GAME SNAPSHOTKICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 ET
TV: FOX, Sam Rosen, Bill Maas, Jay Glazer
SERIES: 4th meeting. Bills lead series 3-0. In the last meeting on Dec. 9, 2001, the Bills battled back from a 24-6 halftime deficit to beat the Panthers 25-24 at Ralph Wilson Stadium. Travis Henry won the game on a 1-yard touchdown run. But not all losses are bad, and here's proof. At the time, both teams were terrible and the loss essentially allowed the Panthers to "clinch" the No. 2 pick in the following year's NFL Draft, behind the expansion Houston Texans. With that pick, the Panthers chose North Carolina defensive end Julius Peppers, who has turned out to be a stud.
2005 RANKINGS: Panthers: offense 24th (26th rush, 15th pass); defense 7th (4th rush, 18th pass). Bills: offense 29th (15th rush, 29th pass); defense 21st (31st rush, 6th pass)
KEYS TO THE GAME: Strength against strength, weakness against weakness. The Panthers' one-dimensional offense led by WR Steve Smith goes up against the league's No. 6 pass defense. Of course, the Bills' pass defense ranking is boosted by they fact they can't stop the run. The question is, can the Panthers' offense averaging a league-low 3.0 yards per carry do anything against a Bills defense allowing 149.7 rushing yards per game. Expect Carolina to stick with the hot hand if either RB Stephen Davis or DeShaun Foster can get rolling. The Bills are sticking with QB J.P. Losman for another week, possibly because his mobility gives him an edge over Kelly Holcomb against the Panthers' strong pass rush. But if RB Willis McGahee can't make headway in the running game, Buffalo's struggling offensive line will struggle to protect either quarterback in long passing situations.
FAST FACTS: Panthers: QB Jake Delhomme averages an NFL-high 8.14 yards per pass attempt. ... WR Steve Smith needs five receiving yards to break his career high (1,110 in 2003). Bills: Have won all three previous meetings. ... Have scored on the opening drive in four of Losman's five career starts.
--WR Steve Smith leads the league in receptions, receiving yards and touchdown receptions. Look for him to have another solid week against a Buffalo secondary that gave up four TD passes last week to Drew Brees.
--RB Stephen Davis, who carried only four times last week, could see more action in the snow against Buffalo on Sunday, especially if DeShaun Foster is unable to play.
--TE Michael Gaines could make his third straight start for Kris Mangum, who still has not returned to practice and remains questionable with a knee injury. Mangum has missed the past two starts.
--OT Travelle Wharton looks to rebound after giving up two sacks last week and being flagged for two penalties.
--LB Dan Morgan remains doubtful for this week's game against Buffalo.
--LB Chris Draft will replace Dan Morgan (sprained ankle) if Morgan can't play.
--QB Kelly Holcomb, who suffered a severe concussion against the Kansas City Chiefs last week, has received full medical clearance to resume playing. He'll back up J.P. Losman on Sunday at home against Carolina. "My head's not hurting anymore," Holcomb said. "I feel a lot better today than I did last week."
--QB J.P. Losman, who has been named the starter for Sunday's home game against Carolina, has been sacked 17 times in just six games. But Losman has avoided numerous sacks with his legs. Last week at San Diego, when he has sacked six times, he dodged at least that many takedowns and also had a 30-yard scramble to set up a TD.
--KR/CB Terrence McGee received only one kickoff return last week at San Diego before re-injuring his hamstring. It was good for 42 yards, helping him maintain his league-leading 31.6-yard average. McGee has been bothered for weeks by his sore hamstring and is taking limited practice reps again in hopes of being ready for Sunday's game at home against Carolina.
--T Greg Jerman, a key reserve who sat out three games with a high ankle sprain, is close to full strength and will be given the OK to play Sunday against Carolina. With struggling Mike Williams as their only backup tackle, the Bills would welcome Jerman's return for the season's stretch drive.
--LB London Fletcher, who has had 36 tackles the past two games, will have another busy day Sunday against Carolina. The Panthers have a pair of 220-plus-pound running backs in Stephen Davis and DeShaun Foster who have combined for 813 yards. Davis is averaging just 3.0 yards per rush, but he has 12 rushing touchdowns, helping Carolina achieve the league's No. 1 red zone offense.
INSIDE THE CAMPS:Panthers:
You would think Keary Colbert would be spitting mad.
Fourteen catches in 10 games? C'mon. Those are high school numbers.
But the laid-back Colbert doesn't seem worried about what the media perceives to be a sophomore slump.
Colbert, who was held without a catch for the fourth time this season last Sunday by Chicago, insists that the only number he's concerned about is the Panthers' number of wins.
"I just want to get a W. I don't know how many times I have to say it," Colbert said after repeatedly being questioned about his dismal numbers. "We're trying to win. We're 7-3 and we have a goal to get somewhere. That's all I care about."
Well, that's nice, but at some point if you want to stay a starter in this league, you have to produce.
And Colbert might want to begin caring a little more about contributing. Last week, he played the first series for the Panthers, but then wasn't on the field for most of the first half as the team turned to Rod Gardner.
Nonetheless, coach John Fox continues to support Colbert and his 1.4 catches per game.
"There's a lot more that goes into it than whether a guy is open," Fox said. "You've got to protect, and you've got to get them the ball.
"There are a lot of things that go into somebody catching a pass. Sometimes there's a guy in the quarterback's face. Sometimes the opponent interferes with them. Sometimes the quarterback misses them. There is a lot that goes into passing and catching the ball, not just whether the receiver gets open."
So then why, if Fox is so happy with Colbert's play, is Gardner beginning to see more action?
"Basically, he and Rod Gardner have been splitting time for quite a few weeks. It's just based on personnel group and the rotation. But they've been rotating for quite some time now, not just (against Chicago)," Fox said.
Out of the frying pan and into the fire. That's how the Buffalo Bills' torched secondary is feeling this week.
After giving up a season-high 339 yards and four touchdown passes in last Sunday's 48-10 loss at San Diego, the Bills must wrestle with record-setting Carolina Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith and quarterback Jake Delhomme this weekend.
Smith is having a Jerry Rice-like season, leading the NFL with 72 catches for 1,106 yards and nine TDs. The diminutive fifth-year pro out of Utah had a breakout 2003 season (88 receptions) during the Panthers' unexpected march to the NFL championship, but broke his leg in last year's season opener.
But he's back better than new.
Smith leads the NFL with a 110.6-yards-per-game average and is tied for the lead in third-down catches (22). In last week's loss at Chicago, Smith set a team record with 14 catches for 169 yards, his seventh 100-yard game of the year.
"He's an amazing threat," Bills cornerback Terrence McGee said. "They get the ball to him whether he's covered or not covered. He's having a great year. A guy like that, you need to get your hands on him and limit his space, slow him down. Not many people have even accomplished that."
The Bills are expected to use a combination of defensive backs to contain Smith and will take their chances that Carolina's other receivers won't hurt them. Ricky Proehl, Keary Colbert and Rod Gardner have combined for 38 catches for 521 yards and four TDs.
"He's making a ton of plays even against double teams," McGee said of Smith. "You have to make a game plan around him and force the other guys to do something."
It's a Catch-22, veteran free safety Troy Vincent said.
"Anytime you don't mention the other guy's name, he's the one who beats you," Vincent said. "We won't do anything Steve Smith hasn't already seen. We'll roll coverage to him, play some one-on-one; we'll do what's necessary to at least contain him. But to stop a guy like Steve? That's tough. They move him around and he lines up all different places."