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If one were to mention in August that the Philadelphia-Buffalo matchup would feature a first-place team against a struggling squad, not a soul would have batted an eye. Yet the predetermined roles of each roster have been reversed, as the 1-3 Eagles limp into Ralph Wilson Stadium to take on a blazing Bills crew in the WhatIfSports.com NFL Game of the Week.
While Buffalo's 2-0 start put the league on notice, many contended a visit from the mighty New England Patriots would quell any misguided optimism concerning the Bills' 2011 prospects. And through the first 25 minutes of Week 3's ballgame, this forecast appeared to be coming to fruition, as Tom Brady and company held a 21-0 lead. Yet the Buffalo secondary toughened up, picking off Brady four times, while Ryan Fitzpatrick and Fred Jackson ignited the dormant offense. With time winding down, kicker Rian Lindell laid one between the pipes to give the Bills a shocking 34-31 comeback win over the rival Pats, putting Buffalo atop the AFC East with a 3-0 mark. The Bills were hit with a reality check against the Bengals in Week 4, but few expected Buffalo to be 3-1 at this juncture.
On top of the division is where the Eagles were projected to place thanks to their offseason acquirements of Nnamdi Asomugha, Jason Babin, Cullen Jenkins and others. Alas, Philadelphia has initiated their 2011 campaign with a rocky start, losing three-straight games against the Falcons, Giants and 49ers. At the heart of this vexation has been the failure to protect Michael Vick, most of which is rooted in inferior line play. With Vick missing significant time in two of the four contests, the Eagles' offense has stalled.
For the Eagles to get back on track, the team will need to reestablish their run defense. Philadelphia is surrendering 139.5 yards on the ground, third-worst in the league. And while no quick-fixes can shore up the offensive front, the Eagles must find a way to keep their versatile but vulnerable QB healthy. Luckily for Philly, LeSean McCoy has helped provide some stability in the backfield, rushing for 363 yards on just 66 carries in the early going. Also producing has been Jeremy Maclin, who missed most of the preseason with an unknown ailment.
To have a chance against the Bills, Philadelphia must contain Jackson, who has exploded onto the NFL scene with 369 yards on the ground and another 147 in the passing game. But the Buffalo offense is far from a one-dimensional attack. Fitzpatrick has been extremely effective in the first three games, hitting 63.4 percent of his throws and maintaining a 96.9 QB rating. Although the team traded away the services of veteran Lee Evans in August, the receiving corps hasn't missed a beat, with Stevie Johnson (24 receptions, 314 yards), David Nelson (22 receptions, 251 yards) and Scott Chandler (11 receptions, four touchdowns) providing the necessary targets for Fitzpatrick to operate.
So who wins in this East Coast encounter? According to the WhatIfSports.com award-winning simulation engine, the Eagles come out on top 51.4 percent of the time by an average score of 21-20. Here are the rest of this week's predictions:
|NFL Week 5|
|New York Jets||39.5||17||Boxscore|
|@ New England Patriots||60.5||20||Jets" target="_blank">Simulate Game|
|@ Detroit Lions||56.2||19||Bears" target="_blank">Simulate Game|
|@ New York Giants||56.4||20||Seahawks" target="_blank">Simulate Game|
|@ Buffalo Bills||48.6||20||Simulate Game|
|@ Jacksonville Jaguars||47.1||19||Simulate Game|
|@ Minnesota Vikings||46.7||23||Cardinals" target="_blank">Simulate Game|
|@ Houston Texans||45.7||21||Raiders" target="_blank">Simulate Game|
|@ Pittsburgh Steelers||41.4||19||Titans" target="_blank">Simulate Game|
|Kansas City Chiefs||60.3||23||Boxscore|
|@ Indianapolis Colts||39.7||18||Chiefs" target="_blank">Simulate Game|
|Tampa Bay Buccaneers||61.5||24||Boxscore|
|@ San Francisco 49ers||38.5||19||Buccaneers" target="_blank">Simulate Game|
|Green Bay Packers||66.1||25||Boxscore|
|@ Atlanta Falcons||33.9||20||Packers" target="_blank">Simulate Game|
|New Orleans Saints||68.1||25||Boxscore|
|@ Carolina Panthers||31.9||19||Panthers&vSeason=2011&vTeam=New+Orleans+Saints" target="_blank">Simulate Game|
|San Diego Chargers||78.2||29||Boxscore|
|@ Denver Broncos||21.8||19||Chargers" target="_blank">Simulate Game|