The New England Patriots are coming off two extremely tough losses, both hard fought and difficult for fans to swallow. Not only did the Patriots lose by very close scores, but questionable calls marred both losses. It’s been getting harder and harder to predict a victory for the Patriots, but I try to remain object when writing these posts. With that being said, let’s look at some of the match-ups.
1. The New England receivers vs the Buffalo defensive backs
Jairus Byrd may be one of the best free safeties no one is talking about. He’s very good at all phases of the game, whether it’s stopping the run, man or zone coverage, what have you. Part of what makes him so good is the scheme he operates in, but I’m not here to make excuses. He’s a playmaker that Tom Brady needs to be mindful of on every play. George Wilson is a good complement safety, so going deep will be more problematic in this game. However, for as heavily Buffalo has invested in their two starting cornerbacks, I have not been impressed with Stephon Gilmore or Aaron Williams. Gilmore in particular was a reach, and, despite being on the field more than any other Bills defender, has been abused by Stephen Hill and Jonathan Baldwin so far this year.
This game, however, has to go the Patriots. Strangely, even with injuries to Julian Edelman and Aaron Hernandez, I’d still take Brandon Lloyd, Wes Welker, Rob Gronkowski, the corpse of Deion Branch and any of the runningbacks against these cornerbacks. Bring it on.
Edge: New England
2. The New England offensive line vs the Buffalo defensive line
The Bills have done a lot of work to shore up their defensive line. They signed Mario Williams to a humongous contract, brought in Mark Anderson to rush in more than a sub role, and they’ve developed Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus into a very talented tackle tandem. However, I feel that Anderson was better suited to the subpackage role, and it’s showing a bit this season. Mario isn’t doing so great this season either.
If they’ll do well this season, though, it’ll be in this game. I’m not saying the Patriots offensive line is bad, but Logan Mankins is sitting out. It’s bad enough that we have to trust Donald Thomas, Ryan Wendell and Dan Connolly against Kyle Williams and Dareus, but Mario and Anderson frequently stunt, so you will see them on the inside. That’s too much talent to cope with.
3. The New England runningbacks vs the Buffalo linebackers
The linebackers in Buffalo are adept at stopping the run. Arthur Moats seems to have finally found his niche, Kelvin Sheppard has developed well, and Nick Barnett in particular is very talented when it comes to stopping backside runs and cutbacks.
However, the Patriots don’t typically employ weak side runs, and Stevan Ridley doesn’t cut back very often. While they’re a little more predictable than I’d like them to be, I fully expect the Patriots to not only run often, but to run right at Arthur Moats, using Rob Gronkowski to help out.
4. The Buffalo receivers vs the New England defensive backs
Everyone knows about Stevie Johnson, but another receiver who’s looked decent this season is Donald Jones. Scott Chandler also broke out last season and is a better receiver than a blocker.
Those are the only real receivers New England need concern itself with. McCourty will likely shadow Johnson with safety help overtop. Chandler can be matched up with a linebacker. The key matchup here is Arrington on Jones, and I’ll be watching it intensely. An important consideration is Matt Patricia’s asinine decision to give receivers five yards worth of cushion in the endzone. This leaves the defender out to dry, and I really hope he stops employing this Dean Pees-tier strategy.
Edge: New England
5. The Buffalo offensive line vs the New England defensive line
This is one of my favorite offensive lines in the league to watch, as they don’t get a lot of credit. The interior is very strong, especially when runblocking, so that’s something that needs to be monitored. Of particular note is Cordy Glenn, the rookie left tackle. Glenn was pegged by many to be a better fit as a guard, but he’s performed admirably as a tackle thus far.
This will be another test for Chandler Jones. This rookie matchup is very important for each team, as it will gauge their investments in the 2012 draft. Don’t expect a big game from Love and Wilfork, as they will need to two gap and tie up the guards to leave Hightower, Mayo and Spikes open. I trust Ninkovich against Pears.
Edge: New England
6. The Buffalo runningbacks vs the New England linebackers
Here’s where it all comes down: C.J. Spiller lit up the league through his first three weeks, but went down with an injury. Fred Jackson was a fantastic rusher last season; it seemed that whenever he had a good game, the Bills would win. After the protection, Jackson being contained is the most important key to this game.
We can trust Wilfork to two-gap well and tie up blockers, so it comes down to Mayo, Spikes and Hightower doing their jobs and filling the holes, staying disciplined, fighting off blocks, and wrapping up to make the tackle.
Edge: New England
Let’s take a second to step away from the match-ups and consider some hard truth: the New England Patriots have a losing record for the first time in a very long while. For as much talent as there is on this team, there are glaring weaknesses. Brady’s wellbeing is paramount to this game. Visualizing this game, the two things that scare me most are our guards whiffing on a block allowing a strip sack and Fred Jackson running for more than 20 yards. Neither of these things can be allowed to happen.
I’ve seen predictions ranging all over the place. Some think the Patriots will win big, some think the Patriots will lose a close game, some think the Patriots will win a close game. I try not to let my optimistic nature bleed into what’s supposed to be an objective journalistic article, so believe when I say I’m being unbiased when I predict the Patriots will win this contest. Did you see what the Jets did to them?
Final Score: New England 27, Buffalo 7
You can follow Christopher Field on Twitter @ChrisDField.