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NFL Preview - New Orleans (2-0) at Buffalo (1-1)
By Michael Rushton, Contributing NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - The Buffalo Bills snapped a five-game home losing streak at Ralph Wilson Stadium last weekend. Making it two wins in a row there might be a bit tougher.
Buffalo is handed the task of slowing down the red-hot New Orleans Saints this Sunday in western New York.
After opening the season with a tough 25-24 road loss to the New England Patriots, the Bills took on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last Sunday in their home opener. Though the team nearly blew a 17-0 first-quarter lead, Buffalo managed to post a 33-20 victory thanks to Terrell Owens' first touchdown in a Bills uniform and a perfect 4-for-4 day from field-goal kicker Rian Lindell.
Buffalo (1-1) showed the league that not only can it move the ball on the ground, getting a career-day from running back Fred Jackson, but that quarterback Trent Edwards is finally ready to air it out. Edwards completed a 32-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Lee Evans in the first quarter before later hitting Owens for a 43-yard score in the wide receiver's home debut.
All that now has the Bills in position to win the 350th game in club history.
That victory may be tough to come by this weekend. The Bills' pass defense ranks second-to-last in the NFL and faces a Saints club that leads the league in total yards. That includes a ranking of second in passing offense.
New Orleans improved to 2-0 on the season after defeating the Philadelphia Eagles, 48-22, on the road last Sunday. The Saints showed their ability to strike quickly, needing just two plays to move 54 yards to score a touchdown with under two minutes left in the first half before converting a fumble recovery and interception into a pair of scores early in third quarter for a 31-13 lead.
Quarterback Drew Brees threw three touchdown passes in the game, giving him nine through the season's first two weeks. That matches the NFL record first set by the St. Louis Cardinals' Charley Johnson in 1965.
The Saints, who beat the Detroit Lions 45-27 in Week 1, are the first team since 1968 and fourth in league history to score at least 45 points in its first two games of the season.
New Orleans will look to improve to 3-0 for the first time since 2006, when they turned that fast start into a NFC Championship Game appearance. A victory this Sunday would also give the Saints their sixth-ever 3-0 start.
The all-time series between the Saints and Bills is tied, 4-4, with New Orleans evening the series by virtue of a 19-7 win in San Antonio during the 2005 campaign. New Orleans is 2-0 in the series since suffering a 45-33 loss to the Bills in the Superdome in 1998, including a 24-6 win when the Saints last made a trip to Buffalo, in 2001. New Orleans is 2-1 in series road games all-time, with its only loss in Buffalo occurring in 1983.
Buffalo's Dick Jauron is 2-3 in his career against New Orleans, including a 1-3 mark with the Bears (1999-2003) and a win while serving as interim head coach of the Detroit Lions in 2005. The Saints' Sean Payton will be meeting both Jauron and the Bills for the first time as a head coach.
WHEN THE SAINTS HAVE THE BALL
Behind the stellar cannon of Brees (669 passing yards, 2 INT), the Saints lead the NFL after averaging 468 yards per game over the first two contests. They have averaged 323 yards through the air and have also kept teams honest by notching another 145 yards per game on the ground, good for eighth in the league. Brees threw for 311 yards against the Eagles and completed passes to nine different receivers. Wideout Marques Colston (11 receptions, 3 TD) led the way with eight catches for 98 yards and a pair of touchdown receptions. Tight end Jeremy Shockey (8 receptions, 2 TD) added four catches for 49 yards, while wide receiver Devery Henderson (8 receptions) needed just three receptions to total 71 yards. Fullback Heath Evans hauled in a scoring pass for the second week in a row. Mike Bell (229 rushing yards) and Reggie Bush (47 rushing yards, 8 receptions) both ran for scores against the Eagles, although Bell suffered a sprained MCL and might not be able to play this weekend. That should increase the workload of Pierre Thomas, who returned to action in Week 2 after missing the season opener because of a knee issue.
