The Buffalo Bills at the New England Patriots: A Highly Biased Game Preview
For the first time in many years, the Buffalo Bills and New England Patriots will meet in a meaningful game played in November. The stakes for these two teams could not be higher: The Patriots are in a battle with Cincinnati and Denver for who can secure the top seed in the AFC while the Bills are actually in the AFC playoff hunt for what seems to be the first time in forever.
The earlier meeting between these two teams was a high scoring affair but the final score was a bit misleading on what a dominating performance that Tom Brady and the Patriots actually had. Since that time, injuries have reshaped the Patriots on a weekly basis while the Bills have showed some promise when Tyrod Tylor has been their starting quarterback.
The Patriots enter this game with 9-0 record looking to go 10-0 for only the second time in franchise history. Rex Ryan, on the other hand, is trying to get his first three game win streak as a head coach since 2011. As much as the Buffalo Bills’ fans still crack open their GCA to celebrate their Week 17 victory over the Patriots last season, the Bills have not won a meaningful November game in Foxboro since the 2000 season.
So in yet another futile attempt to be non-bias and analytical, both teams were broken down in key areas to see how they will match up against each other and which one may have the key to a victory.
Quarterback – Patriots: Much to the chagrin of Roger Goodell, if the MVP voting was to occur today Tom Brady may be close to being a unanimous winner. For the Bills, Tyrod Taylor may have already established himself as the best starting QB not named “Brady” in the AFC East. However, when you look at the caliber of the other starting quarterbacks in the division not in a Patriots uniform, it’s really not much of an accomplishment.
Running Backs – Bills: Buffalo’s duo of LeSean McCoy and Karlos Williams may be the best one-two punch in AFC right now. Together they have ran over some of the best (and most expensive) defensive lines in the NFL. The Patriots, on the other hand, have yet to find a complementary back to LaGarrette Blount who is tied for the lead in rushing touchdowns in the AFC.
Wide Receivers – Bills: With Rex Ryan’s pre-World War II offense, the Bills receivers may not have had the opportunities you would see in a modern offense. However, they are a physically gifted group that now has the edge over their New England counterparts since Julian Edelman has been lost for the balance of the regular season.
Tight Ends – Patriots: The Bills’ Stephon Gilmore has stepped up to the microphone and proclaimed that Buffalo is ‘gonna be ready’ for Rob Gronkowski……..Be careful what you wish for.
Offensive Line – Push: Both the Bills and Patriots have had some struggles with their offensive lines this year. New England is expecting the return of up to three linemen from injury this week but it’s obviously too early to know what kind of impact they may have.
Defensive Front Seven – Push: Both the Bills and Patriots have talented front sevens. Buffalo’s strength has been on their defensive line while the Patriots have one of the better linebacker groups in the Division. The Patriots’ front seven have quietly become one of the stouter defenses against the run while being near the top of the league in quarterback sacks.
Secondary – Push: Both the Bills and Patriots have defensive back fields that feature some of the better young talent in the division and have had very similar yardage allowed and have created a similar number of turnovers.
Special Teams – Push: If kickers could win the MVP award, the Patriots Stephen Gostkowski would certainly be in that conversation. However the loss of Julian Edelman levels the Special Teams comparison between these two teams.
Coaching – Patriots: Uncharacteristically, Rex Ryan has been rather quiet this week with his usual blow-hard rhetoric. Certainly this is not a sign of things to come with Rex but it could be assumed that saying the wrong thing this week probably will not help his 1-9 record against Bill Belichick over their last 10 matches.
If we assign 2 points for every category (1 point per team for draws) this is how it lines up:
Key’s to a Patriots Victory:
1) Don’t forget the Running Game: In the week 2 matchup between these teams, the Patriots completely abandoned their running game and allowed Tom Brady to throw the ball 59 times. Since the Patriots will be without Julian Edelman, the Bills will probably double team Rob Gronkowski and blanket Danny Amendola in an effort to take away the short quick passing game that killed the Bills in Week 2. Buffalo’s defense is allowing 4.1 yards per carry so mixing in the running game may provide some positive results.
2) Improved Late Down Efficiency: The Patriots were a combine 3 for 12 on third and fourth down conversions in Week 2. This included being 0 for 2 on fourth down late in the game which allowed the Bills to make the game seem closer than it actually was. The Patriots should be more mindful with play selection on third down and not be hesitant to kick the ball away (or go for a long field goal) based on how well the defense has been playing and the ability of Stephen Gostkowski to kick long field goals.
3) Offensive Line Play: With the amount of injuries that the Patriots have sustained on their offensive line and with their skilled position players, the Bills may see this as an opportunity to heavily pressure Tom Brady. With the potential of several key players returning to the offensive line this week, the Patriots must find a way to give Brady more time in the pocket to scan the field for open receivers.
In the last two weeks, the Patriots have lost two of their key offensive weapons in Dion Lewis and Julian Edelman. In the past, the Patriots have found players to ‘plug in’ when injuries occur and have had success. However, with these two injuries the possibility of finding players on the roster to replace their production seems highly unlikely forcing the Patriots to potentially make a significant change in their offensive philosophy. Adding to their challenge has been the ongoing changes on their offensive line which, up to this point, have been masked by Tom Brady’s ability to thrown the ball quickly. The Bills, knowing that quick passing killed them in Week 2, could see an opportunity to pressure Tom Brady while taking away shorter routes knowing that two of three best offensive weapons that Brady had are no longer available.
This will probably be a low scoring game which very well may come down to a late game deciding field goal.
The Knuckles Prediction: Patriots 20 – Bills 17