and Kansas City (13-10) prior to this past weekend's 22-19 defeat to Chicago in a designated home test at Toronto's Rogers Centre.
The Bills had a 19-14 lead on the Bears with less than seven minutes to go, but were ultimately done in by three second-half turnovers, including a costly interception by quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick that set up the go-ahead touchdown.
Fitzpatrick was also picked off in the game's final minute to end Buffalo's chances of stopping its drought, but did finish the day with 299 passing yards while completing 31-of-51 attempts. A good portion of those throws were directed at Steve Johnson, with the emerging wideout amassing a career-best 11 catches for a total of 145 yards.
The hard-luck Lions endured a double whammy in their showdown with the formidable Jets. Not only did Detroit squander a 10-point advantage with under three minutes to go in regulation, aided by an ill-fated decision by head coach Jim Schwartz that gave its opponent enough time to move downfield for a field goal that forced the extra session, but the team saw promising young quarterback Matthew Stafford exit after a recurrence of a shoulder injury that caused the 2009 No. 1 overall pick to sit out five games earlier in the year.
Detroit also missed what turned out to be a critical extra point on a third- quarter touchdown run by Stafford because kicker Jason Hanson hurt his knee just minutes before and was unable to attempt the try. Rookie defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh took Hanson's place and struck the right upright with his kick.
Stafford reportedly sustained a separation of his right shoulder that has put the talented 22-year-old's season in jeopardy, meaning capable backup Shaun Hill will again fill in for the time being. The veteran is coming off an injury of his own, a fractured left forearm suffered in the loss to the Giants, but was able to practice without incident this week and will get the nod on Sunday barring any unforeseen circumstances.
The Lions lead the all-time series with the Bills, 4-3-1, breaking a deadlock in the series with a 20-17 home victory in the last meeting, during the 2006 season. That Detroit victory came after an 0-5 start to the season for the Lions, and was the first win of the Rod Marinelli era in the Motor City. Buffalo won the previous two meetings, with the most recent a 24-17 home triumph in 2002. The Lions are 0-2 in Buffalo since notching their lone all- time win there, a 17-14 overtime triumph in 1991.
The Bills' Chan Gailey and the Lions' Schwartz will be meeting each other, as well as their counterpart's respective teams, for the first time as head coaches.
WHEN THE LIONS HAVE THE BALL
Don't expect the Lions to deviate from their pass-heavy approach with Hill (1309 passing yards, 9 TD, 7 INT) under center, as the offseason pickup averaged an extensive 43.5 throws in his four full starts subbing for an ailing Stafford earlier in the year and eclipsed 300 yards in two of those games. He's got a multitude of good weapons to work with as well in an offense that stands seventh in the NFL in yards through the air (259.6 ypg), including a bona fide game-changer in standout wide receiver Calvin Johnson (39 receptions, 551 yards). The fourth-year pro is a physical marvel at six-foot- five and 236 pounds as well as a force within the red zone, ranking among the league leaders with eight touchdown grabs. Fellow wideout Nate Burleson (26 receptions, 3 TD), fresh off a seven-catch, 113-yard effort against the Jets, and tight ends Brandon Pettigrew (38 receptions, 3 TD) and Tony Scheffler (28 receptions, 1 TD) also serve as quality targets, while rookie running back Jahvid Best (345 rushing yards, 41 receptions, 5 total TD) has proven to a be dangerous pass-catching threat out of the backfield as well. The 2010 first- round choice hasn't made as much of an impact as a runner, though, having mustered a lackluster 3.2 yards per rush attempt, and bigger backup Kevin Smith (114 rushing yards, 8 receptions) has been slightly more effective in that area.
Hill and his arsenal of receivers shouldn't be threatened much by a Buffalo stop unit that's next-to-last in the league in pass efficiency defense and has come up with a measly one interception so far this season. The Bills also don't pressure the quarterback well, which was evident in the team's one sack last week against a Chicago squad that usually gives them up in bunches. In an attempt to shore up that weakness, Buffalo claimed ex-Chargers outside linebacker Shawne Merriman (6 tackles) -- at one time one of the game's most feared pass rushers -- off waivers earlier this month. However, the oft- injured 26-year-old has yet to suit up for his new club because of a sore Achilles and won't play again on Sunday. Terrence McGee (9 tackles), the best cover corner on the roster, has also been out since late September due to a nerve problem in his leg, but the team is hopeful he'll finally be available for this week's test. The Bills have allowed the sixth-fewest passing yards in the NFL (193.4 ypg), but that's only because opponents have run on them at will. Buffalo has surrendered a league-worst 178.3 rushing yards per game, and it doesn't help matters that starting inside linebacker Andra Davis (41 tackles, 1 INT) is now done for the season with a torn labrum in his shoulder.
