The Buffalo Bills will be looking to rebound Sunday against the Carolina Panthers after a heartbreaking Week 1 loss to the New England Patriots.
While the Bills defense did a good job against quarterback Tom Brady and the Patriots offense, they will have their hands full with Panthers quarterback Cam Newton.
Newton is a dual threat -- he's a good passing quarterback and can run the ball well -- and is the best player on the Panthers offense. While the Panthers have a decent running game with running back DeAngelo Williams and a solid passing attack with wide receiver Steve Smith and tight end Greg Olsen, Newton is the key to both.
Here are the Bills' five keys to victory Sunday against the Panthers:
(1) Contain Cam Newton. If Cam Newton has a great game against the Bills, the Panthers will be a difficult team to beat.
Newton could put up good numbers against the Bills defense, but you can't allow him to make too many big plays. The Bills defense played well against Brady and the Patriots. If they have a repeat performance against Newton, the Bills will have a chance to win.
The trouble for the Bills will be Newton's Week 1 performance. He's coming off a mediocre game against the Seattle Seahawks. He only threw for 125 yards -- the lowest single-game total in his three-year career -- and rushed for 38 yards. Newton will want to improve on those numbers.
It will be a challenge. But if the Bills can limit Newton, they could pick up their first win of the season.
(2) C.J. Spiller needs to bounce back with a good game. Spiller only rushed for 41 yards against the Patriots. He also lost a fumble. That's probably not the start Spiller wanted.
If the Bills are going to win this season, they need their running game to be a factor. On Sunday, thanks to Fred Jackson, the Bills were able to have some success on the ground. But with Spiller only averaging 2.4 yards per carry, the Bills' running game didn't have much of an impact.
That needs to change against the Panthers. It will be a tough task. The Panthers were able to limit Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch last week. The Panthers have a good defense, so Spiller will need to take advantage of whatever opportunities he gets Sunday.
(3) The Bills need a more effective passing attack. Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson threw for 320 yards against the Panthers defense, so the unit does have some trouble defending the pass.
The Bills should take advantage of the opportunity. Put the ball in rookie quarterback E.J. Manuel's hands and let him get his receivers involved.
One observation from Week 1 is that the Bills passing attack wasn't a major factor. While Manuel did throw for two touchdown passes, there weren't many big plays in the passing game against the Patriots. Penalties were a problem, but some receivers didn't get a lot of action. (T.J. Graham, the team's No. 2 receiver, did not record a reception and he only had one target. The team's leading receiver? Fred Jackson, who caught four passes for 41 yards.)
The Bills need to get more players involved in the passing game. It's nice to see Jackson and Spiller get their share of touches. But guys like Graham, Robert Woods and Scott Chandler also need to be part of the attack.
(4) Bills need to be better on third downs -- on both sides of the ball. The Bills only converted four of their 13 third-down opportunities on offense. One glaring miss was the drop by Stevie Johnson on third down late in the game. Keeping drives alive is important. The Bills' offense needs to have more success on third downs.
On defense, the Bills need to make more stops on third downs. The Patriots had 20 third-down opportunities against the Bills last week. They converted 11 of them, including key conversions down the stretch.
The Bills need more third-down conversions on offense and they need to allow fewer conversions on defense. It's that simple.
(5) A big play (or two) on defense wouldn't hurt. The Bills received a boost last week when safety Da'Norris Searcy returned a fumble 74 yards for a touchdown. They caught another break later when Tom Brady fumbled a snap at the Bills' 1-yard-line that was recovered by linebacker Kiko Alonso.
You won't get a defensive touchdown every week, but it sure would be nice. And even if it's not a touchdown, forcing some turnovers helps. The Bills forced three turnovers against the Patriots, which put them in a position to win the game.
If the defense does that again Sunday, the Bills will be in a good position to beat the Panthers.
PREDICTION: The Bills showed they can compete against one of the AFC's best teams. Now they will get a chance to compete against a solid NFC squad.
I'm going to go with the Bills in this one. I think it will be close, but if the Bills can put enough pressure on Newton, they should be able to win this game. And if Spiller has a good game and the Bills passing attack has success, they should come out on top.
SCORE: Bills 27 Panthers 20