The Bears kick off the 2014 regular season Sunday against the Buffalo Bills at Soldier Field. Here is a breakdown of their Week 1 opponent.
What's new: Perhaps no rookie created more of a training camp buzz than Bills wide receiver Sammy Watkins, who had the social media world salivating with some splendid one-handed catches in practice. Buffalo traded up in the first round of May's draft, dealing next season's first-round pick in the process, for the right to draft the former Clemson All-American fourth overall, and it looks like the rookie will be worth the investment. Standing 6-foot-1 and able to run 40 yards in 4.43 seconds, Watkins should be the top target for second-year quarterback E.J. Manuel this season. The rookie did injure his ribs in training camp, but he has practiced this week and should be ready to make his professional debut on Sunday along the lakefront.
What's old: In 2013, the Bills' pass rush was terrific, racking up 57 sacks, which ranked as the second-most in the NFL. Leading the way was left defensive end Mario Williams, who is set to enter his ninth professional season after being the first overall pick of the 2006 draft. Williams finished with 13 sacks a year ago, the second-highest total of his career, thanks to his tremendous speed off the edge. Even when teams focus in on Williams with double-teams to stop him from pummeling their quarterback, fellow Buffalo linemen Kyle Williams, Marcell Dareus and Jerry Hughes are more than capable of wreaking havoc in the backfield.
Last time out: Buffalo finished the preseason with a 1-4 record, having played in the Hall of Fame Game. In their finale Aug. 28, the Bills were shut out at home by the Lions 23-0. Manuel, the team's starting quarterback, played one drive, completing 3-of-7 passes for 56 yards. Backup quarterback Jordan Palmer – who earlier in the preseason had been with the Bears – threw three interceptions for Buffalo in the loss, prior to being released by the team.
Series history: The Bears are 7-4 all-time against Buffalo, with a perfect 5-0 mark in Chicago. Their last meeting took place on November 7, 2010 at the Rogers Centre in Toronto, Canada. Jay Cutler threw for 188 yards and two touchdowns, including a 2-yard TD pass to Earl Bennett with 6:41 remaining in the fourth quarter, to give the Bears a lead they would never relinquish.
Ex-factor: Buffalo has three former Bears on its roster. Cornerback Corey Graham was a fifth-round pick of Chicago's in 2007, playing for the Bears from 2007-2011. He signed with Buffalo this offseason and was voted a team captain. Left guard Chris Williams was drafted by the Bears in the first round of the 2008 draft, starting 38 games with the team through 2012. Buffalo's backup quarterback, Kyle Orton, played in Chicago from 2005-2008, making 33 starts. He was eventually traded to the Denver Broncos in a deal that netted the Bears Cutler. The Bears have no former Bills on their roster.
Injury status: Buffalo linebacker Kiko Alonso, who led the team with 159 tackles as a rookie in 2013, is out after tearing his ACL during an offseason workout. Watkins is expected to play despite suffering a rib injury in preseason action.
Did you know: Bills cornerback Stephon Gilmore and Bears wide receiver Alshon Jeffery could be lined up against one another for the first time as professionals Sunday, but the two players are quite familiar with one another. Both Gilmore and Jeffery attended the University of South Carolina as part of coach Steve Spurrier's 2009 recruiting class, practicing against each other for three years before they both declared for the NFL following their junior seasons. During their careers with the Gamecocks, both Gilmore and Jeffery were named first-team All-SEC players.