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Cleveland Browns vs Buffalo Bills Game Preview

Who: Buffalo Bills

When: August 20 (Thursday, 8 PM, ESPN)

Where: FirstEnergy Stadium

Preseason series history (Last meeting):Browns lead 6-4: (Browns 20, Bills 17 in 2006 at Ralph Wilson Stadium)

The coach: Rex Ryan

The stakes: After several days of joint practices with one another in Rochester, Ryan will lead his squad into Cleveland against his pupil Mike Pettine -- their first ever head coaching duel.

Matchup to watch: WR Sammy Watkins vs. DB Joe Haden. Last November, Haden gave the rookie Watkins quite the welcome to the NFL by limiting the No.4 overall pick to a season-low 11 yards on three receptions. Buffalo will be figuring out its quarterback situation and will likely target Watkins quite a bit come August.

Offseason storyline: Complete makeover. New head coach in Ryan. New star offensive weapons in running back LeSean McCoy and wide receiver Percy Harvin. New chances -- taking in troubled guard Richie Incognito and breaking the bank for tight end Charles Clay.


Biggest addition: It has to be McCoy. Set to turn 27 later this month, McCoy is still widely regarded as a top five running back in the league, having rushed for at least 1,300 yards in three of his last four seasons.

He gone: LB Kiko Alonso. While McCoy breathes optimism into Buffalo's offense, the Bills paid a price for him. Young and promising, Alsono's 159 tackles and four interceptions during his Defensive Rookie of the Year campaign in 2013 were astounding and were difficult to replace last year when the 24-year-old missed the entire season with a knee injury.

The star: DL Mario Williams. Entering his 10th NFL season, Williams is coming off a career-high 14.5 sacks in 2014. The problem for opponents who double Williams is that it leaves the door cracked for fellow pass rushers Jerry Hughes and Kyle Williams to pounce on quarterbacks. Pick your poison.

The X-Factor: Quarterback. Who will it be: Matt Cassel, E.J. Manuel or even Tyrod Taylor? Cassel is the odds on favorite in early July but he hasn't regularly started since his stint with the Chiefs in 2012. Manuel was benched last season in favor of Kyle Orton but boasts a modest 16 TDs to 12 INTs in two NFL seasons. And then there's Taylor who signed with the notion he'll be able to compete for playing time after backing Joe Flacco in Baltimore for four seasons.

They'll make the playoffs if...: Ryan effectively implements his smashmouth style of football with McCoy toting the rock and his defensive scheme shrinking the football field. Remember, Buffalo went 9-7 a season ago.

The season will go south in a hurry if...: All the new players on offense don't gel together quickly -- an outcome that's been plausible in recent history with NFL teams who made sweeping offseason moves.

Expert's take -- Vic Carucci, Buffalo News: "A lot of excitement but the one thing the Bills lack, and it puts a question mark over everything, is obviously the quarterback position. And in viewing six offseason practices, my honest assessment is to say that no one stood out as 'This is the guy.'"

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