By: Bob George/BosSports.net
October 29, 2005

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Go ahead. Right here. Hit me. Hard as you can. Then it's my turn.

Patriots/Bills
Close-Up
Where: Gillette Stadium
Foxborough, Mass.
When: Sunday 10/30/05
8:30 PM EST
TV National:
TV Local:
ESPN
WCVB-TV 5
DSS: DirecTV
Channel 206, 931
2005 Team
Records:
Patriots 3-3
Bills 3-4
Latest Line: Patriots by 9
Six tough opponents did just that. They hit the Patriots and hit them hard. The Patriots came away with a level record. Now it's the Patriots' turn to hit back against all three of their division opponents and four non-divisional foes. The injured Patriots, in their quest to win an unprecedented third straight Super Bowl, still enjoy an excellent chance to win the division, make the playoffs, and even get a first round bye.

That's not bad considering all that has gone wrong thus far.

The Patriots finally get to play a divisional game this week, hosting Buffalo at Gillette Stadium on Sunday night. After the opening salvo of six playoff teams thrown at them, finally the Patriots get a game which, while not really a gimme, presents themselves as a solid favorite to win. The Patriots get a Bills team in various states of chaos, beginning with the quarterback situation and ending with a porous defense which is next to last in the league in run defense.

The headlines over the past two weeks have centered around the return of Tedy Bruschi, about to make his return after a minor stroke suffered in February. Most everyone knows that he alone won't cure all that is wrong with the two-time champions, but his return, given that Bruschi doesn't suffer some relapse, can only help the team. If nothing else, just the thought of having him out there should buoy the defense and bring out more emotion from all out there.

The Patriots will be the benefactors of a relatively easy schedule the rest of the way. Six of the ten remaining games will be against the rest of the AFC East, and all six games should be winnable for the Patriots. The rest of the AFC East is by and large weak and inept, and unless the Patriots bring their "C" or "D" game to any of those contests, the Patriots can and should sweep the division.

That leaves the remaining four games, home contests against Indianapolis, New Orleans and Tampa Bay, and a road trip to Kansas City. The Colts are 7-0 against relatively easy competition, and haven't won in Foxborough since 1995. The Patriots may still be in Peyton Manning's head, and should be able to win until the Colts prove otherwise. New Orleans has had a rough year in more ways than one, and a win in this contest should be expected. Tampa Bay has been problematic for the Patriots in recent years; the Patriots have not beaten the Bucs since 1988. For the second year in a row, the Patriots must travel to Kansas City; the Patriots won at Arrowhead last year for the first time ever, and won in Kansas City for the first time since 1964.

If the Patriots can get at least a split of these four games and sweep the division, that puts them at 11-5. To get a first round bye, the Patriots will have to hope that Denver and San Diego hit the skids and that they finish at least even with Pittsburgh. Both the Steelers and Broncos have one fewer loss than the Patriots at present, and the Chargers have an inferior record to the Patriots (3-4) despite having pasted the Patriots at Foxborough four weeks ago. This makes the game at Kansas City the most critical of the non-divisional games if the Patriots have the two seed in their sights (assuming the Patriots cannot catch the Colts, who are massacring meager competition).

The first step in that direction is to have a good, sound game against Buffalo, a game they should by all rights win and win easily. Buffalo, which fell to 3-4 after an ugly 38-17 loss at Oakland last weekend, has major problems in key places which the Patriots, even in their current state, can and should exploit.

If Corey Dillon has returned to full health (he missed all of the Denver game), he should have a great game on Sunday. And the Patriots will need him to have one. The prevailing opinion here is that the Patriots should use Dillon to run clock and keep their wounded defense off the field as much as possible. If Dillon is healthy, look for Dillon to do just that, especially in the second half.

But having the defense on the field may not matter. Willis McGahee has not yet been able to show off his form which made him one of the nation's most heralded collegiate backs as a Miami Hurricane. Part of it is a rebuilt offensive line, but one also has to wonder if McGahee will ever regain his old form since suffering that grisly knee injury in the Fiesta Bowl against Ohio State.

J.P. Losman was supposed to be the future of the Bills, good enough to send Drew Bledsoe packing to Dallas. But Losman has since given way to Kelly Holcomb, who can say he recently led the new Cleveland Browns to the playoffs following the 2002 season. The problem here is that saying that Holcomb is your guy at quarterback is to call the 2005 season a major disappointment. Holcomb can still play well, but Losman was supposed to be the guy this year. How strange it is that Holcomb is doing much the same thing here in Buffalo like he did in Cleveland; spelling a young underachieving quarterback (remember Tim Couch?).

With Bruschi back in the fold, and with Richard Seymour slated to come back to the lineup, the Patriots remain most vulnerable at defensive back and left tackle. A good game from the front seven (who, with Seymour back, might play a base 4-3 most of the game) will take a ton of pressure off whoever plays back there. If Nick Kaczur and a tight end can keep Aaron Schobel off of Tom Brady, Brady should enjoy a good night.

This will be the first of two straight games under the lights for the Patriots. Next week's game against the Colts will be a Monday night clash. The Patriots will continue to draw primetime coverage being the reigning champions. All the football world will be watching the Patriots for two weeks in a row, and the audience will be greater since the World Series is over (Game 7 could have been Sunday night had the Astros put up a better fight against the World Champion White Sox).

The Patriots might not be happy with 3-3 right now, but they should be, all things considered. And now, things might finally be breaking their way. A third straight Super Bowl win is still very much a possibility down the road.

But your boys know better. One game at a time. It begins with Buffalo Sunday night.


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