For two teams looking to turn things a whole culture around, the Oakland Raiders and the Buffalo Bills meet in what is bound to be an early statement game.
After demolishing their Week 1 opponents (41-7 in favor of the Bills over the struggling Chiefs and the 23-20 win of the Raiders over the physically outmatched Broncos), both teams are looking to state their case as the up-and-coming team in the AFC by coming out of the gates fast.
One can argue that these two teams are night and day schematically and aesthetically (the new-look Bills all white look and the Silver and Black of the Raiders). The Bills relies on a short-passing attack by on offense behind QB Ryan Fitzpatrick and the Raiders employ a hard-running attack behind one of the most complete backs in the NFL Darren McFadden.
On defense the two teams are also night and day, with the Bills being stout in the secondary while having a solid but not great defensive line, while the Raiders are dominant in the front seven and are still trying to compensate for the hole left by Nnamdi Asomugha (Stanford Routt looks great thus far).
Here are some key matchups to keep an eye on in the duration of the game that can tip the balance one way or the other.
Darren McFadden vs. Shawne Merriman and Bills Secondary
When Run DMC gets past that first level of defenders (because we know he will as he averaged 12 yards per carry in runs equal to or over 4 yards vs. the Broncos), will the secondary and linebacker Shawn Merriman be able to limit his yards after contact? In last week’s game vs. the Broncos, Run DMC lowered his pads and finished off tough runs to punish defenders and it had an impact as the game wore on. Employing a successful running attack will go a long way into dictating the game in the Raiders’ advantage.
Ryan Fitzpatrick vs. Oakland Secondary
Fitzpatrick is a mentally tough and prepared quarterback. Going back to last year, he doesn’t get fazed or rattled by pressure and stands tall in the pocket to throw intermediary passes to his favorite target Stevie Johnson. We wondered how he was going to fare after losing receiver Lee Evans to Baltimore, but he turned to no-named guys like tight end Scott Chandler along with reciever David Nelson and Donald Jones into reliable targets vs. the Chiefs to the tune of 4 passing touchdowns. If the Raiders do not get consistent pressure on against Fitzpatrick, he has the ability to carve up a defense. Look for Richard Seymour, Lamarr Houston and Matt Shaughnessy to concentrate on getting to the Fitzpatrick in this game.
Marcel Reece vs. Bills Defense
In a heavy-run attack the Raiders employ, the fullback is the key to the engine that makes the whole thing go. Aside from that, Reece is showing flashes that he is as capable of becoming a weapon in the same way the Chargers use Mike Tolbert. Analysts and pundits have all expressed that the NFL is shifting towards a passing league and defenses are loading up on playmakers in the secondary and not turning to upgrade their line backing corps (see Eagles free-agency 2011).
Utilizing a bruiser with nimble feet and soft hands can devastate a defense. Reece is fully capable in that role and he can be counted on to move the chains due to injuries in the Raiders receiving corps. Over-the-top flash plays may be replaced by physical plays to move the chains in this game and Reece stands to benefit from that sort of game plan. By attacking the front-seven, the Raiders will be attacking a weak area as the Bills are much stronger in the secondary.
Kevin Boss Returns
Good news for Raider Nation: Kevin Boss is set to see action in Week 2. His versatility as a run-blocker and craftiness as a receiver should enhance the Raiders in all facets of the offense. Again, the emphasis on this game will be ball control and how the offense can keep the chains moving. Quarterback Jason Campbell should play with more confidence knowing that Boss is playing, giving him a big target in the game.
Prediction: Raiders 20, Bills 14