Two teams looking to head into their bye week on a positive note will meet Sunday when the Giants host the Buffalo Bills in MetLife Stadium. A loss last week to the Seattle Seahawks ended the Giants' three-game winning streak and left them at 3-2. Buffalo defeated Philadelphia, 31-24, to improve to 4-1. The Bills are 8-5 since opening the 2010 season with eight consecutive losses. Buffalo leads the NFL in both takeaways (16) and turnover differential (plus-11). The Bills lead the regular season series, 6-4, including 3-1 in Giants home games. The Giants, however, defeated Buffalo in Super Bowl XXV, 20-19. The teams last met on Dec. 23, 2007, a 38-21 Giants victory in Ralph Wilson Stadium.
The Bills are ranked 11th in the NFL with 379.4 yards a game. They are fourth in rushing (138.2) and 13th in passing (241.2). Buffalo is third in the league with an average of 32.8 points a game. The Bills have scored on all 20 of their trips inside the opposition 20-yard line (15 touchdowns and five field goals). They lead the league by scoring touchdowns 75 percent of the time from the red zone (the Giants are second at 71.4 percent).
The Bills lost four offensive players who made significant contributions in 2010, including wide receiver Lee Evans. Now they are winning with players who were lightly regarded entering the NFL – 15 of their 23 offensive players are free agents or were selected on the fifth round or later in the draft.
Buffalo exclusively uses a shotgun formation, though not in a no-huddle. They like to spread the field with three- and four-wide receiver packages, though they run often to maintain balance. The Bills are a big screen team that seeks to identify mismatches against the defense and take advantage of them.
Harvard-educated quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick has completed a career-high 65.7 percent of his passes and thrown for 10 touchdowns and four interceptions. A seventh-year pro, Fitzpatrick makes accurate pre-snap reads, releases the ball quickly and has developed an outstanding rapport with a new group of receivers. He led the Bills to come-from-behind victories this season over Oakland and New England. Last week, he had a career-high 77.8 completion percentage (21-for-27) vs. Philadelphia. Tyler Thigpen is the backup. The Bills also use Brad Smith as a wildcat or gadget quarterback. He has thrown one pass and rushed 11 times for 44 yards, including a five-yard touchdown last week.
Fred Jackson is second in the AFC and third in the NFL with 480 rushing yards and 712 yards from scrimmage. He is averaging 5.3 yards a carry and has scored five touchdowns and is tied second in the NFL with 24 rushing first downs. Buffalo is 9-1 when Jackson runs for at least 100 yards (he ran for 111 yards last week vs. the Eagles). Jackson has excellent vision and balance and he can slide down the line, pick a hole and quickly burst through. The Bills like to throw screens to Jackson, who has 19 receptions. Former first-round draft choice C.J. Spiller is a dual threat who is averaging 7.1 yards on his 15 rushing attempts. The fullback is Corey McIntyre.
Buffalo's leading receiver is Stevie Johnson, who has 28 catches for 343 yards and three touchdowns and is gaining the somewhat oxymoronic reputation as the NFL's best receiver nobody knows about. The Bills will miss their other starter, Donald Jones, who is expected to miss four to six weeks with a high left ankle sprain. David Nelson, who had been the slot receiver in three-wideout formations, moves outside to replace Jones. Nelson has smooth moves and at 6-5 is a big possession receiver. Naaman Roosevelt stepped in last week as the slot receiver and had a career-high five catches for 41 yards. He is quick rather than fast, but has good receiving skills. Smith is normally the fourth receiver and Ruvell Martin might also get some snaps.
Tight end Scott Chandler was with the Giants late in the 2009 season and in the last year's training camp but did not play a game for the team. He leads the team with four touchdown receptions on just 12 catches. His backup is rookie Lee Smith.
Starting left tackle Demetrius Bell will miss his second game in a row with a right shoulder injury and will be replaced by rookie Chris Hairston, a fourth-round draft choice. Hairston made his first career start last week vs. Philadelphia. He's a work in progress, but he has the size (6-6, 332), skills and intelligence to be a good player. Left guard Andy Levitre has started 67 consecutive games and is competitive and productive. Eric Wood used to play right guard but is now the center, where he is playing at a Pro Bowl level. Right guard Kraig Urbik played the entire game vs. Philly after sitting out two weeks with a knee injury. Like the rest of the linemen, he is smart and athletic. Right tackle Erik Pears is a massive 6-8 and 314 pounds with the movement skills to challenge any defensive end. Chad Rinehart started two games this season and could play as an extra lineman.
