A healthy Jairus Byrd is a sight for sore eyes, making his season debut this week.
After 10 days rest, the Buffalo Bills (2-3) hope to bounce back in Week 6 after losing in Cleveland last Thursday night. The Bills will be welcoming the Cincinnati Bengals (3-2) to the friendly confines of Ralph Wilson Stadium, with kickoff scheduled at 1 p.m.
What should we look for? I’m glad you asked.
Buffalo has an Empire State Building sized question mark this week, starting unproven 4 year veteran Thad Lewis at quarterback. Last Thursday night, E.J. Manuel went down with a sprained LCL and is expected to miss 4-8 weeks. Lewis, who has bounced around the league on various practice squads, will be making only his 2nd career start this week. Nobody has a clue what to expect from Lewis, who has only been a member of the Bills since late August. Luckily, that nobody also includes Bengals coach Marvin Lewis. Cincinnati only has 1 game of film on Thaddeus, making preparing for him challenging. Since the Bengals don’t have much material on Thad, I think he could have a decent game.
Since Buffalo is starting an unproven guy, the Bills running game will have to pick up the slack. Unfortunately, Buffalo’s running back tandem is a little nicked up. C.J. Spiller was limited in practice Thursday and is listed as questionable for Sunday’s game with an ankle injury. I fully expect to see Spiller Sunday, but he may be only a part-time guy.
This lands the majority of the work load of the running game on Fred Jackson’s shoulders. Jackson had a decent game last week, running for 53 yards and 2 touchdowns against Cleveland’s 4th ranked defense. Not only will Jackson be vital in the run game, I expect he will catch a lot of balls out of the backfield. I don’t expect Thad Lewis to be competent enough to go through more than 2 reads when he drops back, so look for a lot of dink-and-dunks to Jackson and Spiller.
With all of these question marks, the Bills are going to have a tough time scoring. Cincinnati has was able to keep Tom Brady and the New England Patriots out of the end zone last week, breaking Brady’s streak of 52 games with a touchdown pass. Head Coach Doug Marrone is going to have to come up with a heck of a game plan to score on this Bengals defense with an unproven guy like Lewis behind the wheel.
Defensively, things are actually starting to look good for the Bills. Buffalo’s secondary has been so depleted, they were doing everything short of posting ads on Craigslist for anyone who has ever played defensive back. These problems look to be coming to an end. Safety Jairus Byrd is probable after fully participating in practice Wednesday and Thursday, and looks to make his season debut. Buffalo’s shutdown corner Stephon Gilmore also practiced Wednesday, and is listed as questionable for Sunday. When Coach Marrone was asked about Gilmore’s status, Marrone responded “I don’t want to say today that he’s going to go out and play Sunday. But I feel good about the way he looked in practice today (Wednesday).” Buffalo is going to need every bit of help Sunday against all-pro receiver A.J. Green.
On a positive note for the Bills, Cincinnati’s offense has been in a bit of a slump. In the past three weeks, the Bengals have only scored 1 touchdown. Buffalo’s defense is ranked 23rd in the league in points allowed, allowing opposing offenses to score an average of 26 points a game. This looks to be a battle of weaknesses.
In the run game, Buffalo has been better than they were last year. In the 2012 campaign, Buffalo was ranked 31st in run defense. This season, they have climbed the ranks to 21st in the league. Not good. Bengals running backs Benjarvis Green Ellis and Giovani Bernard combined for 129 yards on the ground last week. Buffalo is going to have to keep the law firm and the rookie contained this week to have a chance of winning this one.
As always, we turn our attention to Las Vegas and see what they think. Our friends in the desert have the Bengals favored by 6.5 points on the road. Vegas is also in the “I have no clue what to expect from Thad Lewis” category, so I don’t know what to make of the line. It’s almost like they threw their hands in the air and just said “Screw it, favor Cincinnati by a touchdown”. Since both offenses are struggling, I look for this to be a low scoring game. Clairvoyant Sean predicts Buffalo 17, Cincinnati 14. Circle the wagons Buffalo.