By: Bob George/
October 21, 2006

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ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Honk if you hate bye weeks.

Where: Ralph Wilson Stadium
Orchard Park, N.Y.
When: Sunday 10/22/06
1:00 PM EDT
TV National:
TV Local:
DSS: DirecTV
Channel 709, 724 (HD)
2006 Team
Patriots 4-1
Bills 2-4
Latest Line: Patriots by 5 1/2
Without Patriot football in your Sunday lives, you might think that there is nothing to live for. You are forced to watch stinkers like Miami versus the Jets and Buffalo versus Detroit. You couldn't even get refuge from baseball, as the Tigers wrapped up the American League pennant on Saturday and you have to be a total baseball addict to want to watch the NLCS.

Well, the wait is nearly over. The Patriots are finally back.

This week, they get a rematch with their opening day foe, a road division battle in Buffalo. The Bills have gone soft since their tough battle with the Patriots in Week 1, which resulted in the Patriots barely eking out a 19-17 win in Foxborough. For this rematch, the Bills are 2-4 and a shell of themselves from back in September. When you last saw the Bills, they let Detroit get its first win of the season.

So, this gives you the Patriot fan even more reason to despise bye weeks, no? You look at 2-4 Buffalo as next on your schedule and you can't wait for the 4-1 Patriots to go to 5-1 by merely showing up. Two weeks is too long to wait for a gimme win. The Patriots will take their next step towards a Miami date in February, plain and simple.

Bill Belichick makes 2-4 teams seem like the 1985 Bears for a reason.

Two weeks ago, this column cautioned against taking Miami lightly, and the Patriots wound up in a tight battle at home against a Dolphin team they were a mile better than on paper. The same issue will be in place at Ralph Wilson Stadium on Sunday. The Patriots are 5 ½ point favorites, but on paper all signs point to an easy Patriot win. But you all know that no games are played on paper, and Buffalo figures to play the Patriots tough like they did in September.

When you try and dissect a Patriots-Bills matchup, not much is made of linebacker Takeo Spikes. Every time Spikes plays against the Patriots, he makes some kind of impact play or he winds up being the defensive star of the game. When he was with Cincinnati in 2001, he was the defensive standout in the Bengals' opening day 23-17 win. Two years later, in Buffalo, he was again the defensive leader (along with Sam Adams and newly acquired Lawyer Milloy) in a 31-0 whitewash of the Patriots.

And this year, Spikes stuck it to the Patriots again. On the first offensive play of the season, Spikes rushed in unabated on Tom Brady and caused him to fumble, with London Fletcher picking up the loose ball and running it in for a shocking early touchdown. Brady admitted that he did not account for Spikes and did not call the proper blocking assignment nor the proper hot read. It was a case of Brady ignoring Spikes and paying dearly for it.

Granted, the Patriots have not lost to the Bills since that 2003 season opening disaster shortly after the Milloy release. But Spikes is the kind of defensive player who can harass the Patriots if they are not careful. He has shown over his career that he can give the Patriots problems if he stays healthy.

There are other defensive players the Patriots need to look out for. Aaron Schobel is another defender who seems to have his best games against the Patriots, as he made Matt Light look silly at times in the season opener. Fletcher. Spikes and Angelo Crowell make for a formidable linebacker trio. Terrence McGee and Nate Clements are a good cornerback tandem.

This game once again figures to be a defensive battle, but one which the Patriots can and should win. J.P. Losman is not anywhere near the polished quarterback the Bills keep hoping he will become. It stands to reason that if the Patriots can contain Willis McGahee and not allow Losman to get into a passing rhythm, the Patriots should hold down the Bills' offense just enough to come away with a win.

The Patriots, meanwhile, will once again try and get their passing game untracked. If Light can win the battle with Schobel and Brady has enough time to throw, Brady might try and get as many reps as he can with Doug Gabriel and, if healthy, Chad Jackson. Jackson has been hurt most of the year and the Patriot brass is getting tired of his sore hammy. But Gabriel has a chance this week to advance his rapport with Brady to the next level.

Laurence Maroney and Corey Dillon figure to get good numbers on the ground against the poor Buffalo run defense. If this holds true, it will open up the passing game even more for Brady to find Gabriel and Jackson. It is imperative that the Patriots use this opportunity to get a better working relationship established with the two men who figured to take over for Deion Branch and David Givens. Defenses in general have been all over tight end Ben Watson, a reason why he hasn't had the breakout season many thought he might have had this year. Being able to connect more with wide receivers will force defenses to lay off Watson as well.

Despite all this, Buffalo figures to give the Patriots a good defensive battle. It is a divisional opponent, and Belichick is right when he says that no divisional game is easy. The Patriots have had some recent success against the Bills on the road, winning five of their last six games here, and most of the wins coming in easy fashion.

The Patriots may indeed win this game easy. But especially after the narrow victory on opening day, don't expect this to be easy. Buffalo has the personnel to pull off an upset, something they nearly did on the road in Foxborough.

On the other hand, if the Bills play the Patriots like they did the Lions last weekend, the home town folks won't want to hang around come the fourth quarter.

And only then will your pining extra hard for Patriot football through the interminable bye week last week be justified.