The New England Patriots at the Buffalo Bills
On Sunday, one of the longest AFC East rivalries is renewed in Orchard Park when the defending Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots make their annual visit to Western New York to play the Buffalo Bills. Some things remain the same: The Patriots are still led by Bill Belichick and Tom Brady with Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman driving the offensive attack. However, Erie County is fully infected by “The Rex Effect”. First year Bills coach Rex Ryan is at the helm of that tug boat and the usual media blathering has already started in Erie County.
The Bills have a renew sense of hope this year led by a strong defense and Coach Rex Ryan’s mouth. After the Week 1 demolition of the Super Bowl favorite Indianapolis Colts, the GCA is flowing in Western New York like the mighty Niagara River. The Patriots enter the game after beating the Pittsburgh Steelers on opening night. New England enters this game with a surprising lack of fanfare surrounding them thanks to Rex Ryan. With a wall of rookies protecting Tom Brady, an injured wide receiving corps, and a defense still using the early part of the regular season as a preseason, the Patriots seem poised to have an early season stumble.
Though we are months away from the playoffs, this is a significant division game 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: Tyrod Taylor had a nice debut against a mediocre Colt Defense in Week 1. Showing the ability to run and be an effective passer with defenses focused on the run, Taylor showed some promise to remain the Bills short term answer at quarterback for now. However to compare him to Tom Brady is ridiculous and unfair to Taylor.
Running Backs – Push: Neither the teams’ running backs distinguished themselves in their Week 1 match ups. Though the Bills’ LeSean McCoy was a superstar in the league at one time, he has yet to regain that elite form after suffering a preseason leg injury. LeGarrette Blount returns for the Patriots after a Week 1 suspension and has a tall order finding running lanes in the Bills’ defense.
Wide Receivers – Bills: If the Patriots were full strength at wide receiver, this category would have been a “push”. Clearly the Bills’ wide receivers have the athletic advantage over the Patriots but the Patriots wide receiver corps is much more experienced and have a superior QB and scheme to play with.
Tight Ends – Patriots: There is no one tight end (or group of tight ends) on the Bills’ roster that can measure up to Rob Gronkowski. The Bills’ Charles Clay has the potential of being serviceable at some point.
Offensive Line – Push: Both teams faced suspect defensive fronts in their respective Week 1 match ups so determining a clear cut favorite at this point is difficult. Both teams offensive lines are built for their offensive identities: The Bills’ offensive line appears to be built to run the ball where the Patriots’ line performs well with pass blocking.
Defensive Front Seven – Bills: Both rosters have formidable front sevens with a good level of talent. However, Buffalo’s front seven gets the edge in this match up mainly because of their defensive line.
Secondary – Push: The Bills and Patriots enjoy having some top level talent in their secondaries (Bills with Stephon Gilmore and the Patriots with Devon McCourty). However both teams have a drop off in talent after that. The Bills secondary does have the benefit of having one of the better (and most expensive) defensive lines in the NFL to assist them. There are some potentially good players on both rosters but they do require more playing time to determine how good they actually are or will be.
Special Teams – Push: The kickers are evenly matched with Stephen Gostkowski and Dan Carpenter being the top 2 kickers in the AFC in 2014. Both teams have punt returners on their rosters that can change field position and potentially score at any time.
Coaching – Patriots: Without a doubt, Rex Ryan is a master motivator. Historically his teams have taken on his brash personality to a fault at times. Ryan has been labeled by some as a ‘defensive genius’ but he is a product of the players he has been provided going all the way back to his time as the Ravens’ defensive coordinator. Offensively he is rather clueless and his game day and situational management can be sloppy. Clearly the Patriots have the advantage in the coaching staff department with Bill Belichick but Rex Ryan, to his credit, has been more successful than most slowing down the Patriots’ offense at times.
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) Dealing with the Environment: Though the weather should not be a factor, the drunken masses filling Ralph Wilson Stadium could be louder than an F5 tornado. Clearly Rex Ryan wants Buffalo fans as loud as possible to give the Bills any possible advantage but clearly Bill Belichick and the Patriots know that the crowd will only be as loud as they allow them to be. Getting first downs, scoring points, and defensive stops will swing the crowd one way or another.
2) Containing the Running Game: The running quarterback (or in this case the possible throwing running back) is one of the hardest things to plan for and defend against. The Patriots defense must stay disciplined in their rushing lanes, try not to over pursue, and set the defensive edges better for them to have the best opportunity to be successful against this style of offense.
3) Offensive Line Play: The Bills have assembled, what could be, the most expensive defensive line in history. To expect the Patriots offensive line to stonewall the Bills’ defensive front is unrealistic. However this game could be decided on how well the Patriots offensive line is able to manage the Bills’ defensive line in key situations.
This should be a very good, and potentially low scoring, game between the two best teams in the AFC East. This game does seem to have more psychological meaning to the Buffalo Bills then it does to the New England Patriots. A home loss to the Patriots would be a crushing blow to the Buffalo faithful, players, and especially Rex Ryan while a victory may be the only thing holding Rex back from mailing “Soon to be Champs” Christmas cards with a guarantee stamp on it. For the Patriots, they have already set up their year to use the first few weeks of the season as a learning opportunity while they wait for reinforcements to arrive between Week 6 and 8. It will be critical for the Patriots to leave this game without any major injuries that could be detrimental later in the year. A victory on Sunday would just be a bonus for them.
The Knuckles Prediction: Patriots 19 – Bills 17