5 Reasons the New England Patriots Will Defeat the Buffalo Bills with Ease
Normally, this is the part of the schedule that doesn't get a second thought. This is the part where the New England Patriots play the Buffalo Bills, which has been another way of saying the Patriots play football for 60 minutes, get a win and move on to the next opponent.
It's been that way for years. But people are wondering if it's different now. They look at Buffalo quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick's seven touchdowns and 109.6 rating, the team's 79 points and New England's torched defense and think that this year, this Sunday, could be the time the nail will finally stand up to the hammer.
The Patriots will make it 16 straight wins over the Bills. They'll do it with relative ease. It won't be a shutout, and it probably won't be a blowout, either. Fitzpatrick will lead the Bills offense down the field several times, and Buffalo will score points.
But the Patriots will be in control. They'll make the plays they need to win. When the Bills have the ball late, it'll be in an effort to get back in the game, not take it over.
In Michael Holley's book Patriot Reign, the author describes a behind-the-scenes moment in which Bill Belichick, veering from his press conference facade while preparing for the Bills, gave his true feelings on Buffalo's chances.
"Until they have some success against us, there's got to be some doubt," Belichick says in the book. "They don't know if they can beat us."
That was after the Patriots had gone 4-1 against the Bills since Belichick took over in 2000. Now, with the Patriots having won 15 straight games against Buffalo, Belichick's words are even more valid.
The Patriots aren't the Raiders or the Chiefs. There will be more emotions than usual with the Buffalo players when they see the Patriots on the same field. These are, after all, the same guys that have beaten them every time since 2004.
Or as Belichick would say, the Bills think they can win. But they don't know it.
The Patriots know they can win. They expect to win. If the game remains close late into the second half, when the mentally tough, confident teams make the plays, that difference will show itself.
The Bills will obviously beat the Patriots one of these days, but it'll be when the Patriots have fallen on hard times, and the Bills have proven themselves here to stay. Not when Tom Brady is putting up MVP numbers and operating at a never-before-seen rate.
Belichick vs. the Running Game
The object of Bill Belichick's defensive scheme is to take away what the opponent does best. It's common to see a player or group of players struggle against the Patriots while the teammates enjoy some success.
That is because Belichick aims to make the opponent resort to its weaker areas to beat the Patriots. He figures that if your top weapon is neutralized, your attack becomes more simplistic and easier to solve.
Last week against the Chargers was an example. Belichick recognized the matchup issues that Antonio Gates creates and focused the defense on him. Gates faced double teams and man-to-man defense from safety Pat Chung and finished with no catches. Philip Rivers had to look to his wideouts to move the ball.
In some ways, such as the total yardage given up, the Patriots defense was a failure. In others, such as Gates' production, it was a success.
Against the Bills, it's pretty apparent who'll play Gates' role on the Bills. Belichick has become an admirer of running back Fred Jackson and said so much last year.
"I have as much respect for him as really anybody we've played," he said. "He's a complete guy, does it all and shows really good toughness and can get the tough yards."
Jackson has hurt the Pats in the past, but he'll find it tough going on Sunday. Belichick knows how vital Jackson has been to the Bills' offense, as his two 100-plus-yard games have combined with Ryan Fitzpatrick's aerial prowess to form a balanced attack.
Look for Belichick to prepare for the game by focusing on ways to limit Jackson and backfield mate C.J. Spiller. Both are dangerous on the ground and catching passes, so the Patriots will likely work on improving the play of the defensive line while using ends and linebackers to contain the edges and keep the backs from burning them on screen passes and catches in the flat.
The Patriots will aim for the Buffalo offense to fall squarely on Fitzpatrick's shoulders. He'll have to be Tom Brady and find the holes in the New England defense.
Defense's Knack for the Big Play
The Patriots currently do not sport a Super Bowl defense. They've been passed on, run on, taken up and down the field and have often put up little resistance along the way.
But as bad as the defense has been, the group deserves a nugget of credit. In a small two-game sample size, the players have seemed to recognize the need for a big play.
In Miami, the defense got off the field on third down 12-of-14 times and held the Dolphins out of the end zone with a critical 4th-and-goal stop in the fourth quarter of a two-score game.
Against San Diego, the third-down woes returned, but the Patriots again stopped a 4th-and-goal attempt and forced four turnovers, one being a Vince Wilfork interception that prevented the Chargers from getting points before halftime, and another being a Mike Tolbert fumble in the fourth quarter when the Chargers were down 20-14 and looking to take the lead.
If the first two games are any indication, this is a team that knows what the champion Patriots teams knew—offenses can have their yards, but it's points in the red zone that win games, and teams that keep those points off the board are the ones that win.
Ryan Fitzpatrick and the Bills will burn up the field in between the 20s, but the defense will stiffen after that. The Patriots will make a play or two to limit Buffalo's damage, and it'll be enough for the New England offense to widen the lead.
The NFL gave the Patriots a break when this year's schedules came out.
After three years of having to play the Bills in Buffalo in December, the two games were switched. This year, the Patriots get to play in Buffalo early and in New England late.
So those games in Buffalo with the freezing weather, icy rain and 55 mph wind gusts? The ones that bring pass-happy offenses to screeching halts? Not a factor this year.
The benefit is proven in the stats. In the December trips to Buffalo in 2009 and 2010, Tom Brady threw for 115 and 140 yards, respectively, completing only 52 percent of his passes.
The weather Buffalo gets in the winter months is a great equalizer for an offense that relies heavily on a potent passing attack. A December trip to Orchard Park would have been a miserable—and potentially costly—experience for the Patriots.
Instead, New England gets Ralph Wilson Stadium without its teeth. This will be more like the venue Brady lit up for 373 yards and five touchdowns in 2007.
Of course, it'll also be like the venue that New England lost at, 31-0, in 2003, but unless the Patriots release Pat Chung before the game, that score shouldn't be repeated.
The Patriots will have to deal with cold weather when they face the Bills in January, but it'll be at Gillette, where the conditions haven't been as brutal and where the Patriots have been more efficient.
Simply put, Tom Brady will be too much for the Bills to handle.
Brady has historically owned this team. He's thrown more touchdown passes against Buffalo, 39, than against any other team. He has a 103.0 rating against the Bills and has thrown 20 touchdowns vs. two interceptions over the past seven matchups.
The Bills defense hasn't been able to stop him. A unit that allowed Jason Campbell to throw for 323 yards last weekend won't find that task any easier this year.
The Bills will have to take advantage of every opportunity they have to get Brady and the Patriots offense off the field. Brady has kept those chances to a minimum, however, and the Patriots will move the ball easily again Sunday.
The Bills won't go down quietly. With the way Ryan Fitzpatrick has been playing and Fred Jackson has been running, the Bills will produce.
Unfortunately for them, so will the Patriots.
New England will continue its explosive ways, and the defense will make the stops it needs to to give the offense a lead. Buffalo will fall back as the game moves on and need to make plays to get back in it.
Fitzpatrick, wide receiver Stevie Johnson and Jackson (who'll make his typical play or two) could get their stats in, but the game will come down to a big play or two that turns the tide in the middle quarters. The Patriots will make those plays.
Final: New England 38, Buffalo 24