By: Russ Goldman
After the Patriots beat the Packers at Gillette Stadium 31-27 last Sunday Night, they are back on the road to play the Buffalo Bills this Sunday. Before each Patriots game this season, as always here’s a preview with my five keys to the game that I hope will lead to a Patriots victory.
WHERE TO WATCH: The game will be shown live Sunday on CBS at 1:00 PM EST. You can also listen to the game on 98.5 The Sports Hub in Boston.
GAME NOTES: The Bills come into this game with a record of 4-10, and in last place in the AFC East. However, they have won 4 out of their last 6 games, and in their last game beat the Dolphins 17-14. The Patriots had a hard time beating the Bills at home earlier in the year, and Buffalo has only improved since their first meeting. Even though the Patriots have beaten the Bills 14 in a row I am expecting a close game. The Bills are definitely not a team to take lightly, and will give the Patriots everything they have.
On defense, the strength of this unit has to be their secondary. At the cornerbacks you have Drayton Florence and Terrence McGee who will challenge the Patriots receivers. Donte Whitner and Jairus Byrd are accomplished safeties to round out a solid secondary which is currently ranked 7th in the NFL in defending the pass.
The weakness of the defense has to be stopping the run. The Bills are dead last in this category giving up 158 yards per game on the ground.
On offense, this unit has definitely improved over the course of the season. They have a couple of dangerous running backs that the Patriots will need to account for. Fred Jackson is their main threat at the position, and he is having a solid year. He has ran for 811 yards with a 4.1 yards per carry average. He is also a threat in the passing game, and the Patriots will need to watch him carefully.
The big improvement of this unit has to be at the quarterback position. Ryan Fitzpatrick showed Patriots fans in the first match-up that he can play at a high level. He has only improved his game from the beginning of the season. Fitzpatrick has thrown 23 touchdown passes with only 12 interceptions. His main receiver now is Steve Johnson who has 72 receptions on the season. Anyone that has watched the Bills this season knows that offensively they can move the ball and put up points.
Overall, the Bills are a team on the rise, but the Patriots have certainly had their number this decade. I think the Pats have too much going for them right now to stumble in this trap game. I feel confident that the Patriots will clinch the division and home-field throughout the playoffs with a victory against the Bills.
Here are my “five keys” which I believe could play a role in a potential victory for the Pats.
1. Ryan Wendell or Quinn Ojinnaka need to protect Tom Brady in the place of Dan Connolly at guard. Connolly will not play against the Bills because of a concussion. Protecting Brady will be very important, and Wendell or Ojinnaka will probably have that role. For Sunday’s game this position is an area of concern.
2. The Patriots need to run the ball and control the game. This key is pretty obvious for a few reasons. First, the Bills are 32nd in the NFL against the run. Secondly, their pass defense is solid so a stong running game should open up the Bills secondary especially with play-action. Third, it is going to be a cold day, and a good running attack is always needed in these conditions. If they can run the ball on Sunday effectively they should have complete control of the game.
3. The Patriots need to contain Fred Jackson. This player has hurt the Patriots in past games. What makes this key even more important than in game’s past is that the Bills are utilizing him even more in their overall offensive game-plans. Do not be surprised to see him lined up in different positions on Sunday.
4. The Patriots need to win the turnover battle. This is another obvious key, but one that cannot be taken lightly. The Bills turnover ratio is -5 and the Patriots is +20. If the Patriots can capitalize on turnovers against the Bills and limit their own I think they will be on their way to a division title.
5. Shayne Graham needs to be very solid in the kicking game. Graham needs to do a better job than he has so far this season in kick-offs. The Patriots cannot afford to have the Bills starting drives at their 30 yard line or better. Graham will need some real strong kick-offs on Sunday to push the Bills back. He also cannot afford to miss any extra points. His job on Sunday could be vital to a Patriots victory.
This will not be an easy game for the Patriots. I think it will come down to the Patriots limiting their mistakes, and capitalizing on the Bills shortcomings. I see the Patriots pulling out a 21-17 victory against the Bills.
What are your predictions? Feel free to post them in the comments section below.