Patriots Preview - Sweeping or sleeping on the Bills?
Friday, November 09, 2012
Probably a good thing the Patriots played nobody last week.
After all, the bye week usually always comes at the right time, when a team finds the need to rest the injured, regroup from disappointment, and game plan for a 2nd half charge. And considering the Patriots (5-3) are playing the Buffalo Bills (3-5) again this week - after beating them 52-28 in September on the road - the normal complacency that might follow a game like that...shouldn't.
They've had a week off to recharge their batteries. New England should be ready to play, and they may be as healthy as they've been since the season started.
14 players were listed as "limited" on the injury report Thursday, but don't be fooled...the Patriots never let on just how healthy or hurt they might be. TE Aaron Hernandez, fresh from the experience of becoming a new dad earlier this week, should be recovered enough from an ankle injury to play, along with safeties Patrick Chung and Steve Gregory. Both players returned to practice, which is good news for a secondary that was held together with scotch tape and Elmer's glue two weeks ago. And even though he won't be eligible to practice or play until next week, the Patriots traded with Tampa Bay for CB Aqib Talib this week - his arrival could mean quality assistance is on the way for a unit that has been burned over the top.
Conversely, Buffalo is ending a stretch of six games that began with their 24 point loss at home to the Patriots on Sept. 30, and included losses at San Francisco, to Tennessee and at Houston (last week). After already experiencing their week off two weeks ago, the Bills' expected improvement this season hasn't yet materialized, largely because the defense has been banged up. Former Patriot DE Mark Anderson is out with a knee injury, DE Mario Williams has apparently been playing - at less than 100% - with an injured wrist, and the secondary is also beaten up.
Add to the mix an offense that can't seem to find its identity (do we run, or do we pass?) with top RB's C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson available, and the Bills are a team on the brink. But which way will they fall? A win Sunday puts them right back in the AFC East mix for this year, where a loss might take them out.
That would certainly keep the Bills from being the next "nobody" on the Patriots' schedule.
Don't Fall Into the Trap
Clearly, the Patriots should be favored in this game, and they are. Heavily, by NFL standards. Sometimes, however, that can signal trouble...and with a team like Buffalo knowing they really have very little to lose, that can make them very dangerous to play. Still, as long as New England doesn't self-inflict wounds, the Pats have enough on both sides of the ball to win what could be a very entertaining game.
Slow Down Spiller
That's easier said than done, as few teams have really managed to do it. From the Buffalo point of view, however, the Bills have contributed to the problem here by not finding Spiller enough in the offense. Buffalo is number six in the NFL in rushing yards per game, #2 in yards gained per carry. The Patriots know running is the key to their success, and they'll target Spiller in an effort to make Ryan Fitzpatrick more predictable at QB. Don't be surpised, however, if the Bills try to pick on the Patriot secondary...since everyone else has.
New England has beaten Buffalo 22 of the past 24 times they've met. That's dominance by any standard. In a league that takes pride in its parity, no one can be taken lightly...and certainly not a divisional opponent. As long as the offensive line can keep Tom Brady relatively clean, and not allow Mario Williams to wreak havoc, the Pats should be able to name their score. And win.