Before the season began, I made the not-so-bold, close-to-copout prediction that the Bills would finish this season 8-8. The season obviously has not played out close to how I envisioned it, but do you blame me for wanting a win over the Eagles badly just to say I was right? The Bills have the chance to finish a season with a non-losing record for the first time since 2004, when Drew Bledsoe led the Bills to a 9-7 record. It's been an unconventional trip for the Bills, but the opportunity is one that they will certainly fight for come tomorrow afternoon.
The Eagles, meanwhile, are also playing their final home game with a similar 8-8 goal in mind. Boosted by several highly productive players, most notably RB Brian Westbrook, the Eagles would seem to have the inside track at a blowout in the season finale. I've learned, however, to never count out this young Bills team. It's one last chance for many young players to prove they can start for this team going into the 2008 season; that alone makes a good performance against the Eagles worthwhile. Here's what Buffalo needs to do to beat Philly:
Offense: Negate the Negative Plays
Buffalo's offense got off to a red-hot start in last week's loss to the Giants, but could not sustain it through driving rains at Ralph Wilson Stadium. With a relatively mild forecast for tomorrow in Philadelphia (42 degrees, winds 5-10 mph, 20% chance of precipitation), the offense has a shot at ending the season - and Steve Fairchild's career as our offensive coordinator - on an uplifting note. In order to do that, they'll need to avoid negative plays; QB Trent Edwards threw three second-half interceptions in the Giants loss, two of which were returned for scores. The Eagles have that type of big-play ability as well.
The Eagles may be without safety Brian Dawkins and cornerback Lito Sheppard for this one, meaning that the Bills will take their shots through the air. If they do, look for the Eagles to try to match up stud DE Trent Cole (12.5 sacks) on Bills LT Kirk Chambers, filling in for the injured Jason Peters. Cole is one of the game's elite pass rushers, so the Bills will focus their attention on slowing him down for much of the game (making Jevon Kearse a happy man). The Bills, as usual, will attempt to establish Marshawn Lynch and Fred Jackson to eat clock and maintain balance, but if there are points to be scored in this contest, they'll come through the air.
Players to Watch: QB Trent Edwards, RB Marshawn Lynch, WR Roscoe Parrish
Defense: Gotta Contain Westbrook
Given the fact that Westbrook has already surpassed 2,000 yards from scrimmage this season (1291 ground, 714 air) and has scored 12 times, it's no secret that he'll be at the crux of Philadelphia's attack tomorrow. The shifty, crafty Westbrook is a modern day hybrid of Thurman Thomas and Marshall Faulk, and he's a true pro - in my humble opinion, he's been the best back in the NFL this season, ahead of Adrian Peterson, whom everybody is already anointing. The Bills certainly won't stop Westbrook given their recent monumental struggles in the rush game, but if they can keep him out of the end zone, it will help their chances of winning greatly.
Despite the relative success of Eagles quarterbacks this season (Donovan McNabb and A.J. Feely have combined for 3,660 yards and 23 scores), the Bills have an opportunity to make plays on McNabb in this one. The fleet-footed quarterback has been sacked 40 times this season, and the Eagles have given up 43 in total. Sure, the Bills don't exactly generate a lot of pressure on opposing quarterbacks, but they'll have an opportunity to - at a minimum - keep McNabb uncomfortable enough to force him into mistakes. Game on, Aaron Schobel (6.5 sacks this season, his lowest total since his 2001 rookie season).
Players to Watch: DE Aaron Schobel, LB Keith Ellison, CB Terrence McGee
Prediction: Bleeding Green Nation
As part of the usual 5 question swap we do each week with opposing bloggers, I asked BleedGreen of Bleeding Green Nation for his prediction on the game. Here, folks, was his response:
I'm not going to be that generous to the Bills. I think there's a chance they can pull one final upset, but more likely, they'll lose spectacularly for a second straight 7-9 season. My final score: Eagles 23, Bills 13.