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NFL Preview - Buffalo (0-5) at Baltimore (4-2)
By Tony Moss, NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - The Buffalo Bills will enter Week 7 of the 2010 NFL season as a well-rested group, one determined to break from the woeful start that has them listed as one of the league's two remaining winless teams.
Unfortunately for Chan Gailey's club, Sunday's assignment is not one that would be considered light even if the Bills were operating under better circumstances. The angry foe, the homestanding Baltimore Ravens, do not appear likely to accommodate a Buffalo renaissance at M&T Bank Stadium.
The 4-2 Ravens come into Sunday's contest smarting over an overtime loss to the New England Patriots, a defeat that dropped John Harbaugh's club a half- game back of Pittsburgh in the AFC North. Baltimore squandered a 20-10 fourth- quarter lead to lose the contest, failing to put the Pats away in regulation than failing to get close enough for a game-winning field goal despite multiple opportunities with the ball in overtime.
The loss came despite a strong statistical effort from quarterback Joe Flacco, who competed 27-of-35 passes for 285 yards with a pair of touchdown passes and no turnovers. Flacco threw TD strikes to wideout Anquan Boldin (4 receptions, 63 yards) and tight end Todd Heap (3 receptions, 49 yards), while venerable receiver Derrick Mason chipped in with eight receptions for 100 yards.
The defense picked off Tom Brady twice and sacked him three times, but had little answer when it mattered for wide receiver Deion Branch, playing his first game as a Patriot since the 2006 season. Branch had seven of his nine receptions in the fourth quarter or overtime, including a touchdown in the fourth and a critical catch into Baltimore territory to set up the game- winning field goal in overtime.
The Ravens are now 0-6 in regular season games against the Patriots.
Following last week's indignity, Harbaugh and Co. will come into Sunday seeking to take out their frustrations on a Bills team that has been downright awful in 2010 to date.
Buffalo is 0-5 for the first time since 1985, when they dropped their first six en route to a 2-14 finish, and have been outscored by an uncompetitive composite of 161-87. Gailey's crew joins only the Carolina Panthers in the winless category as Week 7 commences.
The Bills are in the bottom three in the NFL in total offense, first downs, passing yards, rushing attempts and touchdowns, total defense, rushing defense, interceptions recorded and turnovers forced.
Last time out, Buffalo looked to have a chance to break into the win column when it was locked in a 20-20 tie with the Jacksonville Jaguars during the third quarter, but subsequently allowed 16 unanswered points before losing, 36-26.
The Bills have now allowed 34 or more points in each of their last four games, the first time in franchise history the club has surrendered 30-plus in four consecutive contests.
The day after the game, the team had a players-only meeting designed to get the attention of the struggling group, and Sunday's contest will perhaps show whether the gathering had any impact.
These teams have split four all-time meetings, with the Bills claiming a 19-14 verdict in Orchard Park in their last encounter with the Ravens, back in Week 7 of the 2007 season. Buffalo is 1-2 lifetime against the Ravens in Baltimore, with the lone victory taking place in 1999, and last visited M&T Bank Stadium during a 19-7 loss there in the 2006 regular-season finale.
Gailey and Harbaugh will be facing one another, as well as their counterpart's respective teams, for the first time as head coaches.
WHEN THE BILLS HAVE THE BALL
One of the most encouraging, and perhaps troubling, aspects of the Bills' loss to the Jaguars in Week 5 is that it included as strong an offensive day as you're likely to see from this team in 2010. Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick (595 passing yards, 7 TD, 2 INT) completed 20-of-30 passes for 220 yards, throwing two touchdowns to wideout Steve Johnson (17 receptions, 4 TD) and one to receiver Lee Evans (15 receptions, 1 TD). The running game added value with 104 combined yards on 17 carries from Fred Jackson (160 rushing yards, 1 TD) and C.J. Spiller (80 rushing yards, 13 receptions, 1 TD), and the Bills didn't turn the football over a single time. And still, the team lost by double- digits. This week, Buffalo must focus on extending more drives after combining to go 3-of-13 on third- and fourth-down versus the Jags. The young and paper- thin offensive line, which allowed three sacks and has now surrendered 14 on the year, also must do a better job of protecting Fitzpatrick. The Bills are 31st in passing offense and 16th in rushing as Week 7 begins.
