BUFFALO BILLS (1-0) AT CAROLINA PANTHERS (1-0)
SERIES HISTORY: 7th regular-season meeting. Bills lead series, 5-1. Buffalo has won the last two matchups, including the most recent in 2013.
KEYS TO THE GAME: First-year Bills coach Sean McDermott is trying to avoid his first loss in his new job while facing an opponent he knows well. McDermott spent the past six seasons as Carolina's defensive coordinator. Look for Carolina to continue to expand what QB Cam Newton can do now that he has played a full game and had a healthy dose of practice time after some limitations throughout training camp while recovering from shoulder surgery. The Panthers will want to test the Bills' secondary with downfield passes to see what cracks are evident.
The Bills must find a way to be more dangerous in the passing game. Against the Jets, they stayed close to the vest and QB Tyrod Taylor threw mostly short passes to his backs and tight ends. He targeted his wide receivers only eight times, and they combined for just four catches for 83 yards and a TD. The Panthers are stout in the front seven and it may be difficult for the Bills to get LeSean McCoy going, though they will certainly try, so Taylor must take some shots downfield in an effort to bite some big chunks of yardage.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Panthers WR Kelvin Benjamin vs. Bills CB Tre'Davious White. White had a very nice debut last week, but it would have been difficult for him not to against the Jets' weak receivers. We should get a better feel for the first-rounder this week, especially if he matches up with Benjamin. White is 5-foot-11 and 192 pounds, while Benjamin is 6-5, 245. That's a huge physical disparity that the Panthers may look to exploit because White does not switch sides in Buffalo's zone, so Carolina could get the matchup often..
--Bills C Eric Wood vs. Panthers DT Star Lotulelei. Lotulelei has been disruptive during the preseason and the opener, but he'll be dealing with a wily veteran in Wood. The Bills are counting on moving bodies along the offensive front in order to spring RB LeSean McCoy loose. If Lotulelei can dictate movement along the front, it could open lanes for Carolina linebackers to make more plays.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Panthers WR Curtis Samuel: The speedy rookie out of Ohio State plays in his first home game after a rather quiet debut. He's one of the players coach Ron Rivera would like to see on the field more often, particularly with his potential to stretch defenses. The second-round draftee didn't have a reception in the opener.
FAST FACTS: Bills QB Tyrod Taylor rushed for 38 yards in Week 1 and set a franchise record for most career rushing yards by a QB (1,186). .. Buffalo RB LeSean McCoy had 159 scrimmage yards (110 rushing) last week. He has gone over 100 in 66 games since entering league in 2009, the most in the NFL. ... Buffalo S Micah Hyde notched an interception last week and has nine INTs since 2014, tied for seventh among NFL safeties. ... Panthers QB Cam Newton passed for two TDs last week. He threw for 229 yards and two TDs in the last meeting. He is the only active QB with at least 20,000 passing yards (21,943) and 3,000 rushing yards (3,569). ... Carolina rookie RB Christian McCaffrey totaled 85 yards from scrimmage (47 receiving) in his NFL debut last week. He led the team with five catches. ... Carolina LB Luke Keuchly made seven tackles and hauled in an interception in Week 1. He totaled 14 tackles and an INT in the last meeting. In eight home games vs. the AFC, he has 87 tackles (10.9 per game), a sack, a forced fumble and two interceptions. Since 2012, he leads the NFL with 700 tackles and leads NFL linebackers with 13 interceptions.
PREDICTION: McDermott isn't the only ex-Panther with the Bills. First-year Bills general manager Brandon Beane spent 19 years in the Carolina organization, including the past two as assistant general manager. Perhaps that's why the Bills appear to be building a roster with a Carolina recipe. But too many ingredients are still missing.
OUR PICK: Panthers, 35-17.