Week 16 Preview: Buffalo at Atlanta

As the Buffalo Bills’ 2009 draws closer to an end, our beloved Bills travel south for one final road game this season to face the Atlanta Falcons. On paper, this appears to be just another matchup of two non-playoff teams during the final weekend in December. But if nothing else, this game will have some interesting storylines to follow.

We start with the Bills (5-9) and their annual quest to finish two games under .500 for the fourth consecutive season, however last weekend’s loss to New England put Buffalo’s hopes of finishing 7-9 in serious jeopardy. Now, it appears if the Bills are going to get seven wins they might have to do so on the arm of a brand new quarterback.

Ryan Fitzpatrick and Trent Edwards both suffered ankle injuries in last Sunday’s 17-10 loss to New England. Edwards has been placed on injured reserve and his season is mercifully over. Fitzpatrick did not practice on Wednesday, leading to speculation that Brian Brohm could be making his first ever NFL start in Atlanta. Interim head coach Perry Fewell has not ruled out Fitzpatrick, saying the quarterback remains day-to-day.

While the Bills’ first choice would clearly be starting Fitzpatrick and they’ll likely wait as long as possible to officially rule him out, starting Brohm on Sunday and for the remainder of the season wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world.

The Bills already know what they have in Fitzpatrick and Edwards. Fitzpatrick is backup material, not starter material. He’s been pressed into starting because of the ineffectiveness of Edwards. Edwards has been a disappointment and has hugely regressed this season. It’s very likely he won’t be back next season. The Bills know what the have with those two. They don’t know what they have in Brohm. Even though it’ll only be a short glimpse, the timing to audition Brohm couldn’t be better.

Buffalo was eliminated from playoff contention last Sunday, making it 10 straight years the Bills will miss the playoffs. The Bills will join the Detroit Lions as the only two teams not to appear in a playoff game this decade. Indeed, misery loves company.

Collectively, there’s not much left to play for, but individually the Bills have two players chasing down milestones. Running back Fred Jackson needs 189 yards to reach 1,000 yards rushing for the first time in his short, 3-year career. Terrell Owens needs two receptions to become the sixth player in NFL history with 1,000 receptions, and he needs 88 receiving yards to pass former Raiders great Tim Brown for third all-time with 14, 935 receiving yards.

Even though the end is near, the Bills are still suffering season-ending injuries and the injured reserve welcomed a few more players. Edwards was placed on IR with a high ankle sprain. Cornerback Terrence McGee suffered a shoulder injury during a collision with Randy Moss last week and had rotator cuff surgery. Joining Edwards and McGee on IR is potential defensive rookie of the year, Jairus Byrd. Byrd has been battling a groin problem and to compound problems, he’ll have surgery to repair a torn labrum in his hip. It will be his second surgery in a year. Byrd had sports hernia surgery this past offseason.

The Atlanta Falcons (7-7) are still in search of back-to-back winning seasons in their 44- year history, so we can expect the Falcons to be geared up and ready to go for this one. With Dallas beating New Orleans last Saturday night, Atlanta was eliminated from playoff contention.

Things haven’t exactly gone as scripted in the Dirty South this season. Following their 11-5 season in 2008, the Falcons added tight end Tony Gonzalez to the mix giving Atlanta a terrific offensive quartet of Matt Ryan, Michael Turner, Roddy White and Gonzalez. The Falcons came out of the gate strong in 2009, starting the season 4-1. Since then, the Falcons have gone 3-6 losing four of five during their slide. Atlanta has not beaten an opponent with a winning record this season, while suffering injuries to both Ryan and Turner.

Ryan has been battling turf toe, but he returned to action last weekend against the Jets after missing the previous two games. Turner has been dealing with a high ankle sprain and saw very limited action last week in New York after missing the Falcons’ previous two contests. Ryan appears as though he’ll start on Sunday while Turner looks doubtful not only for Sunday’s game with the Bills, but the rest of the season.

Atlanta aims to snap their two-game losing streak in the Georgia Dome. The Falcons have dropped consecutive home games to Philadelphia and New Orleans while being outscored by a combined 60-30 score. The Falcons have defeated the Bills three straight times at home. Atlanta holds a 5-4 edge all-time against Buffalo, including two straight wins. The Falcons defeated the Bills back in 2005 in Buffalo, 24-16.

Final Prediction: Atlanta 24, Buffalo 13. You can’t help but wonder what the Bills’ mentality will be heading into this game.

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