The Buffalo Bills will face a step up in competition in Week Two.
After a season-opening win over the woeful Jets, the Bills make their first road trip of the season to a place coach Sean McDermott and General Manager Brandon Beane used to call home. The Carolina Panthers will host their season opener after an easy 23-3 win over the 49ers in Week One. A Super Bowl team back in 2015, the Panthers promise to be a much greater challenge than New York.
Here is how the Bills and Panthers match up:
When the Bills run: Just as we expected, it was the Shady Show in Week One. Running back LeSean McCoy ran circles around the Jets, gaining 110 yards on 22 carries. McCoy had three runs of at least 15-plus yards, and totaled 70 yards on such carries, according to analytics website Pro Football Focus. That gave him a “breakaway percentage” of 63.6 percent – meaning the amount of his yardage that came on run of 15 yards or more – tops in the NFL. Former Panther Mike Tolbert established himself as the No. 2 back behind McCoy, with 10 carries and a touchdown. The Bills will stick with that plan going forward. The Panthers’ run defense bottled up the 49ers in Week One, led by linebackers Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis. EDGE: Bills.
When the Bills pass: The company line from the Bills is that the game plan last week called for more targets to go to tight ends and running backs because they liked the matchups. Given how good Carolina’s linebackers are, that likely won’t be as much of a priority in Week Two. The Bills will need more than the four catches they got from wide receivers in Week One. Buffalo took just two deep shots last week – defined as passes that travel at least 20 yards in the air – hitting on one. Quarterback Tyrod Taylor can help out McCoy by stretching the field a bit more. EDGE: Panthers.
When the Panthers run: Jonathan Stewart, who I’m sure you’ve owned, dropped, picked up and traded for in fantasy at one point, is still logging the most carries. He got 18 last week against San Francisco. Rookie Christian McCaffrey will also see plenty of work, as he took 13 carries against the 49ers. Both of them averaged a pedestrian 3.6 yards per carry. The Panthers are determined to limit the number of big hits quarterback Cam Newton takes this year, so that could mean fewer carries for him than it has in recent years. The Bills’ run defense showed its strong preseason wasn’t a fluke when it held the Jets to just 38 yards on the ground in Week One. EDGE: Even.
When the Panthers pass: Newton barely played in the preseason as he recovered from shoulder surgery, so some rust is to be expected early. That showed up last week as he completed just 5-of-16 passes to start the game. He got better as the game went on, though, completing his final nine attempts. McCaffrey was Carolina’s leading receiver with five catches – he’s going to be a PPR monster in fantasy and someone the Bills have to watch closely out of the backfield. Tight end Greg Olsen and receiver Kelvin Benjamin didn’t do much in Week One, but they’re better players than anybody the Bills saw in Week One. EDGE: Panthers.
Special teams: It was troubling to see kicker Stephen Hauschka miss his only field goal last week. There was also a penalty that cost the Bills some field position. Panthers kicker Graham Gano was thought to be on the roster bubble, but he made three field goals against the 49ers. McCaffrey is a threat as the punt returner. He had a 21-yard return called back on a penalty in Week One. Punter Michael Palardy was booming the ball for Carolina in Week One, averaging 48.7 net yards. EDGE: Panthers.
Coaching: Ron Rivera and Sean McDermott should know each other’s tendencies well. McDermott joked that he didn’t have to do much in the season opener, but he’s right. There weren’t any controversial moments with things like challenge flags or clock management. The team even had 11 players on the field at all times! McDermott’s replacement in Carolina, Steve Wilks, called a strong game in Week One, mixing in blitzes at the appropriate time. EDGE: Panthers.
Prediction: Panthers 24, Bills 17.