When the Buffalo Bills take the field this afternoon to face the Detroit Lions, they’ll be in a position they’ve been unaccustomed to this season; favored. Why wouldn’t they? Buffalo is squaring off against a 2-6 team playing without its starting quarterback and have dropped a mind-blowing 24 consecutive games on the road.
Of course, being 0-8 hardly makes the Bills a lock to get their victory in nine tries. The running game has been anemic all season long, matched only by their porous run defense. They also anticipated Shawn Merriman making his debut, though that hope ended about 15 minutes into his first practice this past Wednesday when Merriman re-injured his right Achilles.
If the Bills were ever going to win a game this season, today’s the day to do it. Unfortunately if you live in the Western New York area, you won’t see it unless you bought a ticket. After selling out 26 consecutive home games, this game will be the second straight Bills home blackout.
With Matt Stafford out indefinitely with an injured shoulder, Shaun Hill will be under center for the Lions. He’s completed 61% of his passes this year and has thrown1,309 yards with nine touchdowns in six games. He’s played, and won in Buffalo before a member of the San Francisco 49ers, when they beat the Bills, 10-3 in one of the ugliest home games in Bills history.
Hill also has the luxury of throwing to one of the game’s elite receivers in Calvin Johnson. He already has 551 yards and eight touchdowns on the season, and is sure to terrorize Drayton Florence, Leodis McKelvin and if he plays, Terrence McGee.
As a team, Detroit is eighth in the NFL in passing yards.
It’s the league’s worst secret that Buffalo is terrible at covering tight ends, which is likely great news for Brandon Pettigrew. The first round pick of a year ago has 38 grabs for 362 yards and three scores. The way Donte Whitner, Bryan Scott and the Buffalo linebackers have been covering tight ends, he may equal those numbers in a half.
Don’t expect to see a lot of successful running from either team. Buffalo is just 25th in the league in rushing yards per game while Detroit is 30th.
The Lions defense is better than their record indicates. Ndamukong Suh is a lock for NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year. The stout defensive tackle already has 6.5 sacks; more than double the total of any Bills defender. Cliff Avril has added four sacks, though he’s being slowed down by a knee injury. In the secondary, Alfonso Smith has become one of the better corners in the league. He has five interceptions, tied for second in the league. In other words, he has five more picks than the entire Bills defense.
Still, the Bills are favored to collect their first win. If they don’t get it done today, they may not at all. Road games with Cincinnati and Minnesota are next on the docket followed by a home contest with Pittsburgh.