After the Buffalo Bills confronted their first loss of the season against the Arizona Cardinals, the Bills needed this bye week. The Cardinals, the league's second highest-scoring team, stunned the previously undefeated Bills two weekends ago, sending Trent Edwards to the bench during the third quarter due to a concussion. The team's bulky defense line let the Cardinals fly to the end zone, resulting in an ugly 41-17 loss. This Sunday, the AFC East leaders host the San Diego Chargers at Ralph Wilson Stadium.
The Bills need to get back on track, and Sunday is the day to do it. But it will be a challenge for the team, now 4-1. Buffalo leads both the Patriots and the Jets in the AFC by only one game each. Dick Jauron declared starter cornerback and kick returner Terrence McGee out of the game for the second straight week, due to a sprained knee.
San Diego will be incredibly fired up for this game. After a disappointing loss to Miami two weekends ago, the Chargers locked it up last weekend with a 30-10 victory over the Patriots. Then after Sunday's contest, the Chargers head overseas to meet up with the New Orleans Saints at Wembley Stadium in London. The Chargers would no doubt love to head into this international affair on a roll.
The critical advantage that the Bills have over the Chargers in Sunday's game is the presence, or lack of presence in this case, of running back LaDainian Tomlinson. Tomlinson, a former NFL MVP, has been running the Chargers' offense for years, keeping the strategies together and the plays tight. However, the star running back will not be playing in Sunday's game due to a toe injury. He has been battling the nagging injury for weeks, and although he has continued to tough it out, the injury is clearly affecting him.
Philip Rivers is the new focal point of San Diego's offensive attack. Rivers has thrown only four interceptions this season for his 14 touchdown passes. Rivers' command of the offensive game could be a serious danger to the Chargers this Sunday, especially since Rivers was unfazed last week even with wideout Chris Chambers out from an ankle injury. The Bills eighth-best pass defense in the league (184.8 yards per game) must be ready.
For the Bills, the pressure is on Trent Edwards to perform after his injury forced J.P. Losman to finish off the game against the Cardinals, where the inexperienced quarterback made his season debut with an interception and two fumbles. Regardless, the Bills have their weapons back.
The Bills should benefit with linebacker Shawne Merriman safely far away from the field. Since Merriman's injury, the Chargers' defense has been shaky, although they did hold the Patriots for under 300 yards last weekend and kept quarterback Matt Cassel to 203 passing yards. The Chargers are now fifth in the league this season with 17 sacks, yet have struggled against the pass.
Overall, it looks like both teams are heading into Sunday's contest with a lot on the line in their respective divisions.
The Buffalo-San Diego series history favors the Chargers, who are 10-4 overall. The Bills offense must control the ball to keep the Chargers' explosive offense off the field. The strategy here isn't just focusing on one single player, may it be Antonio Gates or Philip Rivers. The Bills need to refine their passing plays in order to execute this kind of scheme. In addition, the Bills must also look toward quarterback play – in the game against the Cardinals, Kurt Warner dominated the game by keeping the flow going through the air. This could prove useful in Sunday's game if the Bills open up the ground play by using this attack and wear out the Chargers' defense by keeping them on the ground. A lot of Marshawn Lynch and not a lot of Philip Rivers. The Bills must focus on air ball control.
Make sure to take into account the advantage of the East Coast – it's a beautiful thing. The crowd is sure to be gregarious this week: the Chargers are traveling across the country a week before they travel across the Atlantic Ocean in an attempt to show up a team that may have exactly what they need to exploit San Diego's weaknesses. They may be heading overseas with a fresh loss in mind.