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By David Staba

At first glance, Buffalo's Thursday-night visit to Jacksonville looks like an ideal spot for the winless Bills to remove that adjective from their name.

Coming off their bye week, the Bills are nearly back to full strength after a spate of early injuries. The Jaguars, though, watched left tackle Tony Boselli undergo surgery on his shoulder this week. Running back Fred Taylor's sensitive hamstrings are OK, but he's out with a groin pull. And Jacksonville will again be without strong safety Donovin Darius, one of their key starters on that side of the ball.

Then there are defensive end Tony Brackens, linebacker Hardy Nickerson and cornerback Fernando Bryant. All three are expected back, but that won't be known for sure until game time.

The injury list is a big reason 2-2 Jacksonville has struggled at times, including a loss to previously win-free Seattle two weeks ago. Seahawks running back Shaun Alexander tore through the Jaguars' makeshift defense for 176 yards and a pair of touchdowns during Seattle's 24-15 win.

It looks like a prime opportunity for Gregg Williams' promised attack defense to start attacking, while getting plenty of rest as Travis Henry plies the Jaguars' defense.

But then you look again. Buffalo, with five sacks through four games, has yet to mount anything approaching sustained pressure on a quarterback this year. Not having to deal with Boselli helps in theory, but who takes advantage of his absence? Eric Flowers?

With Taylor's myriad injuries, Shane Mack has grown accustomed to full-time duty. The Bills have allowed a runner to go over 100 yards three time in four games. Unless the extra four days since their last loss gave Buffalo's defenders enough time to finally grasp a defensive system they've been flunking since March, there's little reason to think Mack won't make it four out of five.

Mark Brunell never blossomed into the perennial All-Pro many expected after he led the Jaguars to the AFC title game (including a playoff win in Buffalo that marked the last game for Jim Kelly and Kent Hull), but he's more than capable of exploiting the Bills defense. He's particularly adept at play-action passes, a concept Buffalo still treats like it should be illegal.

For all Jacksonville's troubles, the Bills (an 8 1/2-point underdog) have yet to prove that they're better than anyone else's second team, much less a perennial playoff contender.

Rob Johnson's return to Alltel Stadium, site of his $25 million game more than four years ago, might normally seem to add some extra zip for Buffalo. But this team has yet to show it can rally around anything. Having lost three home games already, it's tough to see them finally getting it together on the road.

But given Jacksonville's injuries and depletion via salary cap from the roster that went 14-2 and reached the AFC title game in 1999, there is one first well within Buffalo's reach -- covering the point spread.

Jaguars, 20-16.

New England at Indianapolis (-10): The Patriots won't thrash the Colts by 31 points as they did earlier in the season, but New England's defense shouldn't get torn apart, either. Colts, 23-17.

St. Louis (-7) at N.Y. Jets: New York does a good job of overcoming its limitations (and Miami leads), but the Jets don't have the Giants' defene and can't keep up with Kurt Warner and friends. Rams, 34-21.

Baltimore (-7 1/2) at Cleveland: The Ravens use the lessons Brett Favre taught them last week to make it a very long day for Tim Couch. Ravens, 16-7.

Carolina (-3 1/2) at Washington: The Panthers haven't won since Opening Day, and they're still favored on the road. They must be in Washington. Panthers, 24-3.

Chicago at Cincinnati (-1): The Bears and Bengals both have three wins this early in the season? What is this, 1988? Bears, 27-24.

Pittsburgh at Tampa Bay (-6): The Bucs need a win badly. Bad enough to shatter the Steelers' 3-1 mirage. Bucs, 18-6.

Tennessee (-6) at Detroit: The Titans finally woke up last week, meaning quite a long afternoon for Charlie Batch, Ty Detmer or whoever else the Lions try at quarterback. Titans, 23-0.

Denver at San Diego (no line): This game is off the board due to the questionable status of Broncos quarterback Brian Griese. Equally at issue is how San Diego and Doug Flutie will handle their best opponent of the season. Broncos, 28-19.

Kansas City (-2) at Arizona: This is Week 6's Game You Should be Glad You Don't Have to Watch. Chiefs, 22-13.

Green Bay (-3) at Minnesota: If the Ravens couldn't handle Favre, what's he going to do to the Vikings? Packers, 37-27.

Philadelphia at N.Y. Giants (-3): The Giants, meanwhile, kept Kurt Warner from dismantling them last week. Donovan McNabb presents different problems, but it looks like New York's nine-game winning streak against the Eagles will hit double digits on Monday. Giants, 16-10.

David Staba is the sports editor of the Niagara Falls Reporter and the editor of the BuffaloPOST. He welcomes email at