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BILLS READY TO SHOW AND PROVE AGAINST COLTS
DEFENSE NEEDS PLAYOFF-CALIBER GAME AGAINST YOUNG INDY STARS

They have spent much of the last 8 1/2 months vowing not to begin this season the way they opened their 1998 schedule.

Today, the Buffalo Bills finally get to put those words into action.

A season-opening victory over the Indianapolis Colts in the RCA Dome (1 p.m., Ch. 4, Radio 96.9 FM) is crucial on several counts. One, it would keep the Bills from repeating last year's 0-3 start, which also began on the road. Two, it is the first of three divisional games in four weeks. And, three, it is a game the Bills have no business losing if they are, indeed, a serious postseason contender.

After all, the Bills were a 10-6 playoff team last year, while the Colts were 3-13.

"It's a game we're supposed to win, but . . . nobody's going to give us anything," wide receiver Eric Moulds said. "We still have to come out and show we're a playoff-caliber team."

During a 3-1 preseason, the Bills certainly appeared to have a playoff-caliber defense. Their starters and backups generally looked strong stuffing the run and pressuring the quarterback.

The unit probably will need to be in top form against the Colts, who have a highly talented rookie running back in fourth overall draft pick Edgerrin James and an improved quarterback in Peyton Manning, last year's top overall choice.

"He's just got that rare acceleration -- that fifth and sixth gear he can put it into," Bills defensive lineman Sean Moran said of James. "And if he breaks to the outside and hasn't gotten touched yet, he can take one on you all the way."

The Bills' offense won't be playoff caliber unless the running game dramatically improves on its preseason performance. But with receivers such as Moulds, Andre Reed and rookie Peerless Price, and quarterback Doug Flutie, the Bills' passing game is a constant big-play threat.

The RCA Dome is where Flutie's magical '98 season was hatched last October. When Rob Johnson suffered a rib injury on a sack, Flutie took over. He completed 23 of 28 passes for 213 yards and two touchdowns on the way to a 31-24 victory, and never let go of the starting job.

Having upgraded their defense through the draft and free agency, the Colts expect to fare better against Flutie today than they did in their two losses to him last year. They are particularly confident their overall improvement in defensive speed will help them contend with Flutie's trademark elusiveness.

"He can be got," Colts linebacker and former Bill Cornelius Bennett said. "He's been got before."

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