One might assume the gap between the Buffalo Bills, who have a 1-1 record, and the Philadelphia Eagles, who are 0-2, wouldn't be all that great.
These teams are so far apart in terms of quality, they might as well be on different planets, let alone in different conferences.
The Bills have an offense that can be explosive, as well as powerful. The Eagles are still looking for a way to move the football.
The Bills have a defense that can stuff the run and put pressure on the QB. The Eagles' defense wears down late in games because of their ineffective offense, and is without its best pass rusher.
The Eagles can't even be certain whom to start at QB. Doug Pederson will likely get the nod, but he has a sore shoulder. Coach Andy Reid will likely give rookie Donovan McNabb more playing time, if he doesn't start him. However, after the Eagles' offensive line allowed nine sacks against Tampa Bay last week, Reid is understandably concerned about exposing McNabb to too much punishment this soon.
The Bills' running game, which had its breakout performance against the New York Jets last week, should enjoy more success today, as should QB Doug Flutie, whose big plays helped reverse Buffalo's fortunes after an opening-day disaster at Indianapolis.
For the Bills, this shapes up as a nice, low-stress, feel-good performance before they venture to Miami for next week's Monday night showdown. The key is keeping their focus and not looking past the Eagles.
When the Bills have the ball
The Bills will go right back to what served them so well against the Jets -- having RBs Antowain Smith and Jonathan Linton pound the ball between OTs John Fina and Robert Hicks. They rolled up 224 rushing yards against the Jets. They should have similar success today.
The Eagles showed just how porous they are against the run last week when the Buccaneers ground out 156 yards and held an eight-minute advantage in time of possession. And that was in Philadelphia!
The Bills will no doubt direct their rushing attack at undersized DE Mike Mamula, who was moved from the left to the right side to replace Hugh Douglas, who suffered a serious knee injury last week. Fina and LG Ruben Brown should have little trouble getting a consistently strong push on Mamula, who has never distinguished himself against the run. Hicks and RG Dusty Zeigler, both of whom played well against the Jets, are also likely to overpower undersized LE Greg Jefferson.
By establishing the run, Flutie will be free to use play fakes to help open things up for long throws to WRs Eric Moulds and Andre Reed, and underneath passes to TE Jay Riemersma.
The Eagles will trust CBs Bobby Taylor and Troy Vincent to try to single cover Moulds and Reed as defensive coordinator Jim Johnson, having lost his best pass rusher in Douglas, attacks Flutie with a variety of blitzes. If Flutie doesn't find his open targets, he should be able to make big gains with his fleet feet, as he did against the Jets.
Of course, the Eagles will do all they can to try to render the Bills' offense one-dimensional. They'll look to shut down the run by putting eight men from tackle to tackle, as well as by slanting their defensive linemen and blitzing.
When the Eagles have the ball
Pederson is unlikely to get anything going with the offense. Strong pressure causes him to develop happy feet and/or try to get rid of the ball too quickly and make mistakes. If he does start, he will almost certainly get a quick hook.
McNabb, who saw his first regular season action last weekend, is a tremendous athlete who can make plays on the run. However, he has a long way to go as far as knowing the complexities of the Eagles' West Coast passing game, which, along with horrendous protection, caused him to be sacked six times in the second half. If the Bills can keep McNabb in the pocket, they should have similar pass-rush dominance.
For the Eagles to have a prayer of winning, RB Duce Staley, who has some power and explosiveness, must be able to have success running the ball.
The Eagles will look to establish a ground game behind their two widest bodies, LOT Tra Thomas and rookie LOG Doug Brzezinski. But they must contend with RE Bruce Smith and NT Ted Washington. If Washington is limited by sore ribs, the Bills have a highly effective replacement in Pat Williams.
The rest of the Eagles' O-line must pick up its play considerably from last week, or the Bills might wind up with a double-digit sack total. C Steve Everitt, RG Jeff Dellenbach and RT Jermane Mayberry were woefully inadequate and regularly overpowered against the Buccaneers. Dellenbach struggled so much, he is expected to rotate today with 35-year-old journeyman David Diaz-Infante.
LILB Sam Cowart is a solid run stopper who has improved in every game since becoming a starter midway through last season. He and RILB John Holecek should control the middle of the field and make it nearly impossible for Staley to run between the OTs. Going outside figures to limit Staley's effectiveness.
The Bills' secondary -- and especially FS Kurt Schultz -- set a physical tone early in the Jets' game. As a result, Jets WRs became reluctant to go over the middle, and wound up dropping a number of passes.
Taking the same physical approach should be no problem against the Eagles, who easily have the worst receiving corps in the NFL in Charles Johnson, Detrich Jells (who is coming back from an ankle injury) and Torrance Small (who is coming back from sore ribs).
Bills have eight-game winning streak vs. NFC East opponents, and have won 11 of last 12 vs. teams from that division. . . . Eagles are averaging an NFL-low 3.8 yards per pass attempt.
This is a blatant mismatch and the Bills should win in a romp, 30-7.