by Mario "Game" Granata
Many are touting is as David vs. Goliath. Some are even comparing it to Rocky vs. Drago. However, the one thing that people fail to realize with those comparisons is that David and Rocky weathered the storm and we able to come out victorious. This is the task that the Buffalo Bills face, as they travel to Sports Authority Field, to take on the Super Bowl favorite, Denver Broncos. Now, even NFL experts such as Mark Schlereth are predicting a 100-0 Denver victory, however, what else would you expect in a match-up that sees the Bills as 10 point underdogs, and Schlereth, a former Bronco who has hoisted 2 Lombardi trophies in 1997 and 1998. This game has some interesting match-ups in and of itself that need a closer look to determine the final outcome.
Manning vs. Schwartz – From 2002-2008 Jim Schwartz was a defensive coordinator with the Tennessee Titans who had the ‘privilage’ of playing a Peyton Manning led Indianapolis Colts twice a year. 14 times, Schwartz had to game plan against the eventual 5-time NFL MVP, and in those contests, Peyton Manning achieved a 9-5 record. However, Manning was going against the likes of Steve McNair, Kerry Collins, Vince Young, and dare I say, Billy Volek in those contests. Taking a deeper look at the numbers, Peyton Manning has thrown for over 300 yards 4 times while throwing for under 200 yards 5 times. Those are not very daunting numbers coming from the almighty Peyton.
The more telling stat in the battles that Manning has had against Schwartz is the rushing attack. Peyton Manning led teams, against Schwartz are a perfect 9-0 when Manning has a running back are over 80 yards rushing. If you are running the numbers at home, when Manning is left to win the game, and his running backs get less than 80 yards, he is 0-5. When looking at the game that the Broncos had against the St. Louis Rams, it doesn’t come as a shock that Jeff Fisher, who Schwartz coached with, and Gregg Williams, who succeeded Williams in Tennessee, were able to game plan against Manning. If you think that Schwartz called his former head coach Fisher this past week, then you would be correct.
Emmanual Sanders vs. Corey Graham – Since the Buffalo Bills acquired Corey Graham in the offseason, a player who was able to intercept Manning twice in a divisional matchup in 2012 when the Baltimore Ravens traveled to Denver, taking one of those interceptions for a touchdown, this match-up was probably circled on his schedule. Although an injury to Leodis McKelvin is what thrust Graham into a starting role, the Bills have allowed 0-passing touchdowns since he has been the starter. Graham is a physical corner, who is not shy to coming up and stopping the run, and with the experience playing against Sanders when he was with Pittsburgh, and in their match-ups never had more than 70 yards receiving, look for Graham to be the proverbial ‘x-factor’ this Sunday against the Broncos.
Jerry Hughes vs. Denver’s O-Line – The “Architect” Doug Whaley was able to trade the Colts for Jerry Hughes, and his off-season move has proved to be vital to the success of the Buffalo Bills defense. When one looks at the teams that Whaley has put together as a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers, and the lunatic outside rusher that occupied that spot, there are some comparisons that could be made to Joey Porter, a man who has terrorized Peyton Manning in some big game match-ups. Porter played on the outside in Dick Lebeau’s 3-4 scheme in Pittsburgh, and Hughes, although in Schwartz’s 4-3, is labeled as a defensive end, he plays a similar role to Porter as a outside edge rusher. Looking at the history of Manning vs. Porter, one doesn’t have to look further than the 21-18 victory that the Steelers secured in 2005, en route to their 5th Super Bowl title.
Wes Welker vs. Nickell Robey – This is the match-up that scares the analysts the most when it comes to the Bills versus the Broncos this Sunday. Nickell Robey has had some trouble maintaining some consistency against slot receivers this season. Eddie Royal, Julian Edelman and Jarvis Landry have enjoyed success against Robey, and if Peyton Manning knows anything, its how to expose a weakness against an opponent. With Stephon Gilmore on Demaryius Thomas and Graham on Sanders, this will leave Robey on an island with Welker when the Broncos go to 3 wide receiver sets. Be sure to pay attention to this match-up when Sunday rolls around, because it could be the deciding factor in the outcome.
For all intensive purposes, the Buffalo Bills should lose this game against the Denver Broncos. They are a promising team, toiling in the basement of the NFL for a decade-and-a-half and no one, including much of the demographic in the 716 are giving the Bills a shot to win this Sunday. But the Buffalo Bills have surprised a lot of teams and fans this season, and despite the quarterback change, despite the injuries, despite it all, this defense has delivered in some key spots to give the Bills a 7-5 record, and a shot to doing something that they haven’t done in 14 years…playoff bound. When one thinks about it, if the Bills were to eventually make the playoffs, Denver along with New England and Green Bay are the caliber of teams that they would have to beat to win it all, and the first step to accomplishing that goal is at “mile-high” this Sunday.