4:05 PM EST
December 16, 2012
NFL Preview - Seattle (8-5) at Buffalo (5-8) (ET)
By Michael Rushton, Contributing NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - The Buffalo Bills made Marshawn Lynch a first-round draft pick in 2007, but just three years later he found himself as the odd-man out in their crowded backfield.
Buffalo's loss was Seattle's gain and the Seahawks will have Lynch on their side this Sunday when they take on the Bills at Rogers Centre in Toronto.
Lynch was taken 12th overall by the Bills out of California and ran for over 1,000 yards with 16 total touchdowns in his first two seasons with the club.
However, Lynch was suspended for the first three games of the 2009 season following a guilty plea on misdemeanor weapons charges and eventually lost his starting role to Fred Jackson during the campaign. The selection of C.J. Spiller by Buffalo ninth overall in the 2010 draft further knocked Lynch down the depth chart and was dealt to the Seahawks on Oct. 5, 2010.
The 26-year-old has amassed 3,043 yards and 27 touchdowns since joining the Seahawks, starting all but two of his 40 games played. He will face the Bills for the first time.
Lynch led the offensive side of last Sunday's 58-0 rout of the Arizona Cardinals, running for 128 yards and three touchdowns on just 11 carries. That was part of a 284-yard day on the ground for the Seahawks, who also saw Robert Turbin get some action with 20 carries for 108 yards.
Thanks to four interceptions and four fumble recoveries, with two of those turnovers returned for scores, the Seahawks got to empty their bench a bit. Backup quarterback Matt Flynn relieved starter Russell Wilson in the game and nine different receivers were targeted.
Eighteen different players also recorded a tackle for Seattle, which set a franchise record for most points scored in a game and won for the second straight time. The Seahawks have also won four of their last five to maintain their hold on a wild card spot.
"So many opportunities were there that we took advantage of, it just worked out to be a real one-sided game for us. It was really a great opportunity for us to get a lot of guys playing time," said Seahawks coach Pete Carroll.
Seattle, which is behind only 9-3-1 San Francisco in the NFC West, improved to 6-0 at home this season and its eight wins are its highest single-season total since 2007 (10-6).
However, the Seahawks are just 2-5 on the road in 2012 and are set to make their first international appearance in the regular season. They have played preseason games in Tokyo (1990) and Vancouver (1998).
Buffalo, meanwhile, will play a regular season game in Toronto for a fifth straight season. The Bills won for the first time in that string of appearances last year, shutting out Washington.
Hoping to be playoff contenders this season, the Bills instead have lost five of their last seven following Sunday's 15-12 setback to the St. Louis Rams. Buffalo yielded the go-ahead score on a 13-yard pass with 48 seconds remaining.
"We are not making the plays to win ball games," Bills coach Chan Gailey said. "That is what winning teams do. Winning teams make plays in the fourth quarter to win ball games. We are not doing that right now. We have to do that or we will not get over the hump. That is what we are supposed to be doing. That is what I am supposed to be getting them to do."
Ryan Fitzpatrick connected on 25-of-33 passes for 247 yards, one touchdown and an interception, while the Bills managed to run for just 61 yards in the game.
Buffalo has won three of its last four versus Seattle, including a 34-10 home victory in 2008. Lynch ran for 76 yards with a touchdown against his current team.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Both head coaches seem to have respect for their opposing running backs ahead of this game and fans should see plenty of Lynch and Spiller.
Lynch is looking to run the Seahawks into the playoffs for the second time in five seasons and is second in the NFL with 1,266 yards on the ground. In fact, he leads with NFL with 2,207 yards rushing yards since Week 9 of last season, scoring 18 touchdowns in that span.
"I thought he was a very good running back when he was here and I think he is a very good running back still today," said Gailey. "He has been extremely productive there and he is running hard. He seems to feel a lot more comfortable there."
Gailey has a pretty solid option in his own backfield in Spiller, who figures to get plenty of touches down the stretch with Jackson having landed on injured reserve Tuesday due to an MCL sprain.
Jackson, who missed the final six games last year with a fractured leg, finished the campaign with 437 yards and three touchdowns on 115 carries. Spiller once again becomes the main threat in the backfield and he isn't expected to share the ball with backup Tashard Choice like he would have with Jackson.
"We are going to get the opportunity here in the next few weeks for him to get it a lot," Gailey said of Spiller. "We will not have what I term two great backs. I think Tashard is a very good back, but to me, he is not in Fred�s category. There will not be a lot of sharing of duties. C.J. will have to take a big part of the load now."
Spiller has run for a career-high 944 yards on 144 attempts and leads all NFL running backs with a 6.6 average per carry. His increase in touches may be a concern to Carroll, who said Spiller was a target of his when he coached at USC.
"Playing Buffalo is a big chore," said Carroll. "I have tremendous respect for C.J. Spiller. I watched him when he was a young guy growing up and tried to get him to come west, couldn't do it. I saw him as one of the great players we ever came across and he has really torn it up."
Given the talent of both Lynch and Spiller, it is no surprise that Seattle and Buffalo's run attack rank fourth and sixth in the league, respectively.
The Seahawks, though, also excel on the defensive side of the ball and last weekend's pounding of Arizona has the club ranked third in the NFL in total defense and second with an average of just 15.5 points allowed per game.
Cornerback Richard Sherman and middle linebacker Bobby Wagner had two interceptions each, with Sherman taking one 19 yards for a score in the second quarter. Sherman also defended three passes and recovered a fumble.
"We did it on all three phases," said defensive end Chris Clemons, who had a sack. "The defense showed up, our offense showed up and our special teams. Anytime you shut a team out you have to think that you played a complete game."
Buffalo's defense ranks 21st in the NFL, but the unit did shut out St. Louis over the first half of last weekend's loss before giving up a touchdown in both the third and fourth frames.
The Bills held the Rams to 285 yards of offense and rookie cornerback Stephon Gilmore logged the first interception of his career. He also leads the team with 16 passes defensed.
Defensive end Mario Williams notched a sack versus the Rams, giving him six sacks in his last four games and 10 1/2 on the season. He is the first Bill to reach at least 10 in a season since Aaron Schobel in 2009.
While the Seahawks are very much alive for not only a playoff spot, but the NFC West crown, the Bills are taking the "anything can happen" approach to this game.
"I guess mathematically we are still in it. So hey, go take advantage of your opportunity. It is here," said Gailey.
Working against Seattle is the fact that it has been a much better team at home than on the road. Had it faced off against Buffalo during the early string of this Toronto series, it might have been even ground.
However, Gailey feels his team is starting to get a following a little further up north.
"Last year it really felt like a home game. The first year it was a little bit more of a neutral site, but last year it felt like a home game. That is what you hope to create and continue to develop where that becomes like a game right here (in Buffalo). If we can get that, that would be great," he said.
Gailey better hope Toronto's allegiance isn't riding on this game as Seattle has too much momentum and talent on the defensive side of things for the Bills' struggling offense to overcome.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Seahawks 17, Bills 14