BILLS: OUT – CB Terrence McGee (hamstring) ; DOUBTFUL – DT Torell Troup (lower back); PROBABLE: WR Steve Johnson (groin), LB Arthur Moats (knee)
RAIDERS: OUT – WR Jacoby Ford (hamstring), WR Louis Murphy (groin), S Mike Mitchell (knee); QUESTIONABLE – DT Richard Seymour (ribs), TE Kevin Boss (knee), WR Darrius Heyward-Bey (knee), S Michael Huff (groin) ; PROBABLE – QB Jason Campbell (foot), RB Darren McFadden (shoulder), CB Chris Johnson (groin), DE Jarvis Moss (foot)
Tackles Demetrius Bell & Erick Pears vs. Defensive Ends Matt Shaughnessy & Lamarr Houston. Buffalo’s tackles entered the season opener against Kansas City much maligned, but duo left Arrowhead Stadium with a solid and respectable debut. They kept Ryan Fitzpatrick’s jersey relatively clean sans one sack from Tamba Hali. Other than that, it was quite an uneventful day in the Bills’ backfield as both Pears and Bell alotted Fitzpatrick ample time and space to make plays and attack downfield. Sunday will be no different and it will be another test perhaps a bigger one than a week ago. Shaughnessy had seven sacks in 2010 for Oakland and registered one on Monday night against Denver. He won’t sneak up on Buffalo or anyone else as he’s one of the league’s top up-and-coming pass rushers, so Bell will have a full plate to deal with on the left side. Houston had just two tackles in the win over Denver, but had a key fumble recovery and will present a challenge for Pears on the right side. Pears, however, will likely be playing with some extra added motivation to prove to the Raiders that they gave up on him too soon when they released him last season.
WR Steve Johnson vs. CB Chris Johnson. The Johnson & Johnson matchup might not have the same luster entering the game. Both players are dealing with groin issues and both are listed as probable and are expected to play. It’s likely that if Chris Johnson shows any signs of being slowed down, the Raiders won’t hesistate to put CB Stanford Routt on Steve Johnson. On the flip side, if Steve Johnson’s play making abilities are hampered and if he cannot take advantage of his banged-up counterpart, a greater onus will be placed on Buffalo’s other receivers to pick up the slack.
LB Shawne Merriman vs. LT Jared Veldheer. Merriman’s opening game debut lasted a little longer than his first practice with the team did a year ago, but not by much. He suffered an arm injury early in the Kansas City game, left the game temporarily but later returned. Merriman wasn’t much of a factor and evidence of the Bills’ 41-7 blowout suggests they didn’t need him. It’ll be his first game in a Bills uniform in front of the home fans at Ralph Wilson Stadium, so I expect he’ll want to play like a man on a mission. That might not bode well for Raiders second year tackle Jared Veldheer, who’s still developing and shaping his craft as a tackle. As Raiders head coach Hue Jackson stated, the Raiders have got to get Merriman blocked consistently on Sunday. Merriman has feasted on the Raiders with eight career sacks dating back to his playing days with San Diego. This matchup could decide what type of day it is for the Raiders. If Merriman can impact the Bills defense in a good way, he’ll make life difficult for Raiders runner Darren McFadden coming out of the backfield. If the Raiders and Veldheer can keep Merriman in check and relegate him to a nonfactor, it’ll be a good day for Oakland’s running backs.
C Eric Wood, LG Andy Levitre and RG Kraig Urbik vs. DTs Richard Seymour and Tommy Kelly. This could be one of Buffalo’s biggest tests from an opposing front four all season and the Bills will have a difficult task in controlling line of scrimmage while not allowing Oakland’s defensive tackcles to gain penetration into the backfield. Unfortunately, the Bills are all too aware of the impact Seymour can have on a game. When he was with New England, he was a Buffalo killer and as he goes, so does the rest of Oakland’s defensive line.
