NFL Preview - Buffalo (4-8) at Kansas City (3-9)
By Scott Garbarini, Associate NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - The Kansas City Chiefs and Buffalo Bills entered this 2009 season believing they had their franchise quarterbacks in place, but both teams now find themselves concerned about their long-term outlook at the position heading into this Sunday's meeting at Arrowhead Stadium.
The Chiefs acted boldly in the offseason, acquiring Matt Cassel in a trade with the New England Patriots, then locked up Tom Brady's former understudy with an eye-opening six-year, $63-million contract in July. It's an investment the team could be second-guessing in hindsight, with Cassel having struggled so far to live up to his new deal and duplicate the strong numbers he delivered upon replacing an injured Brady last year.
The low point of Cassel's debut season in Kansas City occurred last Sunday, when the 27-year-old was benched by rookie head coach Todd Haley late in the third quarter of the Chiefs' embarrassing 44-13 home loss to division-rival Denver. Before being yanked in favor of backup Brodie Croyle, Cassel completed only 10-of-29 passes for a mere 84 yards and was intercepted twice.
The change was only a temporary one, however, as Haley stated immediately following the game that Cassel will remain the starter.
Trent Edwards hasn't been so fortunate. The Bills expected the third-year pro to take a big step forward in his development this season, but he's instead regressed and wound up losing his starting position to journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick in a shakeup by interim head coach Perry Fewell, who supplanted noted Edwards supporter Dick Jauron following the latter's firing in mid- November.
While the insertion of Fitzpatrick may have met the approval of self-serving wide receiver Terrell Owens, the former St. Louis and Cincinnati second- stringer hasn't provided much of a spark to Buffalo's floundering offense. He was especially ineffective in the Bills' 19-13 setback to the New York Jets in Week 13, mustering a paltry 93 yards with an interception on 9-of-23 passing.
The loss was Buffalo's second in three games under Fewell, and the team's fourth in its last five outings overall. With a defeat in one of their four remaining regular-season matchups, the Bills will have secured a fifth consecutive losing campaign.
At 3-9, Kansas City is already resigned to a third straight losing season and has been overmatched in its two most recent tests, falling to fellow AFC West members San Diego and Denver by a combined score of 87-27. The Chiefs had posted back-to-back victories prior to that pair of games, however, including a startling 27-24 overtime besting of reigning Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh in Arrowhead Stadium during Week 11.
That win was only Kansas City's first in six home tilts in 2009, though, and the team has come up short in 11 of its last 12 games as the host.
Buffalo holds a 20-16-1 edge in its all-time regular season series with Kansas City, including a 54-31 victory when it visited Arrowhead Stadium in Week 12 of last season. The Chiefs are 0-2 against the Bills since last beating them at home in 2003.
In addition to their regular season edge, the Bills hold a 2-1 advantage in postseason games against the Chiefs. Buffalo was a 30-13 home winner in the 1993 AFC Championship; won by a 37-14 margin at home in a 1991 AFC Divisional Playoff; and was a 31-7 home loser in the 1966 AFL Championship.
Haley and Fewell will be meeting each other, as well as their counterpart's respective teams, for the first time as head coaches.
WHEN THE BILLS HAVE THE BALL
Although Fitzpatrick's (1003 passing yards, 4 TD, 8 INT) takeover from Edwards (1170 passing yards, 6 TD, 7 INT), who had come under heavy criticism for his reluctance to take shots downfield, has given the Bills more of a vertical presence in the passing game, the switch has done little towards solving the team's longstanding offensive woes. Buffalo ranks 29th in the NFL in total yards (279.3 ypg) and 27th in scoring (16.6 ppg) and produced a meager 194 yards and 10 first downs in its recent loss to the Jets. Owens (43 receptions, 3 TD) has benefited from Fitzpatrick's promotion, however, as the still- dangerous wideout has averaged 108 receiving yards over the last three games, but his increased output has come at the expense of counterpart Lee Evans (31 receptions, 5 TD), a two-time 1,000-yard receiver who's become an afterthought in the game plan. Fewell has also made a change at the running back position since becoming head coach, with the versatile Fred Jackson (632 rushing yards, 35 receptions, 5 TD) replacing former first-round pick Marshawn Lynch (338 rushing yards, 2 TD, 23 receptions) as the main man out of the backfield. Lynch did very well in a limited role against the Jets, however, amassing 60 yards on only six carries and scoring the team's lone touchdown. Jackson finished with 31 yards on 13 attempts.
