NEWS
10/28/2011 03:04 EDT | Updated 12/28/2011 05:12 EST

Bills looking for first regular-season win of Series at Rogers Centre

TORONTO - Life at Rogers Centre hasn't been kind to Fred Jackson and the Buffalo Bills.

Buffalo is a dubious 0-3 in regular-season games at Rogers Centre, not exactly a positive note to be heading into Sunday's showdown with the Washington Redskins.

However, for the first time in the Bills Toronto Series, the home team will sport a winning record when it steps on to the turf at Rogers Centre. And the Bills (4-2), who are coming off a bye week, will be chasing a sixth straight victory over the Redskins (3-3).

Buffalo also enters the game with some long-term stability at quarterback after Ryan Fitzpatrick signed a US$59-million, six-year contract with the team Friday.

Fitzpatrick, playing in the final year of a three-year contract, has energized the Bills' offence this season after joining the team as a free agent in 2009.

Washington, meanwhile, has lost two straight and limps into the game without leading receiver Santana Moss (broken hand), rushing leader Tim Hightower (knee) and tight end Chris Cooley (knee) while safety O.J. Atogwe of Windsor, Ont., is nursing a knee injury.

Veteran linebacker London Fletcher, a former Bill who hasn't missed a game during his 14-year career, is expected to play in his 215th straight game despite a hamstring injury.

Washington's last win over Buffalo was a 37-24 decision in the Super Bowl on Jan. 26, 1992.

"It will be a good test for us," Jackson said. "We know they're a great team and they'll come in ready to play.

"I think they'll have a good crowd up there, too."

And that has always been the biggest complaint from Bills players about playing in Toronto: that football fans at Rogers Centre support the opposition as much as they do Buffalo, effectively negating the home-field advantage for the Western New York crew.

That's in stark contrast to the rabid support Buffalo receives at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park, N.Y. And the Bills, who haven't been to the NFL playoffs since 1999, certainly have fed off that this year with a 3-0 home record.

Teams have traditionally loathed playing games in Western New York in late fall or early winter because of cold temperatures and swirling winds — two other home-field advantages the Bills lose playing at the domed Rogers Centre.

"It's tough," Jackson said. "The last three times we've been up there we've had the smaller crowds.

"We hope that we get more of a fan base up there with the good start we've gotten off to and maybe that'll bring out some more fans for us."

But not all Bills players are so down on playing in Toronto.

"I like it, I like playing," said star wide receiver Stevie Johnson. "This is one of our home games and it's giving us a chance to expand the NFL out in Canada.

"I believe the fans will be excited about it and I think they'll be excited about cheering on the Bills with how our season is going."

The Bills Toronto Series is in the fourth year of the US$78-million, five-year deal the NFL club reached with Rogers Communications Inc. in 2008 to play eight games — five regular-season, three exhibition — in Toronto.

It will conclude next year with an exhibition game as well as one final regular-season contest.

Event officials wouldn't divulge ticket sales Friday. But none of the games to day have been a sellout at Rogers Centre, which has a seating capacity of 54,000 for football.

A sluggish economy, high-priced tickets — initially averaging over C$180 each, compared to roughly US$51 at Ralph Wilson Stadium — and struggling Bills teams have combined to make the series a tough sell in Toronto.

Western New York football fans have been slow to warm up to the Series, the popular sentiment being Toronto officials are using it as a means to have the Bills relocate here. However, Buffalo officials have repeated often the games in Toronto are part of the franchise's plan to expand its brand into southern Ontario considering Canadians account for roughly 15 per cent of the club's home attendance.

Another common complaint among NFL fans has been the absence of tailgating in Toronto, something that's very big in Western New York. On Sunday, event organizers will stage a tailgate party in the area surrounding Rogers Centre featuring a performance by Juno award-winning rock band Finger Eleven.

Washington will play its first-regular season game in Toronto and fullback Darrel Young can't wait.

"I'm excited because I've never been to Canada," he said. "I don't really know what to expect.

"I just found out the game was indoors."

The contest will mark the ultimate road trip for linebacker Ryan Kerrigan as it will be his first outside of the U.S. Kerrigan is also an avid baseball fan and can't wait to see Rogers Centre in person because he's watched the Toronto Blue Jays play on television.

"It's a good feeling and I'm excited," he said. "I've heard it's a pretty cool city, with big buildings and the uniqueness of its culture.

"My friends tell me it's like the New York City of Canada."

Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan has participated in many international pre-season contests but Sunday's game will be his first NFL regular-season game played outside the U.S.

"I have never gone to an overseas game during the season, but 45 minutes from Buffalo? I don't consider that too far away," he said.