Overview: Meaningful football is finally here! The Chicago Bears are gearing up for a visit from the Buffalo Bills this week in a matchup that will likely raise more question than it answers. The Bills are coming off a preseason in which they limped to a 1-4 record, with their only win coming against the Carolina Panthers 20-18. Starting quarterback E.J. Manuel struggled mightily during the preseason, prompting the Bills to sign recently released Chicago Bear Jordan Palmer as insurance. After one disastrous performance against the Detroit Lions, Palmer got his walking papers and the Bills resumed their search. Enter another player Bears fans are extremely familiar with in Kyle Orton. The fact that Buffalo signed Orton to a contract that has him making more money this year than Manuel will this year (about as much as Josh McCown is making to start for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers) tells me that Manuel is on a short leash as the starter. Manuel will get the start against the Bears this week, but if he continues to struggle, he could find himself watching from the sidelines sooner rather than later. The only question in my mind is how long it takes for Orton to digest the playbook.
Injuries: Linebacker appears to be the top concern for the Bills headed into week 1. Last year’s star, Kiko Alonso, was lost for the season at the beginning of training camp and a one game suspension for Nigel Bradham has forced rookie Preston Brown into the starting lineup. First round pick wide receiver Sammy Watkins has been sitting out practice with a rib injury, but is expected to play against the Bears.
Key Matchups: The apparent inefficiency of E.J. Manuel means that the Bills are likely to rely heavily on their running game in this one, which is an area that the Bears were less than stellar defending last season. C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson are both more than capable running backs, and I think this game should be a good test to see how far the Bears defensive unit has come since last year. On the other side of the ball, the Bills boast a pair of talented corner backs in Stephon Gilmore and Leodis McKelvin, but I don’t think they will be able to shut down the Bears’ dynamic duo of wide receivers in Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery. I’m also eager to see if the Bears’ offensive line can continue the consistency they began to develop last year against what should be a pretty ferocious Buffalo pass rush.
The Way I See It: I honestly don’t see any way that the Bears could be considered underdogs in this one. I expect Chicago’s offense to be even better than they were last season since it is their year in the system and the defense figures to be greatly improved, while the Bills seem to have a slew of issues that need to be resolved. It will be interesting to see if Buffalo will be willing to pull the trigger with Kyle Orton if E.J. Manuel has difficulty moving the offense. With only about a week to learn the offense, I don’t think a switch to Orton would have a significant effect on the outcome of this one, but I’m still intrigued to see if it happens.
What do you guys think? Will Orton be Buffalo’s starter by week 2? Will the Bears’ revamped defense be able to contain the Bills running game? Will the Bears win, or will the Bills pull off the upset? Let me know in the comment section.