The Buffalo Bills and Kansas City Chiefs each came into the 2012 season steeped in optimism over their prospects, and both have gotten off to undesired starts as well.
The Bills hope a return to the familiar confines of Ralph Stadium can enable them to bounce back quickly from a brutal opening-week loss in Sunday's battle with a Kansas City team that wants to put its most recent performance behind, but probably hasn't forgotten its last encounter with its Week 2 opponent.
The Chiefs entered the 2011 campaign as defending champions in the AFC West division, but resembled anything but a contender after beating soundly beaten on their home turf by a focused Buffalo squad in last year's lid-lifter. The 41-7 blitzing by the Bills wasn't only Kansas City's worst defeat in an opener in franchise history, it triggered an 0-3 start that contributed to the club missing out on a repeat division title and ultimately led to the in-season dismissal of head coach Todd Haley.
That loss was painful in more ways than one, as standout safety Eric Berry sustained a torn ACL after being blocked low but legally by Buffalo wide receiver Stevie Johnson. One week later, playmaking running back Jamaal Charles blew out his knee in a lopsided setback at Detroit, further sending the Chiefs' season in disarray.
Both players have since healed and were on the field for Kansas City's Week 1 home tilt against Atlanta, with Charles demonstrating his recovery by rushing for 87 yards on 16 carries. The Chiefs were minus several other key regulars on defense, however, and the depleted unit was no match for Matt Ryan and the Falcons' assortment of playmakers as Atlanta cruised to a 40-24 triumph.
Kansas City competed in that contest without four defensive starters, most notably All-Pro pass rusher Tamba Hali (suspension) and top cornerback Brandon Flowers (heel). Hali is done serving a one-game penalty for a substance-abuse violation and will be available for Sunday's tilt, while Flowers appears on track to participate as well.
"Having two of the better guys on your team on defense right now, it helps, it���s going to help out on Sunday," said Chiefs linebacker Derrick Johnson. "As long as we play team defense it'll work out fine. If we don't play team defense, it doesn't matter who we get back."
Ryan threw for 299 yards and three touchdowns against a Kansas City secondary that was also without free safety Kendrick Lewis, who's likely to sit out a second straight week with a troublesome shoulder.
The Bills were hit hard by the injury bug in their first outing as well, with running back Fred Jackson and slot receiver David Nelson both hurting their knees in last Sunday's road loss to Buffalo's AFC East cohorts, the New York Jets. Nelson, the team's second-leading receiver in 2011, is done for the year with an ACL tear, while Jackson will miss a minimum of three weeks with a significant sprain.
Jackson's absence shouldn't be all that serious a blow, as replacement C.J. Spiller ripped off a 56-yard touchdown run en route to a career-high 169 yards on only 14 attempts against the Jets. His display was about the only bright spot, however, in a 48-28 loss in which Buffalo was littered with miscues and breakdowns in all phases of the game.
Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick threw three interceptions that were converted into 21 points, while a presumably upgraded Buffalo defense couldn't stop the Jets on third down and the special teams crew gave up a 68-yard punt return score to New York's Jeremy Kerley.
"We made too many mistakes to win a game like that," Bills head coach Chan Gailey stated. "You can't make mistakes and win games like that."
Fitzpatrick has now been picked off 12 times over his last five games dating back to last season, but was terrific in Buffalo's rout at Arrowhead Stadium the previous September. The Harvard-educated field general matched a personal- best with four touchdown throws without an interception and amassed 208 yards on a sharp 17-of-25 passing.
Bills lead 22-17-1
Last Meeting: Bills 41, Chiefs 7 (Sept. 11, 2011 at Kansas City) Last Meeting at Site: Bills 14, Chiefs 3 (Nov. 13, 2005 at Buffalo)
Chiefs HC Romeo Crennel vs. Bills: 2-0 overall, 0-0 with Kansas City Bills HC Chan Gailey vs. Chiefs: 1-2 overall, 1-1 with Buffalo Crennel vs. Gailey Head-to-Head: First Meeting
Notes: Bills have prevailed in four of the last five encounters between the clubs, with the Chiefs' lone victory over that span a 13-10 overtime verdict at Arrowhead Stadium during Week 8 of the 2010 season. Kansas City has lost in five straight trips to Buffalo, which includes a 37-14 defeat in a 1991 AFC Divisional Playoff and a 30-13 setback in the 1993 AFC Championship, since earning a 20-17 decision at Ralph Wilson Stadium on Sept. 28, 1986. Teams also met in the 1966 AFL Championship, a 31-7 road win by the Chiefs. Gailey served as Kansas City's offensive coordinator in 2008 and lost to the Chiefs in 1998 while then head coach of Dallas. Crennel beat the Bills while in charge of Cleveland in both 2007 and 2008.