Both Buffalo backs are likely salivating over the prospect of facing a Kansas City defense that was gouged for 245 rushing yards in last week's lopsided loss to the Broncos and stands just 27th overall in that area (143.8 ypg). The Chiefs haven't fared any better against the pass, having given up the fifth- most yards in the league through the air (250.8 ypg) and allowing five opposing quarterbacks to eclipse the 300-yard mark this season. Cornerbacks Brandon Flowers (47 tackles, 2 INT, 15 PD) and Brandon Carr (44 tackles, 13 PD) are both talented second-year players who have experienced growing pains at times, and the duo hasn't been helped much by an anemic pass rush that's generated just 17 sacks. Outside linebacker Tamba Hali (51 tackles, 6.5 sacks) has been one bright spot to come out of the team's new 3-4 alignment, though. The converted end had a monster day against Denver last weekend, racking up a career-high three sacks and forcing two fumbles. Inside linebacker Demorrio Williams (81 tackles) leads the Chiefs in tackles and has recorded nine or more stops in three of the last four games.
WHEN THE CHIEFS HAVE THE BALL
With Cassel (1982 passing yards, 13 TD, 9 INT) having been off the mark and top receiver Dwayne Bowe (33 receptions, 4 TD) serving a league-issued suspension for reportedly testing positive for a banned diuretic, the Chiefs have relied more on young running back Jamaal Charles (462 rushing yards, 27 receptions, 5 total TD) as of late and have gotten mixed results. The speedy sophomore is averaging a solid 4.8 yards per carry in addition to displaying good skills as a receiver, but has lost a fumble in each of the past two games. The team doesn't have a wealth of other available options, however, with backup Kolby Smith landing on injured reserve last week and practice- squad promotee Javarris Williams having two career rush attempts to his credit. The most consistent weapon in Kansas City's 30th-ranked offense (265.8 ypg) has turned out to be veteran wideout Chris Chambers (28 receptions, 4 TD), who's scored three times and averaged over 17 yards per catch in five games since being claimed off waivers from San Diego, with the well-traveled Bobby Wade (29 receptions, 2 TD) and rookie slotman Lance Long (18 receptions) having become secondary alternatives with Bowe unavailable. Cassel has completed under 54 percent of his passes and been sacked 37 times in 11 starts, which offers an explanation for Kansas City's NFL-worst 24 percent success rate on third downs.
Cassel won't have the ideal opponent to get both his timing and confidence back on Sunday. The Bills top the NFL in pass efficiency defense and have permitted just 188.2 yards per game via the air (4th overall), while the unit's 21 interceptions are tied for the second-most in the league. Free safety Jairus Byrd (41 tackles, 10 PD) has come up with eight of those picks while emerging as a top candidate for Defensive Rookie of the Year honors, and the secondary got a further boost when cornerback Terrence McGee (37 tackles), Buffalo's top cover man, returned last week from a knee procedure that caused him to miss three games. The seventh-year pro still isn't at 100 percent, though, and figures to again be used in only obvious passing situations. While the Bills have been terrific in defending the pass, they've been horrid in stopping the run, having surrendered league-worsts of 172.1 rushing yards per game and 4.9 yards per attempt. Injuries have wreaked havoc upon the linebacking corps, where middle man Paul Posluszny (74 tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT) is the lone remaining season-opening starter, and starting tackles Marcus Stroud (47 tackles, 2 sacks) and Kyle Williams (51 tackles, 3 sacks) have each missed time with health issues during the course of the year.
In this matchup of two of the NFL's worst offenses, there aren't a whole lot of appealing choices here. One player who does get a thumbs-up is Charles, who gets to take on a porous Buffalo run defense and has no serious threats to his workload. The Bills' backfield situation is more cloudy, but Jackson's gotten enough touches lately to be a fantasy factor. Hold off on using Lynch, who's been relegated to backup status under the new coaching regime, and Evans' numbers have dropped significantly since Fitzpatrick became the starting quarterback. Owens is worth using as the clear-cut preferred target in the passing game, while Buffalo's playmaking defense offers plenty of upside against the point-starved Chiefs. Chambers is the only member of the Kansas City offense that merits consideration other than Charles, and neither quarterback should be in lineups from here on out.
That the Chiefs are in serious danger of having their first local television blackout since 1990 says an awful lot about the current state of this once- proud franchise. The Bills haven't exactly been a model of success lately either, but the recent coaching change seems to have done some good and the team does have the benefit of a few extra days of preparation time after playing its last game on a Thursday. With a defense capable of delivering game-changing plays and more talented skill players on the offensive side, Buffalo appears to have the edge on a Kansas City squad that's shown signs of throwing in the towel for the stretch run.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Bills 20, Chiefs 13
12/10 16:34:46 ET