Though Bills fan Matt Schaefer and Patriots fan Mike Dussault are mortal enemies on the Sundays when their teams clash, they put down their fan-allegiances this week to have a calm and hopefully insightful email discussion about this weekends key AFC East showdown. The results are below and luckily things remained civil….
Mike: Alright Matt, the Pats, Bills and Jets are all tied at the top of the AFC East and Miami is just a game back. Your Bills have lost two division games in a row, and, after a strong start where some had them Super Bow-bound, have fallen back to earth. What's going on with you guys the last couple weeks?
Matt: The Bills have been playing terrible ball. The team is going through some injuries (DE Aaron Schobel, CB Terrence McGee who was BURNED all game against freaking Ted Ginn, and now starting safety Donte Whitner who is a leader on that defense just to name a few) but they are playing awful no matter who is in there.
The offensive line has been terrible and Trent Edwards has come back down to earth. The rookie that has meant the most to the Bills has been Derek Fine who saw his first real action this week (WR James Hardy and CB Leodis McKelvin haven't even touched the field much and when they do they don't make an impact).
I dunno who was picking the Bills to make the Super Bowl but after starting off 4-0, they are now in a 1-3 stretch and need to turn things around.
Mike: Well, luckily both our teams are very much in the playoff hunt since half the teams in the AFC have four or five wins. I'd say the Bills probably need this one a little more than the Pats do, since falling to 0-3 in the division would be tough to overcome. What do you think your guys have to do to pull out a much-needed win?
Matt: Agree with you 100 percent on that point, the Bills need to win this game. For starters the team needs to get healthy and play like they did early in the season. When the Bills were 4-0 and even 5-1, they were playing great on all three aspects of the game.
Their offense was clicking, defense was solid and their special teams unit was game changing. Now nothing is working on all sides of the ball. They have to get back to basics and go with what worked early in the season. Holding onto the football and establishing a rushing game is a must.
Matt: What do the Patriots need to do in order to win this game and take over 1st place in the AFC East?
Mike: Like many Pats fans I think the team has been actually playing pretty well. I was impressed (and even surprised) at how they played at Indy. A dropped TD and a penalty cost them the game but they played solid football save those two plays. I think the final step is finishing more drives with touchdowns.
My favorite saying is "you can't bring knives to a gunfight" and that's exactly what the Pats have been doing. Luckily Stephen Gostkowski is turning in a Pro Bowl year. You can get by against lesser teams like the 49ers and Rams with field goals. But every divisional game is a gunfight and this week we’re going to need at least an Uzi.
Matt: This is always brought up when talking about the Patriots and I would like to know what is happening from a fan not just some talking head in the national media. How is Matt Cassel playing and can this team still make a long playoff run with Cassel at the reins?
Mike: Long playoff run? I don't know about that no matter how drunk I get off the Bill Belichick Kool Aid. Honestly, right now I think the Pats look like a one-and-done type team. Not to say they couldn't win a playoff game if they improve in the red zone offensively.
I think the defense has looked solid and could win a playoff game for them, but there's a lot of youth on D this year and that could mean inconsistency, especially in the tourney. If they got to the AFC Championship Game I’d consider the season a resounding success, win or lose.
Pats fans really shouldn’t complain about Cassel. When you look around at how other backup QBs have performed (see Brad Johnson) Cassel has done a solid job. The biggest thing for me is that he hasn't been turning the ball over.
I'd much rather see him take sacks than force passes that get picked off. He's steadily improved as the season has gone on; how good he can be remains to be seen, but if you had told me after Brady went down Cassel would be 5-3, tied for first in the AFC East and only lost to Indy by 3 points I would've asked what you were smoking.
Mike: So, any special wrinkles, ala ‘The Wildcat’, you think Bills are going to bust out to attack the Patriots defense? They've been vulnerable to the long pass in a couple games this year (San Diego, St. Louis) and have been generally tough to run on.
Matt: I have a feeling that the Bills will be forced to pass the ball more like they did last week against the Jets, but they should be able to have some success on the ground. The Pats do let up 105 yards on the ground a game (15th in the league).
