2011 NFL Predictions: Week 1 Upset Special: Buffalo Bills Will Beat K.C. Chiefs
Anywhere you look for NFL Week 1 predictions, it is probably going to be a widely held view that the Kansas City Chiefs will be starting off the 2011 season with a win at home this Sunday when they host the Buffalo Bills. The Chiefs have hosted the Bills for two straight years, and they have split the two games.
Our own lead NFL writer at Bleacher Report, Matt Miller, predicted that the Chiefs will blow out the Bills 42-7, in a complete thrashing. If I thought that could honestly happen, I would not be sitting down to write this story. I see this game quite differently than Matt does, and my prediction is that the Bills will come out of Kansas City with a win, 24-17. It doesn't mean much if I say I told you so after the fact. So I am going out on the proverbial limb now. Let me tell you why I think this will happen.
Bills' Front Seven Is Much Improved
For starters, this game boils down to the NFL's best rushing offense of the 2010 season, the Kansas City Chiefs, against the worst rushing defense from 2010, the Buffalo Bills. On paper, you think that there is no way the Bills can compete. But the Bills have done a very commendable job of upgrading their defense across the board (especially in the front seven), and if you are not aware of what they have done, it is time to bring you up to speed.
The Bills of course drafted Marcell Dareus, the Alabama stud defensive lineman, with the third overall pick in the NFL Draft. Dareus will be lining up next to Kyle Williams, the Bills All-Pro nose tackle. Right away the Bills are going to be creating a mismatch situation where if you don't double team both guys, they will take advantage and wreck havoc in the backfield. If you do double-team them, then that leaves nobody left to block the linebackers, which would also be a big mistake.
The Bills now boast a quartet of veteran linebackers from Shawne "Lights Out" Merriman, Andra Davis, Nick Barnett and Chris Kelsay. If any of you have missed the snaps that Merriman had in the preseason against either Chicago or Detroit, Merriman is back and playing with quickness, vigor and power. He wants to prove to everybody that he is healthy again and if you saw his two sacks against the Bears, you know that the "Lights Out" dance is back in style again and will be visiting an NFL stadium near you.
Behind them, you have interesting quality backups in the recently signed Kirk Morrison, third-round pick Kelvin Sheppard, Alex Carrington and Danny Batten. We haven't even raised the name of Arthur Moats yet, who was famous last year for knocking out Brett Favre and wrecking his consecutive game streak.
Bills' Secondary and the 2010 Bills vs. Chiefs Game Revisited
The secondary offers solid veterans Terrence McGee, Leodis McKelvin and Drayton Florence. Veterans Jairus Byrd and George Wilson start at safety, and the Bills have some new blood ready to offer some help with second-round pick A.J. Williams, Da'Norris Searcy and Justin Rogers.
The Bills will need to split their attention between Jamaal Charles, Thomas Jones and Dwayne Bowe. If the Bills' pass rush is as improved as it appears, Cassel will not be afforded much time to throw. If he gets knocked out of the game for any reason, the Bills will be prepared to move eight men up into the box, and dare the Chiefs to beat them by throwing the ball.
Before we move to the offense, let's remind everyone that the Bills played in Kansas City last year, and the Bills (with a much worse defense than this year's version), held the Chiefs to 10 points in regulation. In fact, the Bills appeared to kick a game-winning field goal late in regulation, only to have the kick disallowed due to a Todd Haley timeout. Rian Lindell missed the second kick and the Chiefs went on to win 13-10 in overtime. How that close of a game can lead to a 42-7 prediction is beyond me.
Bills Offense Will Improve in Year 2 under Chan Gailey
Now, back to the Bills offense. For starters, the Bills are now in the second year under head coach Chan Gailey, so they are that much more comfortable in his offense, just as the defense is that much more comfortable in the 3-4 scheme run by defensive coordinator George Edwards. Starting quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick is in his second year of running the show, as he relieved Trent Edwards of the starting job after the second week of 2010.
Fitzpatrick has total command of the offense, and was able to generate 3,000 yards in passing, which is no easy feat behind a Bills offensive line that is less than ideal. Fitzpatrick is the unquestioned leader of the Bills, and his physical style of play is something the team rallies behind. They want to play well for him, and the team is hungry to win.
The Bills offer up a committee of running backs from 1,000 yard rusher Fred Jackson, second-year man C.J. Spiller and rookie Johnny White. The backs will have some form of sharing the workload, but everyone expects Fred Jackson to carry the ball in the majority of the reps. Spiller is expected to be a more significant contributor this year, and that could come from both more carries, as well as being split out more on pass patterns where the Bills want to get him the ball in the open field and let him run wild.
