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Back to Football! Buffalo Invades Arrowhead Stadium for Week 1 Showdown Against Kansas City

On Sunday, the Bills aim to sack Cassel and their opening day woes

The coaches and players are excited.  The fans are excited, which is a big understatement.  We’re getting back to football, and what more could you ask for? 

Buffalo kick starts the 2011 NFL season on the road in a difficult and hostile environment:  Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City.  The Chiefs have enjoyed plenty of home cooking over the years.  Since 1990, the Chiefs are 113-55 games at home, including a 7-1 record in 2010.  During that time span the only other NFL franchises to boast better home winning percentages are Pittsburgh and Denver.

And yet, it almost feels as though the confines of Arrowhead Stadium dubs as a second home to the Bills.   Since 2000, the Bills have played at Kansas City six of the past seven meetings between the two teams.  Last year, the Chiefs got the better of the Bills in the final seconds of overtime pulling out a 13-10 squeeker.   Before that, the Bills had beaten the Chiefs three straight times including consecutive wins in Kansas City in 2008 and 2009. 

There are plenty of questions surrounding the Bills as we begin 2011.  Can the offensive line hold up?  Will Shawne Merriman be healthy all season?  Can C.J. Spiller rebound after a disappointing rookie season?  Will the run defense be any better?   Optimism is currently the most popular word in circles regarding the Bills.   Many feel the Bills will be better, but by how much remains to be seen.  In year two under Chan Gailey, the Bills are still very much in rebuilding mode.  It’s safe to say we’ll proceed with caution until we get into the teeth of the season and assess where the Bills are and where they’re headed.

A dark cloud still hangs heavy over the Bills head.  The franchise hasn’t been to the playoffs since 1999.  They’re joined by Detroit and Houston as the only teams since ’99 who haven’t made the playoffs.  Buffalo’s win total has dropped in each of the past three seasons.  In 2010, the Bills went 4-12 marking their lowest output for wins in a season since 2001 when they finished 3-13.

On Sunday, Ryan Fitzpatrick will be making his first ever NFL opening day start in his seven-year career.  He enters the season as the undisputed starting quarterback and looks to build off his 3,000 passing yards and 23 touchdowns in 13 games in 2010 after taking over the starting role from the ineffective and maligned Trent Edwards.   Fitzpatrick threw a touchdown pass in 14 straight games last season, a feat that hasn’t been achieved since Hall of Famer Jim Kelly was running the show.

If the Bills have any hopes of taking steps in the positive direction, starting 0-8 again is out of the question.  Buffalo dropped its first eight games last year including crushing overtime losses in consecutive weeks to Baltimore and Kansas City.  But the Bills rebounded to finish the season 4-4 and look to build off that momentum starting on Sunday.  Steve Johnson burst onto the scene with over 1,000 yards receiving and 10 touchdowns.  Now, without Lee Evans who was traded to Baltimore in the offseason, Johnson steps into the No.1 receiver role.   Donald Jones starts the season as the team’s No.2 receiver but the Bills have other weapons in free agent Brad Smith, Roscoe Parrish, David Nelson and Marcus Easley.   Fred Jackson led the Bills in rushing for a second straight season rushing for 927 yards.  Jackson had five of Buffalo’s six rushing touchdowns on the season. 

Right out of the gate, the Bills’ run defense will get maybe their biggest test all season.  In 2010, the Bills again ranked dead last in the NFL (32nd) in rushing defense allowing 169 yards per game on the ground.  Jamaal Charles ran for a season high 177 yards in the Chiefs’ 13-10 overtime victory, and has combined to rush for 320 yards in the team’s two meetings in 2009 and 2010.  The Bills revamped their linebacking core, adding key free agents Nick Barnett and Kirk Morrison along with getting back a healthy Shawne Merriman, who’s debut with the Bills last year consisted of 15 minutes of practice.  In the draft, the Bills adde some beef in Marcell Dareus to pair him along the line with Kyle Williams and Dwan Edwards.

While the Bills have been trending down, Kansas City went on an upswing in 2010.  After winning a total of 10 games in their previous three seasons, the Chiefs won 10 games last year for the first time since 2005, won the AFC West for the first time since 2003 and made the playoffs for the first time since 2006.  Matt Cassel enjoyed a terrific second year with the Chiefs throwing for 3, 116 yards and a career-high 27 touchdowns.  He also threw a career low 7 interceptions. 

The focal point was, and remains, the Chiefs’ running game.  Jamaal Charles rushed for 1,467 yards and five touchdowns and caught 45 passes for 468 yards and three receiving touchdowns.  Charles was the top running back in the league with a whopping 6.4 yards per carry average.  Thomas Jones chipped in with 896 rushing yards and six touchdowns in his first season in Kansas City.  The duo of Charles and Jones combined for 2,336 rushing yards in 2010, tops for the best by any rushing tandem in the NFL.

Dwayne Bowe was the beneficiary of being one of Cassel’s go-to-guys.  The receiver caught a league-best 15 touchdowns and posted a career-high 1,162 receiving yards.  However, one of Cassel’s other favorite targets won’t be at his disposal on Sunday or for the season.  Tight end Tony Moeaki finished second on the team in receiving with 556 yards, but torn his ACL in the team’s final preseason game and will be out for the season.

Kansas City boasts an up-and-coming defensive unit that’s not devoid of playmakers.  Safety Eric Berry was fourth among all defensive rookies with four interceptions.  Brandon Flowers in turning into a fine cornerback with nine picks in his first three seasons in the NFL.  Along the line a pair of former Bengal Tigers (LSU), Tyson Jackson and Glenn Dorsey, pose a threat to opposing quarterbacks.  However, the key cogs of the defense are linebackers Derrick Johnson and Tamba Hali.  Johnson’s 96 tackles were a team high and Hali’s 14 sacks were second in the league behind Dallas Cowboys linebacker DeMarcus Ware.

Buffalo enters the game winners of three of their past four games against the Chiefs, but in contrast the Bills have had issues on opening day.  The Bills have lost four of their past five opening day games.

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