(ALLEN PARK, MI)--After a 3-13 finish last year, who in their right mind would have thought the Buffalo Bills could be in playoff contention a year later?
But that's exactly where the 4-3 Bills find themselves. After blitzing Miami 23-10 Sunday, Buffalo is just one game back of the Dolphins (5-2). Now, with Miami quarterback Jay Fiedler out for four weeks, the New England Patriots (3-3) losing three straight and the New York Jets (2-4) stuck in the basement, Buffalo believes that it has a very good chance to take charge of the division.
They see Detroit (2-4) next up on their schedule, a team that hasn't won a road game in two seasons. Don't expect that to change this week. Detroit has improved and they will eventually get that long awaited road "w", but with Bledsoe and Co. on a roll, that doesn't look likely this week.
"I think people are probably going to start taking notice," Bills tight end Jay Riemersma said. "The Bills have a tradition here of being in the playoff hunt each and every year. And the last few years, we haven't done that. It's good to be back in that thick of things."
That's unfortunate for the Lions, who are catching Buffalo at their peak. The Bills offense is averaging over 30 points a game and Bills' receivers Eric Moulds and Peerless Price must be licking their chops at the thought of facing rookie corners in Chris Cash and Andre Goodman.
"Peerless is doing a great job for us,'' Bills quarterback Drew Bledsoe said. "He's a guy I didn't know that much about before I got here. But very quickly, once I got here, he established in my mind that he was a guy I could count on whenever I need him.''
The Bills also feature rusher Travis Henry, who's 631 rushing yards places him fourth best in the AFC. "We thought Travis would have a breakout year this year," said Bills coach Gregg Williams. "He's worked very hard to do that. The fact that we've been able to get more balance on offense has been good, and we're able to have a good team win by scoring in all three phases of our team (Sunday). It doesn't all have to fall on the quarterback's shoulders, and Travis Henry has been a very big part of that."
"I feel I get stronger the more times I touch the ball," said Henry. "Coach (Kevin) Gilbride (Bills offensive coordinator) is doing a great job mixing things up and giving me an opportunity to make plays."
The Bills defense has also improved. Buffalo's Nate Clements' three interceptions keyed the Bills win last week and sent notice that Buffalo won't be ran roughshod over. While the Bills are still giving up over 300 yards in total offense per game (345.3), they are #1 in the AFC in pass defense. Most of the damage has been done against them on the ground.
That plays right into the Lions strategy. Detroit would love to see another 30 carry, 170 game by running back James Stewart. Stewart said that last Sunday, in the Lions 23-20 overtime win against Chicago, the running game finally got into a rhythm. He said that the offensive line, the running back and the receivers were all getting 'used' to running the ball.
If the Lions have any chance to pull the upset, it's by establishing the ground game, keeping the clock running and moving the chains. Detroit would like to see Joey Harrington shake off his second half doldrums and provide the kind of play action and possession-passing attack Detroit needs to prevent Buffalo from committing an extra defender to the run game.
Harrington, meanwhile, is not fazed by the prospect of playing in the cold and windy conditions in Buffalo.
"I love it. Have you ever been to Oregon? The only thing you're missing is the rain. If we get some rain in Buffalo, I'll be happy. It doesn't affect me. It's something that both teams have to deal with. The team that deals with it the best is the team that comes out on top."
ANALYSIS: Detroit is up against it in this one. Buffalo is peaking early and Detroit is playing them in a tough place, Ralph Wilson stadium. The Lions have to hope for an emotional letdown on the part of the Bills after the crucial division win against Miami last week. The Lions need to turn Buffalo into a one-dimensional team by shutting down the running attack led by Travis Henry. Luther Elliss and Shaun Rogers will need to come up big by stuffing the run and pressuring Bledsoe. Detroit could get a shot in the arm from the play of situational pass rusher Kalimba Edwards, who's shown speed and quickness off the edge. Robert Porcher seems to have gotten a step slower.
If Detroit can play keep away from Bledsoe with a good ground attack and just enough passing to keep the Bills defense honest, they have a chance.
PICK: Detroit picked the wrong team in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Buffalo 31 - Detroit 20
Information from other sources including wire reports and press releases were used in the preparation of this article