CBs Drayton Florence & Leodis McKelvin vs. WRs Chaz Schilens & Denarius Moore. The Raiders will be without two of their top receivers, Jacoby Ford and Louis Murphy, and Darrius Heyward-Bey is questionable with a knee injury. By game time, the Raiders might be missing their top three receivers on the depth chart. Oakland’s bread and butter is the running game and they’ll come after the Bills with Darren McFadden and Michael Bush. But I think the Bills will used numerous eight-man fronts on Sunday which could bog down daylight on the ground. Running isn’t Oakland’s problem, however the passing game remains a tremendous question mark even before they were dealing with injuries. To take Buffalo’s focus off of their running, the Raiders will have to rely on Chaz Schilens and rookie Denarius Moore to make some plays down the field and get loose in the Buffalo secondary. Despite missing Terrence McGee in the secondary, Florence and McKelvin should be able to take advantage and be opportunistic against a depleted Oakland receiving core.
BILLS. Not much is likely to change from what they did last week. The Bills had a great balance on offense. Fred Jackson got his 20 carries and went for over 100 yards. In the eight times he’s gone over the century mark, the Bills are 7-1 so I expect Jackson to figure in heavily to the gameplan again. Buffalo did a good job protecting Ryan Fitzpatrick. With time and space in the pocket, he delivered a career-high four touchdowns but with Oakland’s stout and stacked front four Fitzpatrick might not have as much time as he did last week to make throws. Look for the Bills to continue to use three and four-wide receiver sets to spread out the Raiders secondary. On defense, the Bills face another difficult task in stopping the run. Last week they held the Chiefs to just over 100 yards and kept Jamaal Charles to a quiet 56 yards while forcing three turnovers. With the Raiders entering with a depleted receiving unit, they’ll have to keep an eye on TE Kevin Boss over the middle if he’s able to play. Look for Nick Barnett and George Wilson to be draped all over Boss. Oakland is more one-dimensional and rely heavily on the running game and that’s not likely to change. The Bills must be ready and up to the challenge to stop McFadden and Michael Bush if they have any hopes of going 2-0.
RAIDERS. Oakland excells at running the football and they play to their strengths. Run, run and run some more, a game plan they’re not likely going to deviate from at the start of the game on Sunday. It was a successful opening weekend for the Raiders who won their seventh in a row over the AFC West, a 23-20 win over Denver. Darren McFadden carried the mail and the Raiders to a win with 150 yards on 22 carries, and the Raiders ran for a total of 190 yards. They have the ability to grind out games and wear out opposing defenses with McFadden and Michael Bush. The big pink elephant in Oakland’s room is the passing game. Jason Campbell threw for just 105 yards and no player had more than 44 yards receiving. If the Raiders have the lead, they’ll have the upper hand because they’ll be able to control the game clock and force the Bills to rely on the pass like Denver did last week throwing the ball 46 times. Oakland’s front seven on defense is big, physical and strong. Their line got all four sacks against the Broncos. If they can stop the run and get after Fitzpatrick, they’ll head home 2-0.
Final Prediction: Bills 20, Raiders 19. This is one of the tougher games to call on the Week 2 slate. Still riding high from their huge victory on the road in Kansas City, now the Bills will be at Ralph Wilson Stadium for their home opener. The Ralph will be rocking and they’ll feel the enormous energy from the 12th man. How long can that carry the Bills in this one? On the contrary, things are working against Oakland. The over Denver proved costly. The Raiders will be without two starting wide receivers, with a handful of others questionable to play. As if playing on a short week weren’t bad enough, the Raiders have to travel across the country for a 1 pm game. West coast teams coming east has had disastrous results; over the past four seasons West coast teams are 23-57 when playing on the East coast. Oakland is 7-14 vs. East coast teams during that four-year span and they’re just 1-7 in their past eight trips East. Last year Oakland was just 2-6 against teams outside their division. Not good. I think this is going to be difficult for the Bills as the Raiders present a more physical style of rushing attack and on defense. If the Bills want to be taken seriously, this is the type of football game good teams find a way to win. I think they pull out a close one and improve to 2-0.