Although the Bills' run defense has been stingy thus far in 2009 -- allowing just 65 yards per game -- the secondary has been torched for 332 yards per game and five touchdowns through the air. Not helping matters is the fact that corners Leodis McKelvin (ankle) and Drayton Florence (knee) are both battling injuries this week. Buffalo has still managed to intercept three passes, including one by safety Donte Whitner (18 tackles) that he returned 76 yards for a score in the first quarter versus the Bucs. It marked the second pick- six in as many weeks for the Bills, after defensive end Aaron Schobel (4 tackles, 1 sack) returned one 26 yards for a score versus New England. Linebacker Keith Ellison (27 tackles) led the Bills with 10 tackles against Tampa Bay, while safety Bryan Scott (19 tackles, 1 INT) added nine stops. Whitner had eight tackles, while both defensive tackle Marcus Stroud (9 tackles) and end Ryan Denney came away with sacks.
WHEN THE BILLS HAVE THE BALL
Buffalo totaled 438 yards of offense versus the Buccaneers and continues to get solid production out of Jackson, who is starting in the place of suspended running back Marshawn Lynch. The latter serves the final game of his three- game suspension this weekend for violating the league's personal conduct policy, but might not be getting all the carries when he comes back. Jackson (220 rushing yards, 11 receptions, 1 TD) ran for a career-best 163 yards on 28 carries last weekend and added another six receptions. Jackson's running has given more time for Edwards (442 passing yards, 4 TD, 1 INT) when he drops back, as he was able to complete a pair of long scoring passes last week. Owens (5 receptions) looked to be a non-factor before his TD catch, as he ended with just three receptions for 52 yards, while Evans' scoring reception was his lone grab. Tight end Derek Schouman made six catches last week, but suffered a season-ending knee injury in the game as well. Buffalo also lost right tackle Brad Butler for the rest of 2009 due to a knee ailment, while center Geoff Hangartner is questionable for this game because of a stiff back.
Edwards was sacked twice last week, a number the Saints will try to increase with the Bills' banged-up line. However, defensive end Charles Grant has been slowed in the first two games because of a hamstring injury and tackle Kendrick Clancy could miss his second game in a row thanks to a knee problem. New Orleans is ranked just 29th versus the pass (291.0 ypg) so far, but is fourth against the run (56.0 ypg). Linebacker Scott Shanle (16 tackles) led the Saints with 11 tackles against the Eagles and notched an interception for a second straight week, while corner Tracy Porter (8 tackles) and safety Darren Sharper (4 tackles, 3 INT) also notched picks. Sharper returned his 97 yards for the Saints' final score of the game, matching Tommy Myers' club record set on September 3, 1978 versus Minnesota. Safety Roman Harper (13 tackles) added seven tackles last week, as did corner Jabari Greer (9 tackles) and linebacker Jonathan Vilma (11 tackles, 1 sack).
The Saints' offense looks to be in for another big game due to the Bills' shaky pass defense. Brees, Colston, Shockey, Henderson and Bush should all be in the starting lineup, while Bell owners might want to see if Thomas is available on the waiver wire. Bell is unlikely to see a lot of carries this week due to his knee, and Thomas might even be a risky start due to the Bills' solid run defense. Buffalo's defense is still not starter-worthy due to the Saints' offensive ability. Jackson has rewarded owners and this will be his last week getting all the carries, so ride him one more time. Buffalo should have to try and keep up with New Orleans, so start Edwards, Owens and Evans.
The Bills put themselves on the NFL map when they hung close with the Patriots, then earned a victory in a very winnable game versus the Buccaneers. Even with that momentum, they run into a Saints squad this is showing signs of being the next coming of the 2007 Patriots. New Orleans' pass attack hasn't been slowed down yet, and the Bills don't have the defense to be the first to stop it. They also won't be able to outgun the Saints, leading to a 3-0 start for New Orleans.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Saints 35, Bills 21
09/24 18:18:53 ET