The Seahawks are in the past, now for the great journey up north. The Carolina Panthers travel up to Buffalo on Sunday to face the Buffalo Bills, featuring a great matchup between two young, mobile quarterbacks. The teams are similar: an improved defense based on a dominant defensive line and a rebuilding offense that is still looking to find their fire. Both teams are 0-1 and are itching to back on track, but only one will come out the victor. Here’s what to watch for:
Air it Out
The secondary has been a glaring weakness for the Panthers, and the Bills know it. They saw how Russell Wilson torched the Panthers through the air, and they will look to do the same early and often. The Bills know they will have trouble running the ball against the Panthers’ formidable front seven, so instead they will concentrate on the passing game. Look for E.J. Manuel to test the Panthers secondary with deep routes to Stevie Johnson, then countering with passes to C.J. Spiller out of the backfield. If the secondary can survive the bombardment, then the Panthers will be in good shape.
Carolina will try to establish the run game early with DeAngelo Williams, but that strategy could blow up in their face if the offensive lone can’t hold up against Buffalo’s front four. If the O-line can succeed in one-on-one blocking and get players to the second level, the run game will start churning. The important matchups are Jordan Gross vs. Mario Williams and Ryan Kalil vs. Marcell Dareus, with both sides sporting talent on the line. Keep a close eye on those two battles, because whichever side wins them will determine the fate of the game.
Get it to Smitty
With star young corner Stephon Gilmore still injured, the only credible defender in the Bills’ secondary is Jairus Byrd. None of the corners on the Bills roster beside Gilmore can cover Steve Smith, so he should have field day. Byrd will be watching for Smith over the top, so watch for him to get a lot of receptions with a combination of ins, outs, crosses and hitches. Cam Newton will most likely send a bomb or two Smith’s way, but most of his production will come from underneath. Smith should have double-digit receptions, and might be player of the game.