A huge AFC East battle takes place in Week 8 as the New England Patriots travel to the wasteland of Western New York to take on the Buffalo Bills. These two teams met just four weeks ago where the Bills barely squeaked by the Tom Brady-less Patriots to the tune of 16-0.
For the Buffalo Bills, after a rare four game winning streak, they are coming off an embarrassing Week 7 losing to the sea floor skulking Miami Dolphins. Already a game behind the Patriots, this has become a must win game in order to keep their slim hopes for a playoff berth alive.
The Patriots enter this game on a three game winning streak and have been feasting on the sub-par AFC North. Since the return of Tom Brady, the Patriots have been averaging 31.6 points per game while only surrendering 15.3 points per game on defense. The Brady led Patriots have been a staggering 25-3 against the Bills and another win would tie Brady for the all-time lead for victories against a single opponent.
New England is trying to avoid being swept by Buffalo for the first time since 1999 (cue the moronic Prince references) 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: Second Year starter Tyrod Taylor has, for most part, established himself as the best quarterback in the division not on the Patriots’ roster. Though he is a bit off his pace in regards to his passing statistics from last season, he continues to be a dual threat and can still extend drives by running with the ball. For the Patriots, this will be Brady’s fourth start since returning from his vacation and he already leads the league in completion percentage, yards per attempt, Quarterback Rating, and adjusted completion percentage against pressure.
Running Backs – Patriots: The Bills and Patriots feature the two best running backs in the AFC East in LeSean McCoy and LeGarrette Blount. However, with McCoy nursing and injury and questionable to play, that gives the advantage to the Patriots in this area.
Wide Receivers – Patriots: From a yardage perspective, Buffalo’s tandem of Goodwin/Woods have produced almost as well as the Patriots’ Hogan/Edelman combo. However with the Bills’ Robert Woods recovering from a foot injury and the fact that the Patriots’ have a deeper wide receiver corps, the nod goes to the Patriots going into Sunday’s game.
Tight Ends – Patriots: Buffalo’s Charles Clay has been a nice target for Tyrod Taylor and actually leads the Bills in receiving yards (268) up to this point of the season. However, there may not be a duo in the NFL that can compare to New England’s two headed monster of Gronkowski and Bennett.
Offensive Line – Push: What seemed to be a liability for both the Patriots and the Bills going into the season, the offensive lines have turned out to be a pleasant surprises. Both teams enter this week’s matchup featuring offensive lines that are paving the way for top 10 rushing attacks. Though Bills have allowed more sacks than their New England counterparts, they have also helped their running game to produce 30 yards more per game on the ground than the Patriots.
Defensive Front Seven – Push: Both defensive fronts are loaded with talent on their defensive lines and in their Linebacker corps. Unfortunately, both units seem to have some defensive flaws as well. For Buffalo, they are tied for 2nd in the NFL in sacks and seem to be returning to pre-Rex form in that area. However they were just gashed in Week 7 by a sub-par Miami Dolphins squad that ran up 256 rushing yards on 41 carries. For the Patriots, they are near the bottom of the league in sacks but have been stout against the run allowing opponents only 92.3 yards per game.
Secondary – Bills: While both secondary units are similar in yardage surrendered, the Bills secondary has held opposing quarterbacks to a lower QB Rating and have had a few more interceptions than their Patriots counterparts.
Special Teams – Push: Normally if Stephen Gostkowski was kicking to his normal standard, the Patriots would edge out in this category. However, since, in his own words, he ‘sucks’, that puts both squads relatively even in this comparison.
Coaching – Patriots: Much to everyone’s surprise, Rex Ryan was relatively quiet during Buffalo’s four game win streak. Most likely Bills’ management has probably asked him to keep his antics to a minimum because, in all likelihood, he’s probably still skating on thin ice. However, even when the chips are down and things look bleak, Rex does have a way to come up with competitive game plans against the Patriots. For the Patriots, it’s hard to imagine that Bill Belichick will not have his team prepared knowing that the Bills already have beat them earlier this season and that a win would put them two games up in the division.
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:
Controlling the Line of Scrimmage: Bill Belichick coaching mantra has been to try to take away the things that opponents like to do. In this case, the Patriots need to focus on stopping the Bills running game and protecting the quarterback both of which are strengths of the Bills.
2) Improve on 3rd Down Efficiency on Offense: In Week 4, the Patriots were 1 for 12 on third down which led to a 13 minute swing in time of possession in the Bills favor. The return of Brady should improve this and look for the Patriots to try to get into manageable down and distances so that they can be more diverse on offense.
3) Don’t Get Caught Up in Rex Ryan’s Circus: What Rex Ryan lacks in coaching knowledge and ability he makes up for fostering a circus atmosphere. During the last meeting between these two teams a pregame fight started and it would not be out of the realm of possibility if that type of behavior is encouraged by the coaching staff. The Patriots need to look past these types of obvious antics and not get pulled into Rex’s Big-Top Circus tent.
Unfortunately big regular season games between these two franchises don’t happen nearly enough. Though the Patriots have dominated this division rivalry over the last decade and a half, the presence of Rex Ryan has made for interesting drama though the actual product he rolls out on the field may not be the best.
Look for this game to be very close with the Patriots pulling ahead late in the game against a shorthanded Bills squad.
The Knuckles Prediction: Patriots 24 – Bills 23