Denver Broncos (0-0) at Buffalo Bills (0-0)
v GAME SNAPSHOT
KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 ET
TV: CBS, Gus Johnson, Randy Cross
SERIES: 33rd meeting. Bills lead series, 17-14-1. The Broncos have won the last four. They also played once in the playoffs, a 10-7 Bills victory in the AFC Championship Game at the end of the 1991 season. Denver won the last meeting, 28-17, near the end of the 2005 season.
v PREDICTION: Broncos 23-17
KEYS TO THE GAME:
RB Travis Henry used to pound the turf at Ralph Wilson Stadium for the Bills. He returns as part of Denver's vaunted running game, and will be attacking a Buffalo defense that suffered a significant blow when OLB Keith Ellis was lost indefinitely with a sprained ankle. He'll be replaced by converted safety Tank Williams, who will play next to rookie MLB Paul Posluszny. If the Bills can't stop the run, they won't be able to pressure young QB Jay Cutler. ... The Bills broke the bank to beef up their offensive line in free agency and draft RB Marshawn Lynch in the first round. Lynch averaged just 1.7 yards per carry in the preseason, while the Broncos' run defense had its own issues with LB D.J. Williams sliding to the middle to replace departed Al Wilson. Look for Lynch also to split wide -- he's very versatile and will be a mismatch in coverage for linebackers.
KEY INJURIES: Broncos: OG Ben Hamilton (concussion) is out at least two games. Bills: Ellison (high ankle sprain) and DE Ryan Denney (broken foot) won't play.
FAST FACTS: New Broncos DE Simeon Rice is 13th on the all-time list with 121 career sacks. ... The Bills have not reached the playoffs since 1999.
--OT Adam Meadows is back and healthy after missing three preseason games with a calf injury. If right tackle Erik Pears struggles early in the season, Meadows could step in.
--DE Tim Crowder missed practice Thursday with an ankle injury. He missed two preseason games with an ankle injury, and might miss Sunday's game at Buffalo.
--DE Simeon Rice has looked good in practice, according to the coaches. Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said Rice could play 15-20 snaps against Buffalo.
--CB Champ Bailey probably won't move around this week to shadow Buffalo's Lee Evans. Broncos assistant head coach/defense Jim Bates said with Dre Bly on the other side he isn't likely to move Bailey around much, although he didn't completely rule out doing it this week.
--CB Karl Paymah hasn't participated in practice this week. He suffered a concussion last week. He is unlikely to play this week. The Broncos' fourth cornerback will be Jeff Shoate if Paymah is out.
--QB J.P. Losman was named one of the team's six captains for 2006. Losman opens his third season as the Bills' starter on Sunday against Denver at home.
--RG Brad Butler, who won the starting right guard job despite missing most of training camp with a hamstring injury, will take on Pro Bowl DT Sam Adams of Denver on Sunday. The availability of Adams is always in question, however.
--LT Jason Peters will be looking out for Simeon Rice on Sunday against Denver. The Broncos signed the pass-rush specialist this week after he was released by Tampa Bay and coach Mike Shanahan suggested Rice may play 15 to 20 snaps.
--CB Terrence McGee, who is coming off a concussion, is practicing this week and will start Sunday against Denver.
--DE Ryan Denney will miss at least one month more with his broken foot, coach Dick Jauron said. Denney had surgery midway through camp.
INSIDE THE CAMPS:
The Broncos jumbled their backfield before the start of this season. Mike Bell and Cecil Sapp moved from tailback to fullback before the final preseason game, and it appears they will remain there. Selvin Young and Andre Hall, who were fifth and fourth respectively on the depth chart at tailback to start training camp, are now Travis Henry's primary backups. Young was a surprise. He was undrafted out of Texas this year, but led the team in rushing this preseason when injuries to Henry and Bell gave him an opportunity. As of now, he appears to be Henry's primary backup even though he didn't have much experience in college -- he split carries as a senior -- and has never played in the NFL.
"To a lot of people that would be a concern," running backs coach Bobby Turner said. "Would you like to have an eight-year veteran or 10-year veteran? Sure you would. But that doesn't bother me."
The Broncos have turned many unknown tailbacks into productive players, and they think Young could be the next in line. Sapp and Bell competed to be Henry's backup all preseason, before the last game when both moved to fullback. Kyle Johnson, the starter since 2004 at fullback, was released. Sapp has played fullback in the NFL before. Bell had never played fullback. Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said he knew Bell probably wasn't thrilled to move to fullback, but hinted Bell might have needed to move to stay on the roster.
"This is all new to me right now, man," Bell said. "I'm sorry I'm not like the happiest camper right now. But I've been pretty appreciative I'm still playing. But you have to take it one day at a time and adjust. This is a big time adjustment for me, because I've been playing tailback my whole life.
"So I'm not going to be jumping for joy, but then again, you got to be appreciative I'm still playing football."
The game inside the game Sunday at Ralph Wilson Stadium will be Bills wide receiver Lee Evans taking on Denver cornerback Champ Bailey. While the Broncos say they don't plan to have Bailey shadow Evans every play, it's a good bet he'll be on the talented fourth-year pro on all long-distance downs.
Evans' 24 touchdowns -- including 15 of 20 yards or longer -- since 2004 are eighth most in the NFL in that time frame. He has developed great chemistry with quarterback J.P. Losman on the deep ball. Bailey, meanwhile, is the league's interception leader since 2005 with 18, four more than Kansas City's Ty Law. Bailey has been to seven consecutive Pro Bowls.
"No question he's good," Evans said. "He's been a Pro Bowler, All-Pro, all of that. To be good, you have to go against the best. It's a matchup I certainly look forward to."
The Bills are hoping for better help from their other receivers this season to free up Evans. That's a tall order Sunday for Peerless Price, Josh Reed and Roscoe Parrish because Denver's other starting corner is no cupcake. Dre Bly has 33 interceptions since 1999, fourth most in the NFL.
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