Lee Evans should be covered at all times, if I am the Pats so I would expect the Bills to move him around the field trying to find a better match up. WRs James Hardy and Roscoe Parrish will have to step up their game.
Look for rookie TE Derek Fine to be used a little bit more also. They would love to get Marshawn and the run game going, while also getting some deep balls to Lee. If the running game works for the Bills, the Pats should watch out because that will open up the passing game with the Pats starting to stack the box.
Matt: What would a win do this week against the Bills for the Patriots team? What would a loss bring?
Mike: A win would be an excellent statement and at 6-3 the Pats would have an inside track to the playoffs, but there would still be a long way to go toward locking up the division. The Pats will still have to go to Buffalo and Miami, and face a much improved Jets team in Foxboro.
While a loss wouldn't necessarily derail their playoff hopes it would make the Jets game a must-win and you never want to have must-win games. Not to mention going to Buffalo at the end of December looms large.
I'm sure the Patriots would love to have the division locked up before that trip and not have to worry about taking down the Bills at the Ralph in sub-arctic temperatures.
Mike: Same question back at you, what would a loss or win mean to the Bills?
Matt: This game is a must win game. Sure people might think that 5-4 isn't too bad of a record and they can still make the playoffs but the entire AFC East is deadlocked and odds are the Bills will have to battle with one of these teams for a wildcard spot.
If they drop to 0-3 in the division it will be very hard to over come. A win would put them back on top and even with a still poor division record, 1-2 is not nearly as bad as 0-3 would be.
Who's going to be healthy and who's going to be out Sunday?
Matt: It is still early in the week but I am going to have to say pro bowl DE Aaron Schobel with his foot injury and team captain Donte Whitner with his separated shoulder. WR Josh Reed will also be out. That is the players that will be out for this game as of right now. You will have to check later in the week though to see if any other player is out/coming back.
Mike: Lamont Jordan should be back and he should help. He practiced all last week yet didn't play vs. the Colts. Sammy Morris would be another great addition to get back but he was out of practice Wednesday so it isn't looking good. He has yet to practice or play since tearing up the Broncos in the first half.
Other than those two, I think only reserve defensive back Terrence Wheatley was banged up in the game against the Colts. Other than that the Pats are healthy, if you can call the team their fielding 'healthy'. They also did resign Jason Webster who was on the Bills last year so Wheatley's injury might be significant.
The Bills will win if...
Matt’s Bills Perspective: They are able to get any pass rush at all. The defense will have to create blitz schemes to confuse Casseland force him into turnovers. The loss of Whitner is huge in the secondary so either George Wilson or Matt Scott will have to step up.
On the other side of the ball, the Bills have to get the run game going and not turn the ball over. QB Trent Edwards needs to redeem himself after two subpar weeks and have himself a good game.
Mike’s Pats Perspective: They are able to fluster Matt Cassel and force him to take sacks and throw ill advised passes. If the Bills are able to get some long plays and grab an early lead the Pats won’t play well if they’re in a hole. An early lead would be vital for the Bills chances.
The Patriots will win if...
Matt’s Bills Perspective: The offensive line can control the line of scrimmage. The Bills don't have a great pass rush so if they can keep blitzers out of Cassel's face he should do fine against a Bills beat up secondary. Limit turnovers and ball control will also have to be a must for this team.
On defense, they have to account for Lee Evans on all plays because he will burn you deep if you don't. They also have to stop the Bills running game to force them into passing more (which might not be such a hard task).
Mike’s Pats Perspective: Their offense is able to finish drives with touchdowns. The defense must continue to shut down the run, we all know how dangerous Marshawn Lynch can be and Lee Evans cannot be allowed to get any big gains (as much as my fantasy team needs him to).
It also should be mentioned how dangerous Buffalo’s special teams are, the Pats can’t allow them any points in the kick or punt return game.
If my team lost the score would be...
Mike: 28-17 Bills
Matt: 31-17 Patriots
But the score will really be...
Mike: 24-14 Pats
Matt: 24-17 Bills