The battle of the rookie quarterbacks is on: EJ Manuel vs. Mike Glennon -- and of course, the rest of their teams. Glennon may have been the best quarterback so far this year, but he definitely took a step backwards last week. EJ Manuel hasn't been very consistent or good, really, but every Sunday brings opportunity for better play. He'll have a tough go of it against the Bucs' pass defense, though -- but then Glennon doesn't exactly have an easier assignment, either.
Buccaneers running game vs. Bills run defense
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers appeared to have fixed their running game midway through this season, when Mike James and Bobby Rainey were destroying opponents on the ground every week. That didn't last, though: the Bucs couldn't move the ball with their running backs against the Detroit Lions or Carolina Panthers, both stellar run defenses.
The Bucs' offense relies heavily on the run to set up everything else. They struggle to consistently convert third downs and they tend to move away from their play-action game if they can't run the ball. They should be able to get something going against the Bills, though: Buffalo has the 20th-ranked run defense, according to Football Outsiders' numbers.
Despite an outstanding front seven and a great pass defense, the Bills simply can't stop anyone from running the ball on them. The Bucs should be able to take advantage of that and kickstart their offense on Sunday.
Bills passing game vs. Buccaneers pass defense
If Mike Glennon is the best rookie quarterback this year, then EJ Manuel is the second-best passer. Not a naturally accurate passer, Manuel still has a decent group of skill position surrounding him and he can play the game manager role fairly well. Still, the Bills passing game isn't threatening anyone anytime soon, even with Stevie Johnson.
The Bucs' pass defense, meanwhile, has been surprisingly good. Despite issues with stunts and despite numerous and consistent coverage busts, the Bucs can actually stop some quarterbacks. A big part of that have been the league-leading 17 interceptions forced this year. That's not a number that's likely to hold up (forcing a lot of turnovers is very hard to do consistently), but then the Bills provide plenty of turnovers themselves as well.
Darrelle Revis should be healthy, but he's going up against his old nemesis Stevie Johnson. The Bills wide receiver has beaten Revis somewhat consistently, but the fact that he plays from the slot will probably prevent a lot of Revis-Johnson battles. Revis tends to stick to the outside, although he has tracked some receivers across the field this year and more often in recent weeks. Even then the Bucs haven't played more than 50% man coverage, so Johnson should get free. The real damage could be done by Scott Chandler, however, especially if the tight end gets to run up the seam against Mason Foster.
Still, overall, the Bucs defense is significantly better than the Bills' passing offense, even with some matchup issues.
Buccaneers passing game vs. Bills pass defense
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have seen a boost in their passing game with Mike Glennon playing better football over the past month -- although last week's game was a massive step back. Still, the rookie quarterback's play has been promising and somewhat competent. Certainly he's the best rookie quarterback to play this year. Unfortunately, being the best rookie quarterback this year isn't much better than being the best rookie quarterback when Jamarcus Russell was taking his first steps in the league.
Meanwhile, the Bills pass defense has been surprisingly dominant this year. They've forced 16 interceptions and allowed opposing quarterbacks to pass for just 5.7 yards per attempt, which ranks ninth in the NFL. They rank first in the NFL with a whopping 43 sacks on the year, a lot of those coming out of blitz packages thanks to Mike Pettine's third-down craziness. Mario Williams' 12 sacks certainly play a big role as well.
But they have quality all over their defense, with Jairus Byrd at free safety, Kiko Alonso and his four interceptions at middle linebacker and a now healthy Stephon Gilmore at cornerback. Gilmore's best as a press cornerback, and it'll be interesting to see if he lines up on Jackson to try to disrupt the big wideout's release. That is, if Jackson even plays this week. If not, the Bucs will have some serious issues trying to move the ball.
Not that they'll have it easy, either way. I'd expect the Bucs' interior line to struggle against the Bills' nearly dominant defensive tackles and Glennon to struggle against Pettine's blitz packages. Hot routes and sight adjustments are anathema to the Bucs' passing game this year, and that will hurt them on Sunday.
Bills running game vs. Buccaneers run defense
Remember when the Bucs had the best run defense in the NFL? You know, last year? Yeah, they don't anymore. Last week's pathetic display of tackling was a bit extreme even for Tampa Bay's standards, but they've been a bad tackling team all year long and their defense has been up and down against the run at best. They're not awful, mind you, but they're certainly a team you can run on.
It doesn't help that the Bills are a pretty decent running team. And they like running the ball, a lot. Their 394 rushing attempts rank second in the NFL, while their 1,458 rushing yards rank fourth. Efficiency is a different matter, but they can move the ball on the ground with Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller.
The Bucs have not been great on special teams this year, mostly because Rian Lindell keeps missing kicks. The punt team has been awful, too, allowing multiple big returns and having at least one short punt each game, it seems. Good thing, then, that the Bills suck, too. They can kick field goals, but their punt team is absolutely horrible. Eric Page should be able to break a few long punts against the Bills on Sunday, and that could well be the difference in the game.
Prediction: Buccaneers 23, Bills 20