After you are done opening your presents on Christmas Day, you'll get a chance to see the New England Patriots take the field against the Buffalo Bills with a lot on the line. Last weekend, the Patriots nearly ruined the Christmas cheer by needing a last second clock management mistake by backup Packers’ quarterback, Matt Flynn, to secure a 31-27 win. We told you guys last week that the game would be close, but we didn’t think Dan Connolly, of all people, would be the hero of the ballgame. Still, the defense is improving, and the Pats are 12-2 with two games remaining.
Here is the scenario: If the Patriots defeat the Bills on Sunday in Orchard Park or the Jets lose to Chicago in Soldier Field, New England would be the AFC East champions for the second straight year and the number 1 seed in the AFC playoffs. Most importantly, the road to Dallas will go through chilly Gillette Stadium where Brady has won 26 of his last 27 games. As an added bonus, New England will not have to play all their starters in the season finale on January 2nd against Miami.
The Buffalo Bills, though, are no pushovers. Since starting the year 0-8, Chan Gailey’s team has won four of their last six, including a road win over the Miami Dolphins last week. Before the first matchup with New England, Gailey benched Trent Edwards at quarterback and started Ryan Fitzpatrick (Terrell Suggs’ Pro Bowl Pick). Fitzpatrick made the Bills offense multi-dimensional and kept Buffalo in the game on the road with a 38-30 loss.
The Bills have played some contenders tough this year, including the Steelers, Ravens, and Kansas City Chiefs. A Rian Lindell made field goal or a Stevie Johnson catch in the endzone could make their season different than their current 4-10 record, but overall, the second half of this year has been a step in the right direction.
Here are your Holiday Keys to the game on Sunday:
Santa’s Running Reindeer: The main key for the Buffalo Bills is going to be to run the football and control the clock. When watching the game on Sunday, the Green Bay Packers were able to run the ball effectively with Brandon Jackson and John Kuhn. Why was that? Well, with the loss of Mike Wright, Myron Pryor, and Ron Brace, New England is hurting in terms of depth at the defensive line position, thus allowing wider gaps for the opposition’s running game.
In Week three, the Bills had 134 yards on the ground, but the main contributor to thos yards, Marshawn Lynch, is now in Seattle. Look for Fred Jackson to be the number one back in this game. New England might not get all three guys back on that D-Line, so expect Jackson, who Belichick’s defense never seems to be able to stop, to have a 100 yard rushing game. Rookie C.J Spiller should also have an impact on special teams with his returning ability and he brings a nice change of pace with his speed over Jackson’s power.
The Pats also have BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead, your equivalent of Dasher and Dancer. They ran for 140 yards between the two of them in Week 3. Expect the same this week against the league’s worst run defense.
No Lumps of Coal: As always, we hope you don’t receive coal for Christmas. But, the lumps of coal, in terms of hits, have been flying at Tom Brady lately. In the last three games against good sacking defenses, Brady has been sacked nine times. That is unacceptable from an offensive line that had been playing well all season. Yes, the Pats have still scored 30+ points, but one has to wonder if the injury to Stephen Neal taking its toll on the offensive line.
The Santa Claus of last week, Dan Connolly, is most likely out this week with a concussion. So, without Stephen Neal, the Patriots are looking at Ryan Wendell or Quinn Ojinaka to play the right guard position. They will have to take on a 3-4 defense that has Marcus Stroud and Kyle Williams. Williams has 5.5 sacks this season and could provide an Aaron Schobel-like impact of past years on Brady. If Tom stays upright, Pats will most likely have 30 points again at least. If not, Buffalo can hang around with Jairus Byrd and Leodis McKelvin in the secondary
They give, give, and give some more: Christmas is all about giving. That has been the motto for the Buffalo Bills in 2010. They have 26 giveaways, which is tied for third in the AFC, behind only the Bengals and the Jaguars. This includes two turnovers in Week 3 in that 38-30 loss at Gillette Stadium. Ryan Fitzpatrick has done a good job of not turning the ball over this year as much compared to past Bills’ quarterbacks, but he does have 12 interceptions this year. That number should go up against the league’s top defense in terms of takeaways.
As far as the Patriots are concerned, they are like the Ebenezer Scrooge of turnovers. They don’t like to give anything away. They have a NFL record of six straight games without a turnover. The Bills did force a fumble on Brandon Tate in Week 3, but I don’t see that happening here. Also, Tom Brady seems to have a knack for not throwing interceptions. He has 292 pass attempts without an INT. If he can do that for seventeen more throws on Sunday, he will break Bernie Kosar’s record of 308.
Prediction: Vegas lists the Patriots as a nine point favorite in Buffalo on Sunday. After their play against the Packers last Sunday, I think the Bills are going to cover. Yes, I know these are the 4-10 Bills, but this is a different Buffalo team that has been playing good football of late. Will this young defense look beyond their record? There is no evidence to say they won’t. Just look at Cleveland and the Packers game.
The Bills will keep it competitive to the 4th Quarter, but in the end, the Patriots have Tom Brady and Bill Belichick. They will be focused in trying to lock up home field advantage as quickly as possible. Brady is the MVP of this league over Michael Vick and I predict that he shows that with three touchdowns this weekend. The 4th quarter defense of New England will make a play at the end of the game. We haven’t seen Devin McCourty intercept a pass in a while. This is the game he gets pick number seven.
Patriots 31 Bills 24
From all of us at Foxboroblog.com, we would like to wish you all a Happy New Year and hope that your 2011 is full of great fun and who knows, maybe a Super Bowl championship!