WHEN THE BILLS HAVE THE BALL
Buffalo has been a pass-oriented operation as well ever since Gailey replaced the since-released Trent Edwards with Fitzgerald (1499 passing yards, 13 TD, 7 INT) at quarterback in the third week of the season. The switch has worked wonders for Steve Johnson (41 receptions, 554 yards, 6 TD), as the third-year pro has gone from obscurity to a productive No. 1 receiver who's averaged eight catches and 113 yards over the team's three games since a mid-October bye. Slotman Roscoe Parrish (33 receptions, 2 TD) also benefited from the change and scored both Bills touchdowns in last Sunday's loss, but also fractured his left wrist against Chicago and was placed on injured reserve on Monday. Inconsistent veteran Lee Evans (29 receptions, 4 TD) will need to step up in order to fill the void, with undrafted rookies David Nelson (17 receptions) and Donald Jones also called upon to play bigger roles in the aftermath. A running game led by 2009 breakout Fred Jackson (313 rushing yards, 2 TD, 12 receptions) has also been hit-or-miss, gaining a subpar 46 yards against the Bears' tough defense last week, and Fitzgerald needs to cut down on his turnovers after throwing five picks in the Bills' past three defeats.
The Bills cannot afford to be one-dimensional on offense in this matchup, as Detroit has been one of the better teams in the league at harassing enemy quarterbacks this season. A revamped front line anchored by rookie sensation Suh (30 tackles, 6.5 sacks, 1 INT) has accounted for 20 of the Lions' healthy total of 24 sacks, with ends Cliff Avril (19 tackles, 4 sacks) and Kyle Vanden Bosch (37 tackles, 4 sacks) also doing their share of disrupting from the outside. It's important that the pass rush is doing its thing to protect a rather pedestrian secondary, however. That wasn't the case last week, when Jets triggerman Mark Sanchez put up a career-high 336 yards to fuel New York's comeback win. Fitzgerald will need to be careful around cornerback Alphonso Smith (30 tackles, 5 INT, 8 PD), however, as the preseason pickup from Denver has garnered an interception in five of the Lions' last six games. Detroit can be run on, having given up an average of 127.9 rushing yards per game (27th overall), but did do a decent job of keeping the Jets' potent ground attack in check last Sunday. Middle linebacker DeAndre Levy (16 tackles), back from a groin injury that's limited him to only three games, led the way with 10 tackles (9 solo), with seasoned strongside starter Julian Peterson (44 tackles, 1 sack) adding seven stops.
Detroit has built a pretty dynamic offense that contains a few attractive fantasy options, especially given the fact that it'll be facing a Buffalo team that's permitted the most points in the NFL and has had trouble forcing turnovers. The Lions have shown they're not afraid to have Hill throw the football, which makes the unheralded quarterback a recommended play this week along with Calvin Johnson, Burleson and tight end Pettigrew. Best has hit a bit of a rookie wall after a sensational beginning to his pro career, but his receiving skills and the Bills' porous run defense gives the Cal product a nice boost in value. Sit Hanson, who's been ruled out with his knee injury and will give way this week to newly-signed journeyman Dave Rayner. Fitzgerald has potential as well on the Buffalo side, though he's more of a secondary alternative at quarterback, and Steve Johnson owners need to keep riding the hot hand. The Bills may be inclined to run more in this game, giving the disappointing Jackson a bit more upside, and Parrish's injury should provide Evans with better prospects as well. Detroit has the better fantasy defense here due to its ability to generate sacks and Fitzgerald's tendency for turnovers at times.
Detroit's been a little bit better than the Bills on both sides of the ball this year and should come in a bit perturbed after letting one slip away the previous week. However, it's still hard to have a great deal of confidence in a team that hasn't won on the road in more than three years, and Buffalo will be playing its first true home game in over a month. Although we've been burned by this line of thinking before, the Bills have stood toe-to-toe with teams that are superior than the one the Lions will be trotting out on Sunday in recent weeks, and the hunger and effort has been clearly there. If Buffalo can keep playing with that same purpose and cut down on the mistakes that have plagued the club in its narrow losses, there's a real opportunity to finally break through with a positive result.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Bills 27, Lions 17
11/11 18:37:12 ET