A Ravens defense that couldn't make the big stop last week when it mattered could be getting a major shot in the arm on Sunday, as Harbaugh said on Wednesday that All-Pro safety Ed Reed could "possibly" play for the first time this year. Reed, a six-time Pro Bowler with 46 career interceptions and 12 touchdowns, started the year on the Physically-Unable-to-Perform list with a hip problem. His presence would make life easier for cornerbacks Fabian Washington (19 tackles) and Chris Carr (22 tackles, 1 INT), who have each been inconsistent this year. The pass rush brought down Tom Brady three times last week, including one for big-talking outside linebacker Terrell Suggs (26 tackles, 3.5 sacks) and two for tackle Haloti Ngata (36 tackles, 4 sacks). Ngata, fellow DT Kelly Gregg (19 tackles) and middle linebacker Ray Lewis (45 tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT) are the primary components of a run-stopping crew that ranks a disappointing 14th in NFL rushing defense. The Patriots had 127 yards on the ground last Sunday, including 63 on just 11 carries for the miniature Danny Woodhead.
WHEN THE RAVENS HAVE THE BALL
Though the Ravens have been moving the football with general efficiency in 2010, Cam Cameron's offense - which ranks 16th in the league in yards and just 21st in points - has not been as explosive as many in Baltimore had hoped. The running game, led by Ray Rice (451 rushing yards, 2 TD, 23 receptions) and former Bill Willis McGahee (143 rushing yards, 3 TD), is averaging a disappointing 3.5 yards per carry. Rice was held to 88 yards on 28 carries in New England a week ago, with his longest rushing going for eight yards, while McGahee was not graced with a single carry. Flacco (1401 passing yards, 7 TD, 6 INT) and the passing game have probably been more consistent, though the frequent targets for Boldin (32 receptions, 4 TD), Mason (24 receptions, 1 TD) and Heap (21 receptions, 1 TD) have generally come at the expense of newcomer T.J. Houshmandzadeh (9 receptions, 1 TD). Houshmandzadeh had just two catches totaling 24 yards against the Patriots. The status of Heap, who suffered a neck injury following a frightening helmet-to-helmet hit leveled by Pats safety Brandon Meriweather, is unknown for Sunday. If Heap can't go, rookies Dennis Pitta (1 reception) and Ed Dickson (3 receptions) would likely be in line for greater roles. Flacco has been sacked eight times on the year, including three times last week.
If the Bills are to have any chance to spring the upset on Sunday, they'll have to get a better effort from a run defense that has allowed an NFL-worst 182.4 ground yards per game. Among the players attempting to have more of a presence at the point of attack is end Dwan Edwards, a second-round pick of the Ravens in 2004 who played in 56 games with the team from 2004-09. Edwards (32 tackles) has been the team's most active tackler at the point of attack, with linebackers Paul Posluzsny (33 tackles, 1 sack) and Andra Davis (32 tackles, 1 INT) working behind him. Davis had his first INT in a Buffalo uniform against the Jags last time out. When Flacco drops back, a pass rush that has generated just six sacks on the year will look to pressure him. The team is still waiting on the first sack of 2010 by recently re-signed end Chris Kelsay (30 tackles). In the secondary, the team could be getting the services of cornerback Terrence McGee (9 tackles) back in the fold, after McGee missed a couple of games with a back problem. Safeties Donte Whitner (45 tackles) and Jairus Byrd (23 tackles) are among those looking to make the big play on Sunday.
This is one of those weeks when you shouldn't hesitate in using the Ravens who appear on your roster, with the possible exception of Heap, whose health as Sunday gets closer will merit watching. Otherwise, Flacco, Rice, Boldin, Mason and the Baltimore defense are all solid starting plays. Even kicker Billy Cundiff is a decent play if your kicker is on a bye week.
The Bills rarely have any enticing fantasy options. Johnson is going to be a waiver-wire pickup in many leagues this week after scoring twice against the Jaguars, but expecting that type of performance against the Ravens defense is foolish. Spiller could be an OK flex play in leagues that reward kickoff return yardage.
Irrespective of the emotions at play in this game, this is one the Ravens should win handily. Buffalo will come in determined to show some progress after a bye and a much-publicized players-only meeting. Baltimore will be angry after the New England loss, and will be trying to keep the heat on Pittsburgh on the AFC North. Call those feelings a wash, then focus on the talent present on these two rosters. The Ravens possess high-end talent, while the Bills are one of the youngest and least talented teams in the league. Look for Baltimore to put this one away soon after halftime.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Ravens 31, Bills 10
10/21 11:47:26 ET