Top 3 Individual Matchups
1. Demetrius Bell vs. Julius Peppers – Buffalo's left tackle may face his most challenging test thus far this season. Peppers is the most athletic pass rusher Bell has seen thus far and looks to be emerging from an early season funk. The Panthers all-time sack leader has four sacks and a forced fumble in his last two games.
2. Drayton Florence vs. Steve Smith – The Panthers will move Smith around in an effort to get him the ball more often and after last week's one catch four-yard performance, the playmaking receiver will be motivated to put up numbers this week. Florence is a physical corner, but there's not a lot of body for the Bills corner to get his hands on in Smith (5'9" 185).
3. Lee Evans vs. Richard Marshall – Facing a first-year starter in Marshall, Evans should have a decided advantage when it comes to gaining consistent separation on routes. Marshall has been tested a lot, which explains why he's the second-leading tackler in the Panthers secondary.
Top 2 Bills AdvantagesGood Advantage – Pass defense – The Bills have buttoned it down defending the pass this season. True, opponents have had success running, and haven't had to pass as much, but Buffalo already has 10 interceptions on the season with nine coming on the defensive side of the ball (one special teams) and rank fourth in the league in pass defense. The Panthers pass game meanwhile has been forgettable ranking 29th.
Best Advantage – Run game – Buffalo's running back tandem has not been ultra productive of late, but productive enough. Marshawn Lynch and Fred Jackson are now entering their fourth game as a one-two punch and should have success against a run front that's been struggling all season long surrendering almost 150 yards per game on the ground.
Bills Number One Must
Contain Panthers run game – Carolina's running back tandem is every bit as good as Buffalo's and last year they were better statistically. Coming off a game in which they combined to roll up 262 rushing yards, DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart enter Sunday's game confident. After surrendering the second-highest single game rushing yard total in team history last week to the Jets (318 yards) Buffalo has to really tighten up their gap control and keep the Panthers run game in check to be successful Sunday.
Scouting EyeDelhomme decline?Panthers starting QB Jake Delhomme has had a rough go of it the first six weeks of 2009. Tied for the league lead in interceptions with 10, the 11-year veteran has the fourth worst passer rating in football among starting quarterbacks (56.8). And his numbers only get worse in the fourth quarter (53) and on third downs (25.9). Putting the game in his hands would be the best approach for Buffalo's defense.
Run 'D' improving
Ever since chief run stuffer DT Ma'ake Kemoeatu was injured in the preseason, the Panthers have been scrambling to plug the hole in their defensive interior. With veteran Hollis Thomas now in the fold for the past couple of weeks it has improved.
Carolina has allowed 198 rushing yards over the last two games after giving up an average of 182.3 the first three games of the season. Always a physical front the Panthers have been jarring the ball loose from their opposing ball carriers with five forced fumbles just last week against Tampa.
Adding a Tank
To further improve their interior run front the Panthers swung a trade with the Kansas City Chiefs this past Tuesday just before the league's trade deadline acquiring DT Tank Tyler in exchange for a draft pick. Tyler, a former college teammate of John McCargo's at N.C. State had 17 career starts coming into this season. The three-year vet started all 16 games for the Chiefs last season.
Davis available?Though Julius Peppers garners a lot of the headlines for Carolina's defense there's another Panthers defender making plays. OLB Thomas Davis leads the team in tackles with 55 and is tied for second on the team in sacks behind Peppers. Last week he added an interception return which led to a touchdown in a seven-point win over Tampa.
Whether he plays this week however, is up in the air. Davis was added to the team's injury report on Thursday with a hamstring injury as he was unable to practice on Thursday and Friday. He's listed as questionable to Sunday's game.
Tight end targets
The Panthers have scored 10 touchdowns and not surprisingly six of them have come on the ground. Through five games the Panthers have four passing touchdowns, but none have been completed to any wide receivers including veterans Steve Smith and Mushin Muhammad.
All four of the team's touchdown passes this season have gone to their tight ends with starter Jeff King and Dante Rosario accounting for all four as they have two apiece. The two tight ends rank fourth and fifth on the team in receptions and receiving yards.
Continuity up frontCarolina's offensive line is all about continuity with all five starters from last season back in the fold. Last week they helped pave the way to a 267-yard rushing day against Tampa including a team record 16 rushing first downs and a 5.6 yards per carry average.
Last season the Panthers offensive line helped the team finish third in the NFL in rushing offense (152.3 yards per game) and second in yards per carry (4.8). The team rushed for 100 yards or more in 14 of their 16 regular season games last year, and over 200 yards four times.
Quote of the Week
"I'm anxious. The best part about being in this offense is the weapons. We just have to find a way to get the ball in Terrell's hands and Lee's hands and Marshawn and Fred and distribute the ball to those guys and put points on the board. I want to help the team win. That's all I'm here for. So if I get called on again, I'm going to go out there and do my best and hopefully get another victory."
--QB Ryan Fitzpatrick
Stat of the Week
Buffalo's defense has posted back-to-back games in which the opposing quarterback had a passer rating under 20. In Week 5, Cleveland QB Derek Anderson posted a passer rating of 15.1 and in Week 6 Jets QB Mark Sanchez had a passer rating of 6.8. The last time an NFL team did that in back-to-back games was 1990 when Minnesota's defense turned the trick.
Milestones in reach
Jairus Byrd needs one interception to record picks in three straight games.
Lee Evans needs 29 receiving yards to reach 5,000 in his career.
Rian Lindell (666) needs four points to pass Scott Norwood (670) for second on the Bills all-time scoring list.
Final noteRyan Fitzpatrick has led his team to wins in his last four appearances stretching back to his final three starts last season.