E.J. Manuel is expected to start for the Buffalo Bills on Sunday, head coach Doug Marrone announced Thursday. Manuel is returning off a five-week layoff due to an LCL sprain. Barring a setback, he will suit up against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Manuel was 2-2 as a starter before going down in Week 5 against the Cleveland Browns. His rookie numbers were promising through four-plus games. On the season, Manuel is 85-for-150 passing for 985 yards, five touchdowns and three interceptions.
There may be some considerable rust to shake off, but at the very least Manuel should improve upon Jeff Tuel's production from last week. Tuel went 18-for-39 for 229 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions in a loss to the Kansas City Chiefs.
Whether Martin will be allowed to come back remains to be seen. The Bucs' season is circling the drain, so the training staff does not have much incentive to rush Martin back to the field. He is also in need of surgery, and the sooner he undergoes the procedure the sooner he can begin getting ready for the 2014 season. Also worth noting is that Mike James is running the ball well in Martin's stead.
We may see Martin play again this season simply due to his own competitiveness. There is little practical reason for the running back to suit up again, however.
Ray Rice, with just 259 yards rushing in seven games, is on pace to finish with his worst rushing total since his 2008 rookie season. Rice has rushed for at least 1,143 yards rushing in each of his last four seasons, but could finish with less than half that total if he continues to run for just 2.7 yards per carry.
Despite the struggles, however, Rice has faith that he will turn his game around, and that the Baltimore Ravens are better than their 3-5 record suggests.
Via the Baltimore Sun:
"My level of confidence is where it was in Week 1," Rice said. "I still believe we'll get the run game going. We have the guys. It's never going to be an effort thing. We've just seen some pretty good fronts, and I've battled through stuff this year."
Rice mentioned a strained hip flexor as a factor in his early season struggles. He said that the injury is no longer a hindrace, and that he is ready to bounce back over the Ravens' final eight games of the regular season.
The Texans have yet to put a timetable on Gary Kubiak's return from the transient ischemic attack he suffered last week, but it had to be a good sign that he was able to visit with the team after practice Thursday. Kubiak reportedly talked to players and, according to defensive coordinator and interim head coach Wade Phillips, was well received.
"Everyone was excited to see him," Phillips said.
Phillips will be the Texans' head coach for the foreseeable future, but it is encouraging that Kubiak appears to be recovering well.
The New Orleans Saints will be without Jonathan Vilma for the rest of the season. The linebacker was placed on injured reserve Thursday after making his season debut last week against the New York Jets. He played just 12 snaps before being sidelined permanently. Vilma did not suffer a setback on his surgically repaired knee, but according to head coach Sean Payton, it was clear from Sunday's game that the linebacker needed more rest.
"The feeling on both of our parts was that what he's used to and accustomed to playing, at a certain speed and a certain level and certainly what we've seen, still wasn't there. But he's progressing," Payton said. "It was more of just an overall knowing we've got eight weeks left in the season, and is he going to be able to progress enough to where he's comfortable and we're comfortable enough with his progress?"
Vilma's absence shouldn't affect the Saints' defense too harshly. The unit has been without him for almost the entire season, and has still performed admirably through nine weeks.