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Fearless Prediction: Bills (2-4) at Panthers (2-3)
Game SnapshotKICKOFF: Sunday, 4:05 p.m. ET
TV: CBS (Gus Johnson, Steve Tasker)
SERIES: 5th regular-season meeting, Bills lead series 3-1. Teams last played in 2005, a 13-9 Panthers victory in Buffalo. QB Jake Delhomme hit TE Michael Gaines with a short touchdown pass with 2:16 left for the win
KEYS TO THE GAME: Bills coach Dick Jauron said the offense won't change much if QB Ryan Fitzpatrick starts in place of Trent Edwards (concussion; day-to-day). He's right, because either way Buffalo must run the ball effectively as the young offensive line has given up 15 sacks. Fitzpatrick doesn't check down as often as Edwards and got WR Lee Evans more involved last Sunday. Carolina's offense is up to 131.2 rushing yards per game, and the Panthers will rely on RBs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart against the Bills' 32nd-ranked run defense. FAST FACTS: Evans needs 29 receiving yards to reach 5,000 for his career. ... DE Julius Peppers has 4.0 sacks the past two games after recording just one during the Panthers' 0-3 start.
Inside the CampsBills:
The Bills made two tactical changes to their offense last week that they plan on continuing.
First, the no-huddle was shelved after a 6-3 loss to Cleveland.
Second, coordinator Alex Van Pelt changed his vantage point, moving from the press box down to the field to call plays.
Both moves improved the team's communication abilities dramatically, players said. In the no-huddle, players had to know pre-determined snap counts for particular run and pass plays. When huddling, the quarterback merely calls the play and tells everyone the snap count.
"I mean, you get a chance to talk things over more," said left tackle Demetrius Bell, one of four first-year starters on the line and the NFL's most penalized player. "It helped tremendously with our communication."
The changes were prompted by Buffalo's nine false-start penalties in a home loss to Cleveland on Oct. 11. The Bills had just one such penalty in an overtime victory last Sunday against the Jets on the road.
Van Pelt said being on the sideline improves his communication with his quarterback. Backup Ryan Fitzpatrick will start Sunday at Carolina for Trent Edwards, who is recovering from a concussion.
"I think just his presence in sideline huddles with him and Ryan (Fitzpatrick) and Gibran (Hamdan), of course, and then once Trent was down, he was right there with Ryan and Gibran and the rest of the coaching staff," coach Dick Jauron said of Van Pelt. "But to have him right there and to be able to look in the quarterback's eyes, it was helpful, particularly after the last three weeks."
Still frustrated over not getting the football, wide receiver Steve Smith stated his desire fairly clearly.
"I want to win, but I also want to be involved in a win," Smith said this week after catching just one pass for 4 yards last week against Tampa Bay.
Smith, who said after the game he felt like he was "no longer an asset" to the team, didn't exactly back down from that stance. He wouldn't blame his Sunday remarks on being in the heat of the moment, saying, "I felt what I felt. I think there is nobody that can say, 'How could you feel that way,' if that's how an individual feels. Am I going to apologize or go back on what I said? No. That's at the moment, and that's how I felt."
Quarterback Jake Delhomme said he understands Smith's frustration. Smith ranks tied for 49th in the NFL in receptions (21) after Carolina's 28-21 win over the Buccaneers.
"You've got to understand, we all know him," Delhomme said of Smith. "This is a competitive guy who has a drive and a fire like no other. I'm sure he was frustrated. I get frustrated too because I'm trying to get him the ball. I know what he can do with it in his hands. I can understand that, and he knows that."
That said, Delhomme likes the way Smith is approaching practice this week.
"It was something out there today," Delhomme said after one practice this week. "He's channeling that energy, that fire, or whatever it is, to get things better. Because we all need to get better in the passing game."
Muhsin Muhammad said of Smith: "As a receiver, that is what we do -- we get paid to catch balls and catch touchdowns and paid to make plays on the field. So for us to want to do those things is probably a positive. You want guys who want the ball. That's my thought.
"However, if you're winning games and coach wants you to do certain things, then you go with the game plan. That is what being a team is all about. You put the selfish wants aside and you do what is best for the team. That doesn't stop the desire to contribute."
Smith said he did talk to coaches this week, but he wouldn't discuss those conversations. PREDICTION: Bills 17-13