The Buffalo Bills come into Chicago with a second-year quarterback, and a defense that has already been hit by the injury bug.
We asked some questions of Buffalo Rumblings editor-in-chief Brian Galliford to get some insights into what's going on in Buffalo, and how they feel about the matchup this week. Make sure to follow Brian on Twitter (@BrianGalliford) for up-top-date Buffalo Bills coverage.
You can check out Dane's answers to Brian's questions right here. A big thanks to Brian, and here's to a happy healthy game that sees the Bears come out ahead.
1. The infighting between the front office and the coaching staff has popped back up into the news. Can you provide a background on how it got to this?
That report from Jason La Canfora was overblown in a few key ways, but the parts he got right - that head coach Doug Marrone is a combustible, moody personality, that he, GM Doug Whaley and team president Russ Brandon had a fight in clear view of reporters and players before a practice last week - have been going on for several months. I can't imagine that this is anything more serious than these guys acknowledging the problem sitting in front of them: trying to quickly end a 14-year playoff drought with one of the league's shakiest quarterback positions while simultaneously facing the possibility of losing their jobs after the team is sold in the next 1-3 months. It's a high-pressure situation, and I imagine that's yielding a bit of extra stress.
2. What does EJ Manuel need to do to take the next step to mature his game?
It would be nice if he had but one step to take. Sensing pressure; progressing quickly through reads; looking off defensive backs; consistently solid ball placement; these are all critical areas of quarterback play in which Manuel has room to make gargantuan leaps. Bears fans may be interested in this comprehensive scouting report that we put together back in December after Manuel's rookie season came to an end; it'll provide a baseline idea of what Manuel was last year, and how the Bears can go about attacking him.
3. The loss of Kiko Alonso is a bummer for anyone who likes to watch good defense. What will be the plan at LB without him?
Good question - because not only are they without Alonso, they are without his replacement, Nigel Bradham, who is serving a one-game suspension. Bradham is not Alonso by any stretch, but he is a top-tier athlete, and one of the fastest players at his position in the league. Brandon Spikes will be Buffalo's best linebacker on Sunday, and while he's excellent against the run, he's equally weak in coverage. Keith Rivers is a veteran that could see a lot of playing time, as well, and rookie Preston Brown will fill in for Bradham. That trio of Spikes, Rivers, and Brown leaves a lot to be desired from an overall athleticism standpoint, so they will need to focus on positioning and sound tackling in the passing game.
4. If you can pull one player off the Bears and put them on the Bills active roster, who and why?
I imagine that most every week of the season, when this question pops up, I'm going to be defaulting to the opponent's starting quarterback. If Buffalo had a legitimate NFL quarterback, they'd be a very serious playoff contender, at bare minimum. They have a talented roster, and that position is holding them back. Jay Cutler is more than good enough to take this Bills team to the postseason in our hypothetical scenario.
5. Score prediction?
I'm on the record for Bears 31, Bills 20. The Bills' strength is their running game, which matches up well with a Bears defense that, even if improved, was still an obvious weak point for them last year. I just believe that the Bears' home-field advantage (Buffalo is beyond awful in most road games) and their potentially league-leading passing attack is too much for the Bills to match up with, even though I think Buffalo is not getting enough credit for their talent heading into this matchup.
Thanks again Brian. Best of luck in the AFC East this year.