The Bills' 3-4 defense is ranked 30th in the NFL, allowing 421.9 yards a game. They are 29th against the run (138.4) and 26th vs. the pass (283.4), though the Bills frequently play with six defensive backs. Buffalo leads the league with 12 interceptions. The Bills are 15th in scoring defense, giving up 24 points a game. The Bills' defense is very physical up front, where they like to crowd the line of scrimmage and, because they don't get a lot of pressure from their line, frequently blitz. They force turnovers and have scored a defensive touchdown in three consecutive games.
Unlike the offense, the defense has 12 players who were first- or second-round draft choices. Buffalo could be missing two of its most valuable defensive players: nose tackle Kyle Williams, a Pro Bowler last season who might be the team's best player, has a foot/ankle injury and linebacker Chris Kelsay, their finest pass rusher, who has a calf injury. Another premier linebacker, Shawne Merriman, is battling a shoulder injury. Cornerback Terrence McGee, who hurt his hamstring on the first play of the season, was active for the first time last week vs. the Eagles but did not play a snap. He is expected to be on the field against the Giants.
The Bills rotate players constantly on their fundamentally-sound defensive line. Left end Marcell Dareus, the third overall selection of this year's NFL Draft, is a Pro Bowl player in the making. He is a powerful player who has been a handful for any opposing offensive lineman trying to slow him down. The other end is Dwan Edwards, a smart and athletic player who locates the ball quickly. Williams is an elite player in the middle. If he can't play, Torell Troup will replace him, though he has been limited in practice with a back injury. Kellen Heard, at 346 pounds, has rare size for an end. Not surprisingly, he can also slide inside and play nose tackle, where he is a powerful anchor. Alex Carrington is listed as a reserve linebacker but can play end and in the middle of the line.
Danny Batten will start if Kelsay can't play. A first-year pro from South Dakota State, he is an instinctive player who is strong on his feet. Former Green Bay Packer Nick Barnett is seldom off the field. He is always in attack mode and last week had two interceptions, one of which he returned for a touchdown. Andra Davis is a defensive co-captain who is an active player. Merriman plays about 40 snaps a game and leads the team with 2.0 sacks. An Achilles injury robbed him of some explosiveness, but he is still an effective power rusher. Former college defensive end Arthur Moats and rookie Kelvin Sheppard each contribute in sub packages. Kirk Morrison, the former Raider and Jaguar who once had 95 consecutive starts, has played little.
Strong safety George Wilson was named AFC Defensive Player of the Week for his outstanding performance in the victory over Philadelphia. He had a team-high 11 tackles, one tackle for a loss, three passes defensed and an interception – the third week in a row he picked off a pass, which ties him for the NFL lead. As his stats indicate, Wilson is a smart and steady safety who makes plays all over the field. Free safety Jairus Byrd has outstanding range and changes direction quickly.
Drayton Florence has started at left corner for McGee, who should play Sunday. Florence is very strong in press coverage, where he impedes receivers with his heavy hands. Left corner Leodis McKelvin has excellent straight line speed. Reggie Corner has appropriately played the nickel corner the last three weeks, a role he assumed when Aaron Williams suffered a collarbone injury. Rookie Justin Rogers plays in the dime defense.
Rian Lindell and Brian Moorman haven't been Buffalo's kicker and punter forever, it just seems that way. Lindell, in his ninth season with the Bills, is second on the franchise scoring list with 858 points. He has missed only one of 358 extra point attempts in his career. Lindell has made eight of nine field goal tries and has scored 44 points this season. Moorman, who has been in Buffalo for 10 years, is fourth in the NFL with a 50.9 gross average and 12th with a 39.7 net average. He has an extensive history of faking punts. Smith has four of Buffalo's five kickoff returns this season, but Spiller is just as capable of breaking a long one. Spiller has assumed the punt return duties from Roscoe Parrish, who is on injured reserve.