After two straight wins on the road, the Bills are back home this week against another opponent from the NFC West. They're already 2-0 against that division. It's the Bills and the 49ers Sunday at New Era Field. Here are the top six storylines heading into the practice week:
1. KAP AT THE CAP
The Niners pulled the trigger on Tuesday announcing that Colin Kaepernick will get the start Sunday in Orchard Park. It's Kaepernick's first start since midseason last year, and he's lost 10 of his last 13 NFL starts. But after four straight losses, San Francisco is looking for a boost for its offense which is currently ranked second to last in the league.
Bills Head Coach Rex Ryan anticipated a QB switch from the NIners. And he says the change from the previous starter, Blake Gabbert, to Kaepernick, is not that dramatic.
"They are similar in a lot of ways," Ryan said this week. "They both can run. They'll look for the obvious matchup first and if it's not there, they will take the ball and run with it."
Kaepernick has actually played against the Bills. Four years ago, at the tail end of a 45-3 Niners blowout over Buffalo in San Francisco, Kaepernick mopped up for Niners starter Alex Smith. Kaepernick threw one pass for seven yards in the game.
2. CAN THE NINERS CASH IN FROM THE RED ZONE?
If Kaepernick and the 49ers offense can move the ball effectively, they may find it tough going once they get inside the Bills 20-yard line.
Buffalo has the NFL's number one red zone defense (tied with Kansas City). The Bills have allowed just six touchdowns on their opponents 16 trips inside the 20-yard line, giving up touchdowns 37.5% of the time. Even more impressive, the Bills have forced three turnovers in the red zone so far this year.
The credit for the red zone success goes to the coaching staff, specifically defensive assistant Rob Ryan, according to Bills CB Nickell Robey-Coleman.
"Rob's red zone schemes are second to none," Robey-Coleman said this week, in an appearance on The John Murphy Show."We talk about that every time we hit the showers – 'that red zone, we aren't giving up anything.'"
3. FAST START = SUCCESS FOR THE BILLS
One constant through Buffalo's three game win streak is the fast start they've enjoyed in each game. They went up 17-0 in the first half of the win against Arizona. Buffalo had a 13-0 first half lead in New England. And last Sunday in LA, the Bills built a 13-3 lead in the second quarter.
Center Eric Wood says jumping out to an early lead was part of the plan against the Rams.
"We wanted to jump out and make them play from behind," Wood told WGR Radio this week. "We thought that could be a recipe for success and we did it."
Early leads help the Bills lock into their strong rushing game and give the defense a chance to tee off and rush the opponents' passer.
4. BILLS STRENGTH VS. NINERS WEAKNESS
The Bills have re-established themselves as one of the NFL's top rushing teams on offense through the first third of the season. Buffalo's rushing attack is third in the league, and first in average yards per carry (5.1 yards per rush).
And the Niners are second to last in the league in rushing defense, allowing 147 yards per game.
In their four-game losing streak, San Francisco has given up 100 yards on the ground to Carolina's Fozzy Whittaker, 106 yards and two touchdowns to Seattle's Christine Michael, 138 yards and a touchdown to the Cowboys' Ezekiel Elliott, and 157 yards and two touchdowns to Arizona's David Johnson.
- CAN THE BILLS AIR ATTACK GET OFF THE GROUND?**
As strong as Buffalo has been on the ground, it's been a struggle to move the ball through the air, especially with top receiver Sammy Watkins on injured reserve. The Bills are last in the league in passing offense.
But close observers say the failure of the passing attack is not all on the shoulders of Tyrod Taylor.
Andy Benoit, a writer and analyst for Sports Illustrated's MMQB website, says he sees Taylor making significant progress as a passer from a year ago and even earlier this season.
"He looks like a different quarterback, a much calmer quarterback," Benoit said Monday in an appearance on The John Murphy Show. "You can tell by where his eyes are going on the field when he drops back."
"I think he looks better with less on his plate. They're asking him to do less and he's playing better because of it," Benoit says.
- STREAKS COLLIDE AT NEW ERA FIELD** Buffalo brings a three-game win streak to Sunday's matchup with the Niners and the Bills are looking for their first four-game win streak since 2008. San Francisco has lost four in a row.