Before the 2011 NFL season began, the Buffalo Bills were flying well under the radar. Many of the national prognosticators didn’t expect much from the Bills other than possibly four or five wins, another potential last place finish in the AFC East and another slot in the top ten draft order. On the other hand, the Philadelphia Eagles were soaring after their free agent spending spree and locking up Michael Vick with a lucrative contract. The Eagles seemed poised to make a lenghty playoff run and many predicted them to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl.
But through the first quarter of the season, things couldn’t have turned out any differently for both teams. The Bills are 3-1, including winning their first three games of the season and are tied atop the AFC East thanks to a pair of thrilling come-from-behind wins. The Eagles, on the other hand, have been grounded through four games with their only win against the winless St. Louis Rams. They’ve blown big leads, losing three straight games in which they’ve led in the fourth quarter and as a result, the Eagles find themselves at the bottom of the NFC East.
So when the Bills and Eagles clash on Sunday afternoon at Ralph Wilson Stadium, it’ll be redemption vs. salvation. Buffalo looks to redeem themselves after losing in the final seconds to the Cincinnati Bengals and prove to the rest of the NFL they’re for real and not just some cute little football story for a few weeks. Philadelphia knows it’s now or never to save their season and avoid a crippling 1-4 start.
After scoring at least 34 points in their first three games and leading the NFL with 37.6 points per game, the Bills were stymied last week against as the Bengals held them to a season low 20 points. Ryan Fitzpatrick threw for 199 yards and no touchdowns, both lows for the season. Fred Jackson scored his AFC leading fourth touchdowns on the ground last week to go along with 66 rushing yards. Buffalo’s only other touchdown came off of Bryan Scott’s 43-yard interception returned for a touchdown and the Bills have scored a defensive touchdown for two straight weeks.
That, however, has been the bright spot for their defense since the season opener in Kansas City. Despite being tied in the NFL with 11 takeaways, they rank 27th in the league in yards allowed per game with 405. Since holding the Chiefs to just seven points and 213 total yards, Buffalo had given up 1,407 yards in their three games since which is the third-worst three game stretch in franchise history.
Philadelphia’s biggest issues have been on defense and the fourth quarter. Since beating the Rams, the Eagles have led in all three games against Atlanta, New York Giants and San Francisco. The Eagles couldn’t close any of them out and lost all three late in the fourth frame highlighted last week by giving up a 23-3 lead against the 49ers and losing 24-23 despite Michale Vick’s near 500 total yards of offense. During their three-game skid, the Eagles have been shut out in the fourth quarter 36-0 and haven’t lost four in a row since 2005.
Another contributing factor to Philadelphia’s struggles has been their inability to stop the run. The Eagles rank 30th in the NFL allowing 139.5 yards rushing per game, an area of weakness Buffalo could exploit. The Bills will have the home field advantage and they’ll be relishing their underdog role again this weekend, which them seem to excel at rather than being favored like they were last Sunday in Cincinnati. The Eagles know their season hangs in the balance and that makes them very dangerous.