Bears running game vs. Bills run defense
Led by Matt Forte, the Bears were tied for seventh in the league last season in average yards per carry (4.5 yards). Up the middle, they’ll face the Bills’ strength with defensive tackles Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus – the Bills allowed 3.90 yards per carry up the gut last season, and were also good over right guard, where the Bears love to run behind Kyle Long, but overall, Buffalo had the fifth-worst run ‘D’. The advantage comes in the second level – assuming the Bears get Forte outside behind Jermon Bushrod, as the Bills’ linebackers will be without suspended Nigel Bradham.
Bears passing game vs. Bills pass defense
Buffalo has a good, young corner in Stephon Gilmore, the speedy Leodis McKelvin and a physical safety in Aaron Williams, but that’s still no match for Jay Cutler’s weapons of Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery and Martellus Bennett. Bradham was also used in Buffalo’s defense to cover tight ends, so another hit for them in his absence. The one area the Bills could gain an advantage is with their outstanding pass rush, led by Mario Williams off the edge against Jordan Mills, who missed the entire preseason, and Kyle Williams on the interior. It’ll be a big test for the O-line, and it’s the only chance the Bills slow Cutler and the passing game down. Remember — the Bills' defensive coordinator knows the Bears well — former Lions head coach Jim Schwartz.
Bills running game vs. Bears run defense
If the Bills upset the Bears at Soldier Field, it’s because of this matchup. With the electric C.J. Spiller, dual-threat and ageless Fred Jackson and former Eagle Bryce Brown, Buffalo can run it all over a defense. Last season, the Bills were second in the NFL, averaging 144.2 rushing yards per game. The Bears spent all offseason revamping the defensive line to fix the worst run defense in the league, and it’ll get tested right off the bat. The linebackers had a shaky preseason, to say the least, and may struggle with the elusiveness of Spiller and Jackson in the flat. Out of the shotgun, the Bills love to get yards up the middle behind Eric Wood, and that’s where Jeremiah Ratliff and Stephen Paea need to clog the running lanes.
Bills passing game vs. Bears passing defense
As bad as the Bears’ defense was last season, the cornerbacks shined, and now they have Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings back to go along with rookie Kyle Fuller. Sammy Watkins may not be 100 percent following a rib injury in the preseason, but he will be the prime focus of the Bears’ pass ‘D’. Whichever corner gets that task will need safety help over the top. The Bills also have Robert Woods and Mike Williams, but the Bears should have a much better pass rush with Jared Allen and Lamarr Houston, and attacking the right side of the Bills’ line is the best way to get to second-year signalcaller EJ Manuel.
Special teams assessment
It’s a bunch of new faces on the Bears’ special teams, and incumbent Robbie Gould is still the unit’s strength, and the coverage teams, which struggled mightily in the preseason, will have to keep McKelvin from breaking off a big punt return. Rookie punter Pat O’Donnell needs to be smart and consistent kicking to McKelvin. Dan Carpenter had his best season last year (33-of-36 in field goals), his first with Buffalo. The Bears open the season with Micheal Spurlock and Santonio Holmes at returner, so, still questions remain in terms of replacing the production of Devin Hester.
Sunday’s overall edge
The Bills are expected to be better, but arguably their biggest question mark comes at the most important position on the field. Manuel may have a bright future with a great arm and some mobility, but he had a rough rookie season and is still a work in progress, facing a veteran Bears defensive line. We’ll learn a lot more about how much better the Bears’ run defense is in this game, but like last year, this will come down to how good the Bears’ offense is compared to Buffalo’s defense, and that should get them off to a 1-0 start to the 2014 season.