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Blue-collar Bills turn heads

Little about the Buffalo Bills is glamorous. Their two offensive leaders — quarterback Trent Edwards and running back Marshawn Lynch — have not reached star status in the NFL.

Their coach, Dick Jauron, is as quiet as a librarian. He teaches defense and special teams.

The book on the Bills is they are a blue-collar team — and the betting public is starting to read it cover to cover. Buffalo is 2-0 straight up and against the spread.

Paramount Sports handicapper Lee Sterling said he sees the Bills continuing their win-and-cover streak today, when they host the Oakland Raiders as 9-point favorites.

“At this juncture of the NFL season, the talk always centers on which 2-0 teams are contenders and which teams are just pretenders,” Sterling said. “It’s easy if the team is New England. It’s not so easy with a 2-0 team like Buffalo that hasn’t sniffed the playoffs in a long time.

“Do I think the Bills are headed to the Super Bowl? Probably not. But they are a team that is on the upswing and should make the playoffs a year ahead of schedule.

“They are led on offense by two second-year players in Edwards and Lynch who are starting to come into their own. Last season, defenses were able to double-team wide receiver Lee Evans. With the emergence of rookie wideout James Hardy, the Bills are balanced and should be much more productive in the red zone.”

The Buffalo defense, boosted in the offseason by a trade for run-stuffing tackle Marcus Stroud, is much improved.

“Most people will look at the poor defensive statistics from last season and dismiss the Bills’ defense, but you have to factor in that they were without eight of their starters at one point,” said Sterling, a Miami-based handicapper. “If they stay healthy, this defense has all the makings of a top-10 unit.”

Sterling is not nearly as high on the Raiders and their second-year quarterback, JaMarcus Russell.

“Oakland is a team that’s about to implode,” he said. “Beating Kansas City, a team which played most of last week’s game with a third-string quarterback, proves nothing. Russell isn’t ready for prime time, and the Raiders are on the road for the second week in a row traveling cross-country to play an early starting game.

“Trust me, the Bills are for real.”

Sterling (paramountsports. com) analyzes the rest of today’s Week 3 schedule:

Kansas City at Atlanta (-51/2): When you have a rookie quarterback in Matt Ryan laying more than a field goal and facing a sound defense, the only way to play the game is to take the points. Chiefs running back Larry Johnson has been in a funk, but this could be his breakout game.

Houston at Tennessee (-41/2): This is a tough game to play because you don’t know if the Texans’ heads are on straight having been through so much since Hurricane Ike tore through Houston. I’m not sold, though, on Titans offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger as a play caller and Kerry Collins as much more than a stop-gap replacement quarterback. I lean to Houston.

Cincinnati at New York Giants (-131/2): The Giants’ defense has recorded seven sacks in two games. New York now faces a patchwork offensive line and a quarterback in Carson Palmer who looks like he’s punch drunk when he can’t find his primary receiver. The Giants’ fearless leader, Eli Manning, will pick apart a defense that is utterly defenseless. Take the Giants.

Arizona at Washington (-3): We know the Redskins’ defense is downright salty. With the return of end Bertrand Berry and safety Adrian Wilson to an underrated Arizona defense that has allowed only 23 points in two games, this should be a low-scoring game and go under the total (43).

Miami at New England (-121/2): The Patriots are going to be a ball-control offense without Tom Brady. Miami also likes to play smash mouth with running backs Ricky Williams and Ronnie Brown. When the possessions are limited and the favorite is laying double digits, look to the underdog. The Patriots made their statement in last week’s win over the Jets. The Dolphins will be overlooked.

Tampa Bay at Chicago (-3): The Bears have won five straight games ATS since last year, and not many people are taking notice. The Buccaneers are 3-12 ATS on the road versus nondivision opponents. The Bears know Tampa Bay quarterback Brian Griese from his time in Chicago, and they should be able to force him into game-changing turnovers.

Carolina at Minnesota (-31/2): Carolina’s Jake Delhomme appears to be fully recovered from elbow surgery, and Minnesota is playing musical quarterbacks. The Panthers are 23-5-1 ATS when getting points with Delhomme as the starter. That’s enough of a reason to take the Panthers.

St. Louis at Seattle (-9): Rams coach Scott Linehan could be a casualty by midseason. St. Louis still has weapons in running back Steven Jackson and wide receiver Torry Holt and will get things turned around offensively. Seattle should not be laying close to double digits after losing its top four wideouts to injury. Maybe Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren should have retired before the season. Grab all the points you can find here.

Detroit at San Francisco (-4): Mike Martz, the 49ers’ offensive coordinator, goes against the team that fired him after two seasons. As much as the Lions’ players complained about his schemes, things look even worse this year as quarterback Jon Kitna has regressed. Former Lions backup and current 49ers starting quarterback J.T. O’Sullivan looks like the real deal. San Francisco will deliver a cover.

New Orleans at Denver (-51/2): The Broncos got a gift win last week, but it’s evident they can win only when quarterback Jay Cutler is hot. Meanwhile, the Saints’ Drew Brees should rebound off a subpar game of only 216 yards passing and two interceptions against the Redskins. New Orleans possibly wins this one outright.

Pittsburgh at Philadelphia (-31/2): I don’t think the Steelers will be able to run or pass much against a Philadelphia defense that is smarting after allowing Dallas to come back to win Monday night. But Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb isn’t one to come up big when the chips are down, either. I’ll side with the under (441/2) and look for the defenses to dominate.

Jacksonville at Indianapolis (-5): Both teams have injury problems on the offensive line, but Jacksonville quarterback David Garrard is one of the game’s best improvisers, and the Jaguars are 11-3 on the road against division opponents. The Colts are 13-26 as a division home favorite.

Cleveland at Baltimore (-2): The strong winds during the Pittsburgh-Cleveland game last Sunday night masked how bad the Browns’ defense really is. If the Ravens can score 20 points on offense, that should be enough to get the win and cover because Baltimore has one of the NFL’s best defenses.

Dallas (-3) at Green Bay: It’s a bad spot for the Cowboys coming off a Monday win and having to travel to Green Bay, where they have not had much success. The home team has covered 14 of the past 16 in this series. With Packers quarterback Aaron Rogers using all of his talented wideouts, the Cowboys will lose their first game.


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