The Kansas City Chiefs will take on the Buffalo Bills Sunday afternoon at Ralph Wilson in a battle of teams trying to avoid starting the season 0-2. Not only are they both searching for their first victory, but trying to rebound from terrible performances after being expected to be much improved in 2012.
After failing to impress in the preseason, the Chiefs looked to have figured things out in the first half last week against the Atlanta Falcons, hanging with the 2011 playoff team stride-for-stride. Then the wheels came off in the second half and they looked more like that lost team from the preseason, falling 40-24.
The Bills were also disappointing in the preseason (0-4), but were expected to be a contender after spending freely over the summer. Instead, they opened with a thud, getting rolled by the New York Jets last week, 48-28. They also lost RB Fred Jackson and WR David Nelson to knee injuries, something the Chiefs certainly can relate to.
Even though the Chiefs are three point underdogs as they head to Buffalo, they will see the return of LB Tamba Hali (suspension) and CB Brandon Flowers (foot) to a defense that never challenged the Falcons.
Those returning players will need to be the difference for the Chiefs defense, but the offense will have to find a way to repeat their success from the first half last weekend
Here are the three players from each team that you should keep your eyes on.
Offense: Matt Cassel
Which Cassel will show up for the Chiefs on Sunday afternoon?
If we see the player that led the Chiefs to 17 first half points last week with confidence and pinpoint accuracy, the Buffalo defense could find themselves in the same hole Mark Sanchez and the Jets put them in Week 1.
However, if it’s the guy that missed open receivers, turned the ball over three times and only managed seven points in garbage time in the second half, Kansas City will be in trouble.
This offense will go as far as the quarterback will take them. RB Jamaal Charles might be the star, but if Cassel hands the ball to the other team, it won’t matter how spectacular the Chiefs running game can be.
Defense: Brandon Flowers
The Chiefs defense will look to both returning stars — Flowers and Hali — for a lift against the Bills. The difference between the two players is we know what Kansas City’s best pass rusher will bring to the table. He was able to play all preseason and looked every bit as good as the guy that was second in the AFC in sacks last season
Flowers is a much bigger question mark for Romeo Crennel’s unit. A foot injury early in training camp cost the cornerback all of the preseason and last week’s game against the Falcons. While he was able to practice on a limited basis leading up to the season opener and fully this week, there’s no way to know how his conditioning will hold up to game speed.
The Bills don’t have the sort of air attack the Falcons own, but Stevie Johnson and Co. can still deliver big plays and it will be Flowers job to make sure the secondary isn’t ripped the way it was by Atlanta.
Special Teams: Javier Arenas
With a handful of impressive returns in the preseason, it looked like rookie WR Devon Wylie would give the Chiefs return units a jolt. But it was Arenas getting the work last week and now Wylie is out with a hamstring injury that prevented him from practicing even on a limited basis this week.
Arenas has had a few highlights during his time returning kicks for the Chiefs, but has not consistently been able to deliver big plays. Last week he returned four kickoffs to the tune of a very ho hum 19.8 yard average and long of 25 yards.
It’s a lot to ask any offense to keep going 80 yards, but too often that’s what’s happening for the Chiefs thanks to subpar special teams.
Offense: Stevie Johnson
Don’t be fooled by the Bills blowout loss last week, their offense has the playmakers to put up points in a hurry. The Chiefs saw that at work first hand last year when they were wiped out by Buffalo 41-7.
They’ll have to account for explosive RB CJ Spiller (169 yards vs. Jets), but after the ease in which the Falcons offense moved the ball in the air, it’s Johnson that needs to be stopped. A big part of that will be our Chiefs Player To Watch, Brandon Flowers, and his ability to return from a foot injury.
Johnson only had 66 yards against Flowers and the Kansas City last year, but that included a big 27-yard touchdown that put Buffalo up 14-0 in the first quarter.
It’s also worth watching if any Chiefs players take a run at Johnson. After all, it was the Bills wide receiver that ended S Eric Berry’s season with a low block last season that was criticized by many, including Berry. No one is talking about bounties or head hunting, but an extra hit here or there isn’t the craziest thing in the world.
Defense: Mario Williams
The Bills biggest acquisition in the offseason was Williams, who commanded a $100 million contract that included $50 million guaranteed. It should come as no surprise that when Williams was invisible in his Buffalo debut, there were plenty of groans from the Bills faithful. It should also come as no surprise that he is the Chiefs No. 1 worry heading into Sunday’s action.
If Cassel is to stay upright, the Kansas City offensive line has to find a way to slow down Williams without ignoring the rest of the Bills big time players on defense.
This will be the third time Williams has faced the Chiefs. In the first two games, he’s totaled eight tackles and two sacks.
Special Teams: Leodis McKelvin
This is a guy that both special teams coach Tom McMahon and offensive coordinator Brian Daboll will be focusing on for different reasons.
For McMahon, McKelvin handled all four returns for the Bills last week. He showed last year he has the potential to take the ball to the house and overall had the fourth best punt return average in the league.
Daboll will be looking at him for a very different reason. McKelvin was one of the reasons why Sanchez and the Jets were able to throw for nearly 300 yards last Sunday. The cornerback was beat for two of the the three New York touchdowns, so expect to see him get plenty of work on defense to go along with his touches in the return game.