AFC East

CK’s Patriots@Bills – A Highly Biased Game Preview

CK’s Patriots@Bills – A Highly Biased Game Preview
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Monday Night Football features Round 1 of the annual AFC East Slugfest between the New England Patriots and the Buffalo Bills.  This will be the 117th meeting between these old AFL rivals with the Patriots holding a commanding 72-43-1 record over the beleaguered Bills.  While New England has dominated this match up since Bill Belichick arrived in Foxboro (31-5), things were not always this way.  If you jump into your time machine and travel back to the late 80’s and early 90’s, Buffalo had a pretty good run against New England winning out of 11 out of 14 games between the 1988 and the 1994 season…..Jump in the time machine again and you will even see the Bills having a 9 game winning streak against the Patriots between the 1971 and 1975 seasons as well.
However….It’s a much different reality today.
Buffalo (2-5) enter this game after getting shellacked to the tune of 37-5 by the Indianapolis Colts.  Between injuries and horrific quarterback play, their surprising playoff run from last season seems like a distant memory and their season is on the brink of spiraling out of control.  Currently, the Buffalo Bills are on pace to have the worst statistical offense in modern NFL History……OUCH!
While New England (5-2) is sitting in their usually spot at the top of the AFC East, this years’ team has struggled through injury and has spent most of this season trying to find their offensive and defensive rhythm.  While it seems that their offense is slowing returning the form that most of the NFL expects (averaging 30.6 ppg), defensively this has been a flawed team that can’t seem to find a way to stop any opponent that’s not named “the Miami Dolphins”.  
The primetime lights will be shining bright on Monday 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:  Oh boy…..Lets just put it this way:  In the first seven games of this season, all three of the Buffalo Bills quarterbacks have thrown a combine 3 touchdown passes….Brady threw 3 touchdowns last week alone.
Running Backs – PATRIOTS:  While both teams are struggling with injuries issues in their backfields, the Patriots’ James White is off to his most productive season in his career and it only seems that he will be featured more and more and each week passes. 
Wide Receivers – PATRIOTS:  By measurables, there is no doubt that the Buffalo Bills wide receivers are bigger, stronger, and faster than their Patriots’ counterparts.  That being said, while the Patriots wide receivers have been in flux and their development in the passing game has been a work in progress, their production far outweighs what the Bills’ receiving corps are doing on the field at this time.
Tight Ends – PATRIOTS:  Even though the Patriots’ Rob Gronkowski is dealing a back injury and is listed as a game time decision, Buffalo’s tight ends have been virtually invisible in their offense.
Offensive Line – PATRIOTS:  While statistically the Patriots and Bills have been run blocking relatively equally up to this point in the season, where New England separates themselves is their ability to protect their Quarterback.  Entering Week 8, the only teams worse than the Buffalo Bills at protecting their quarterback were the Cleveland Browns and San Francisco 49ers.
Defensive Front Seven – BILLS:  One of the few bright spots for the Buffalo Bills has been the play of their front seven.  While they are average at best stopping the run, they have been very effective at applying pressure to opposing quarterbacks and are currently tied for 5th in the NFL for quarterback sacks (19).
Secondary – BILLS:  While New England secondary is near the top of the NFL with interceptions and lowest allowed quarterback rating, the Bills secondary is allowing fewer touchdowns and significantly fewer yards.
Special Teams – PATRIOTS:  While the Bills’ punter is the busiest punter in the league, New Englands’ special teams showed that they have the ability to be game changers in Week 7 and appear to be poised to make a play at any given time.
Coaching – PATRIOTS:  Playing meaningful games in December and leading the Bills to the playoffs was a huge accomplishment for Buffalo’s Sean McDermott last year.  However he has followed up that moment of success with what could end up as being a historically bad season.  The coaching carousel is nothing new in Buffalo and if the season keeps heading in a bad direction, it wouldn’t shock anyone if the Pegulas toss McDermott over the falls and start all over again.  Did anyone mention that Bill Belichick is 31-5 against the Bills during his time in New England?
If we assign 2 points for every category (1 point per team for draws) this is how it lines up:

Betting Line:  Patriots -13 ½  
Key’s to a Patriots Victory:
Establish the Running Game:  The Patriots running backs have been devastated by injury this season but that is no reason for New England to abandon the run.  With the Bills’ front seven looking to get pressure on Brady, the Patriots need to rely on Kenjon Barner to work in tandem with James White to slow down Buffalo’s pass rush.
2) Expect the Unexpected:  Don’t be surprised if the Bills dig deep in their bag of tricks and pull out plays that you would not expect.  The Patriots need to be prepared that a desperate team may resort to desperate play calling.  
3) Don’t be Complacent – Beware of the Trap Game: While certainly the Bills may be on pace to have the worst offense in NFL history, there is no reason for the Patriots to take this team lightly or think this is going to be an easy win.  Ask the Vikings……The Bills were such underdogs in that game that it looked like Minnesota didn’t look at film or even practice.
On paper, this game seems like a major mismatch between a team in the Patriots that will certainly make it to the playoffs and a team in the Bills that seem like they will certainly have a Top 5 pick in next year’s draft.  However, it is a division game where anything can and usually does happen.
Look for a surprising close game going into the 4th Quarter that will end with the score not reflecting how close tight the game actually was.
The Knuckles Prediction:  Patriots 27 – Bills 21 

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