After a well needed bye week, the New England Patriots will get back to the field this Sunday against the Buffalo Bills. The Patriots had time after their trip to London to rest, relax, and get healthy. The big news New England made over the bye week was at the trade deadline when they upgraded their secondary with the acquisition of Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ cornerback Aqib Talib. Unfortunately, Talib is ineligible to play this weekend due to suspension.
As for the Bills, their struggles continue both on-the-field and in the locker room. The team is 3-5 and not living up to their preseason hype. However, the major comments came from the front office after a 21-9 loss to the Houston Texans. General Manager Buddy Nix told the media that he did not want to leave his job without acquiring a franchise quarterback. While he has a point, QB Ryan Fitzpatrick has put some good numbers as Patriots’ fans know, but it’s his propensity to turn the football over via the interception that gets him in trouble late in games. Can Buffalo win their first game at Gillette Stadium in franchise history this week and change the course of their season?
Here are my keys to the matchup on Sunday:
Don’t Let the Run Game “Spill” Over: The strength of Chan Gailey’s offense comes in their two-headed rushing attack. CJ Spiller and Fred Jackson have a bit of a thunder and lightning combo to them. With Jackson back healthy, the two have seen a split in carries over the last few games. Last week against the Texans, each running back had six carries a piece. Lately though, it has been Spiller has had most of his production on the receiving end of things. Last week, Spiller had five catches for 63 yards against Houston last week. Against New England back in Week 4, he was held in check to just eight carries for 33 yards rushing including one fumble. For Buffalo to have a chance this week, they will need that running game to come up with some great production.
FitzMagic or FitzTragic: It seems whenever we talk about Patriots-Bills, the main key for this game usually is turnovers. For the Bills to pull the upset, they have to limit their turnovers, and especially limit the bad timing of those turnovers. Remember, in Week 4, the Patriots were trailing 21-7 in the 3rd quarter, but they used turnovers and a high-paced offense to bail themselves out. Historically, the Patriots know how to take the ball away from Ryan Fitzpatrick. Despite averaging 284 yards per game and throwing for 11 touchdowns, the Patriots have intercepted “The Amish Rifile” 16 times! This includes four interceptions back in Week 4. Since then, he only has thrown two INT’s in the last four games. But, like I mentioned in the first key, the Bills will need balance from the ground game and big vertical plays downfield in the passing game from Fitzpatrick to get the job done.
Fear the Byrd Man: Jairus Byrd has become one of those players in the secondary for Buffalo that has made plays and forced turnovers. A prime example of that came in the first matchup against New England when he forced two fumbles and had nine tackles. The 2009 2nd round pick has flourished in his role in Dave Wanstedt’s defense because he has the ability to take the ball away. Against Arizona back on October 14th, Byrd had two interceptions as well. He is going to fly around the secondary. So, hopefully this time around, players like Rob Gronkowski and Wes Welker will hang onto the football this time around.
Tom Brady is 19-2 in his career against the Bills, so I see no reason as to why that record will not improve to 20-2. The Bills are in a state of turmoil right now and the Patriots come into this game a little bit healthier. Plus, the Pats ran the ball for over 200 yards in the first meeting against the Bills. I expect a big game from Stevan Ridley on the ground. I don’t like to pick blowouts, but it is tough to see any chance Buffalo has in this game.
PATRIOTS 41 BILLS 24