Brad Smith Brings a New Dimension to Bills Offense
The "Wild Card" in the offense is Brad Smith. Signed away from the New York Jets, Smith brings a multi-skill set to the Bills that gives them a wide range of options for third down conversions, red zone opportunities, running the Wild Cat offense and even attempting to run out of punt formation, as they did in the preseason. Smith excelled at picking up first downs on third-down plays in the preseason, and if that form holds true, the Bills offense will be on the field more in 2011, keeping the defense fresher.
What Smith can do in the red zone is give the defenses some added dimension to be concerned with. The Bills will also use Smith as a wide receiver, so when you can split out talented and elusive athletes like Roscoe Parrish, Spiller and Smith, it causes bad matchups for the defense.
Then there is Steve Johnson, who exploded for a 1,000-yard plus season in 2010. Johnson is difficult for secondaries to contain due to his outstanding ability to pick up yards after the catch. Defenses will attempt to key on Johnson now that Lee Evans has been traded to Baltimore, but that is fine with the Bills. They are very high on Donald Jones and Marcus Easley, two young wide receivers that are waiting for their chance to explode on the scene, just like Johnson did last year.
We should also mention Roscoe Parrish, who had a very strong 2010 season posting a career high in receptions until he fractured his wrist against the Chicago Bears. Parrish will be back with David Nelson to round out the receivers.
On special teams, you have Brad Smith and C.J. Spiller returning kicks, and while the number of touchbacks will be much more commonplace, they are both a threat to take it back to the house. Roscoe Parrish is one of the all-time NFL leaders in punt returns, and he returns for another year as well.
KC Chiefs Have a Number of Issues
Now let's turn our attention to the Kansas City Chiefs. For starters, quarterback Matt Cassel cracked a rib last week against Green Bay in the final preseason game. The rib has not had enough time to heal. Cassel did practice this week, but no matter how much padding the Chiefs use, the first time that either Marcell Dareus or Shawne Merriman lay Cassel out with a major hit, he will probably be looking for help. Rib injuries are no joke.
The Chiefs' backup QB Tyler Palko has never started an NFL game before, but maybe it never comes down to him getting in the game.
The Chiefs lost their top tight end for the year when they placed Tony Moeaki on I.R.. He was also hurt in the Green Bay game.The Kansas City media and the fans are second-guessing head coach Todd Haley for playing his starters so deep into the final preseason game.
Jonathan Baldwin, the first-round draft pick, has turned out to be exactly who everybody thought he would be, a diva wide receiver. Baldwin has so alienated the veterans, that veteran running back Thomas Jones fought Baldwin in the locker room. The fight resulted in Baldwin breaking his thumb which required surgery. No word yet if he will play, but it is probably doubtful right now.
Another notable subtraction is Pro Bowl lineman Brian Waters, who the Chiefs let walk away as a free agent. He is now playing for New England.
The Chiefs also spent a fairly large sum ($25 million) to land free-agent wide receiver Steve Breaston from Arizona. The only problem is that Breaston has been unable to break into the top three wide receivers in Kansas City, which means that the Chiefs have a number of issues going on. It looks like the Bills are catching the Chiefs at just the right time.
Bills' Offensive Line Has To Control Tamba Hali
That is not the complete picture. We have to point out that the Bills' offensive line is the Achilles' heel of the team. In just the past week alone, the Bills have added tackle Sam Young off of waivers from the Dallas Cowboys, and a blocking tight end, rookie Lee Smith from the New England Patriots off of waivers as well. The Bills are trying to get bigger and more physical at the line of scrimmage, so we will see what the new additions do to beef up the returning linemen from 2010.
The Bills' starting offensive line; Demetrius Bell, (and for those who don't know this little trivia fact is the son of Karl "The Mailman" Malone), Andy Levitre, Eric Wood, Kraig Urbik and Erik Pears will have their work cut out for them as they try to find a way to contain Tamba Hali, who was the NFL's second-leading sack leader in the 2010 season.
In this analysis, I have demonstrated that the Bills defense will have a much different look this year. They are bigger, stronger, faster and more physical on the line of scrimmage. The defensive line is more than capable of allowing the linebackers to play a "cleaner brand" of football, so veterans like Barnett and Merriman should be making plays throughout the game.
The more I think about this contest, the more that I am convinced that Ryan Fitzpatrick will lead the Bills to a 24-17 upset win. You heard it here first.