BY THE NUMBERS
Offensive Team Rankings
Kansas City: 7th overall (393.0 ypg), 5th rushing (152.0 ypg), 18th passing (241.0 ypg), tied 14th scoring (24.0 ppg)
Buffalo: tied 8th overall (390.0 ypg), 1st rushing (195.0 ypg), 25th passing (195.0 ypg), 11th scoring (28.0 ppg)
Defensive Team Rankings
Kansas City: 20th overall (376.0 ypg), 15th rushing (84.0 ypg), 25th passing (292.0 ypg), tied 28th scoring (40.0 ppg)
Buffalo: 22nd overall (384.0 ypg), 21st rushing (118.0 ypg), tied 19th passing (266.0 ypg), 32nd scoring (48.0 ppg)
Kansas City: -3 (0 takeaways, 3 giveaways) Buffalo: -3 (1 takeaway, 4 giveaways)
Red Zone Touchdown Percentage (offense)
Kansas City: 100.0 percent (2 possessions, 2 TD, 0 FG) -- tied 1st overall Buffalo: 100.0 percent (2 possessions, 2 TD, 0 FG) -- tied 1st overall
Red Zone Touchdown Percentage (defense)
Kansas City: 57.1 percent (7 possessions, 4 TD, 3 FG) -- 20th overall Buffalo: 60.0 percent (5 possessions, 3 TD, 2 FG) -- tied 21st overall
WHEN THE CHIEFS HAVE THE BALL
Coordinator Brian Daboll's goal is to keep the Bills guessing with an offense that can achieve very good balance when at its best. The speedy Charles (87 rushing yards last week) and powerful Peyton Hillis (16 rushing yards, 3 receptions) give the team a formidable inside/outside combo of backs that both have notched 1,000-yard seasons during their careers, and the duo helped the Chiefs compile 152 rushing yards in last week's loss. Kansas City also sports a high-caliber No. 1 receiver in big target Dwayne Bowe (3 receptions) and a couple of capable downfield complements in veteran wideout Steve Breaston and tight end Kevin Boss, an offseason pickup formerly of the Raiders who hauled in a 22-yard touchdown pass in his Chiefs' debut. The x-factor to it all is quarterback Matt Cassel (258 passing yards, 1 TD, 2 INT), who's been generally solid in Kansas City wins and maddeningly erratic in losses over the course of his four-year tenure with the team. He was more the latter in tossing two picks and losing a fumble during the second half of last Sunday's test, with the turnovers allowing the Falcons to pull away. Bowe was held mostly in check by Atlanta's quality cornerbacks in the opener, but shifty slot receiver Dexter McCluster had an impact in recording 82 yards on six catches. The converted running back could play an important role in this week's matchup as well.
Buffalo's defensive showing against the Jets was disappointing to say the least, as a highly touted front line supposedly bolstered by the free-agent additions of ends Mario Williams and Mark Anderson generated next to no pressure on quarterback Mark Sanchez, who wasn't sacked once and had easy pickings for the most part in a three-touchdown day. The line's inability to bring the heat permitted New York to make good on 71 percent (10-of-14) of its third-down chances for the game and put together three touchdown drives of 80 yards or more. Rookie cornerback Stephon Gilmore (5 tackles) and nickel specialist Leodis McKelvin (3 tackles) were left particularly vulnerable by the failures up front, and both could have their hands full with Bowe and McCluster this week if the same scenario unfolds. The run defense, a major problem area for the Bills last season, was reasonably good in the team's first effort under a new 4-3 arrangement, with reliable linebacker Nick Barnett (9 tackles), strongside starter Arthur Moats (6 tackles) and tackle Kyle Williams (3 tackles) heading up a group that held the Jets to a modest 3.3 yards per attempt.
WHEN THE BILLS HAVE THE BALL
The one silver lining that could come out of last week's loss was the extended opportunity Jackson's injury opens up for Spiller (169 rushing yards, 1 TD, 2 receptions), a greater home-run threat than his steady backfield mate who showed off the big-play skills that made him the ninth overall pick of the 2010 draft. The dangerous 25-year-old is a good receiver as well who added a 30-yard catch in Week 1, but how he'll hold up under a big workload is a bit of a concern, as he's never had more than 19 carries in a game in the pros and the options are lacking behind him with Jackson sidelined. Depth could also be a big problem among the wide receiver corps with the valued Nelson out for the season, as Stevie Johnson (4 receptions, 1 TD) now stands as the team's lone proven commodity at the position and the only true field-stretcher in the group is raw rookie T.J. Graham, who was a healthy inactive in the opener. Tight end Scott Chandler (4 receptions, 1 TD) can be a weapon, however, especially in the red zone where his 6-foot-7 frame helped him produce six touchdown catches a year ago. Two of those scores came against the Chiefs. Fitzpatrick (195 yards, 3 TD, 3 INT), who's now totaled a league-high 26 interceptions in 16 games since last year's triumph over Kansas City, needs to make better decisions as well for the offense to maximize its strengths.
The unavailability of both Hali, who's tallied 26 1/2 sacks over the past two years, and Flowers for last Sunday's contest was too much for Kansas City to overcome against Atlanta's potent passing game, but the defense should be far tougher to throw on this week with those two back in the fold. Hali will again team with second-year riser Justin Houston, the owner of 6 1/2 sacks over a six-game stretch dating back to his rookie year, to provide the unit with a strong pair of bookends coming off the edge, while Flowers and veteran Stanford Routt form a pretty sound corner duo that will focused on keeping Stevie Johnson at bay. Preventing Spiller from doing considerable damage in the open field might be the No. 1 priority for head coach Romeo Crennel, however, a task that might be assigned to the rangy Berry from the back end with help from Derrick Johnson (8 tackles), a 2011 All-Pro selection with a definite nose for the football. Seasoned pro Abram Elam (5 tackles) will likely man Lewis' customary spot at free safety for another week, while the line hopes to get some reinforcements from the possible returns of nose tackle Anthony Toribio and nickel rusher Allen Bailey after both sat out last week with ankle injuries.
In a game where both starting quarterbacks have had their share of shaky moments over the past year, the winner could come down to which team sports the lesser of two potential liabilities. Based on recent results, the nod goes to Cassel, who also benefits from what seems to be a better supporting cast on offense. The fact that the Chiefs will be healthier than a week ago and the Bills will not also could work in Kansas City's favor, and the revenge factor shouldn't be dismissed either. Look for Buffalo to make enough plays on both ends to have a chance to prevail, but the Chiefs to control much of the action with a superior defense and wider range of playmakers.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Chiefs 24, Bills 20