Your own New England Patriots are coming off a bye week; before that, they laid a whooping on the underrated St. Louis Rams. Some of the analysts and fans are riding very high on the Patriots this week, and for good reason: they dropped more than 50 points on the Buffalo Bills, and now the Pats get to play at home. Hindsight is 20/20, so let’s look at the matchups with an eye to the past game these two teams played.
1. The New England wide receivers vs the Buffalo defensive backs
Bills cornerback Aaron Williams is out for this game, and that’s key – he was only targeted twice last time, and he allowed one catch (to be fair, it was Brandon Lloyd’s 25-yard touchdown catch). Leodis McKelvin, his likely replacement, doesn’t concern me. However, last time I said Stephon Gilmore didn’t scare me; I still think he was a reach, but he proved himself when he provided extremely tight coverage on Lloyd. Justin Rogers allowed more than 100 yards, so Tom Brady ought to target him all day. Jairus Byrd is still one of the best safeties in the league, and receivers must cover the ball up when he comes to tackle them.
Aaron Hernandez is not playing today, but he didn’t play last time either. His absence doesn’t affect this game as much as some might imagine. Rob Gronkowski and Wes Welker are active, but they are dealing with injuries, so they’ll really have to spread the ball around today. Brandon Lloyd had trouble getting separation last time out, but he seems to have improved since then. Finally, Visanthe Shiancoe is active today. Whether we’ll see more of him receiving or blocking is anyone’s guess, but I would not mind seeing him involved in the passing game at all.
Edge: New England
2. The New England offensive line vs the Buffalo defensive line
Mark Anderson is out, which is something everyone expected. He’s been a disappointment this season. Chris Kelsay, his replacement, is also out. The Bills are forced to start either Kyle Moore, a virtual nobody, or Shawne Merriman, a washed up veteran with steroid scandals and injury problems. Neither worry me. If Merriman even plays, I wouldn’t be surprised if he has to leave early. Marcell Dareus is looking like a worse draft pick than Von Miller, and Mario Williams is looking absolutely atrocious. I’ve been saying Sebastian Vollmer is a top five right tackle in the league, but I can’t use his performance against Williams as an example because Super Mario has yet to do anything this season against anyone. Kyle Williams is the only member of this defensive line that looks like he’s playing with any heart, so the interior line must be playing their best.
Fortunately, Logan Mankins is back from his injury. I’d still rather see Donald Thomas in there at right guard instead of Dan Connolly, but Connolly performed serviceably last time around, so I have no complaints – yet. Ryan Wendell has been one of the bigger surprises of the season; he’s great runblocking at the point of attack.
Edge: New England
3. The New England runningbacks vs the Buffalo linebackers
As much respect as I have for Nick Barnett, he got abused last time around. He’s the only linebacker with any talent on Buffalo’s squad, but he can’t do it all by himself. Expect him to be targeted once again. Bryan Scott plays both safety and outside linebackers, becoming a jack of all trades and a master of none. Kelvin Sheppard frequently takes himself out of plays in a fashion that’s sometimes comical.
I hope Stevan Ridley is feeling good, because one has to expect that he’s going to have a good game. Last time out he had 106 yards on the ground and two touchdowns. Brandon Bolden’s absence is concerning, because of what type of runningback he is. Ridley and Bolden are the power backs while Danny Woodhead and Shane Vereen are the speed backs. Both power backs feasted last time out. Nevertheless, I think whether Woodhead or Vereen gets the secondary carries, the Patriots will still win on the ground game.
4. The Buffalo receivers vs the New England defensive backs
Remember Donald Jones’ 68-yard touchdown catch on Kyle Arrington? Yeah, I wouldn’t be surprised if that happens again. However, it will be T.J. Graham and Stevie Johnson who accrue the vast majority of targets. Scott Chandler will also be a dangerous weapon who must be monitored at all times. Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller are both active and are both talented in the air and on the ground.
Aqib Talib is unfortunately still suspended, so expect Kyle Arrington and Alfonzo Dennard to start at corner. Pat Chung is also out, so Devin McCourty will probably start at safety again. Then again, Steve Gregory and Tavon Wilson could take the safety spots. There are far too many combinations for these defensive backs for me to pick just one.
5. The Buffalo offensive line vs the New England defensive line
Cordy Glenn was solid last time around, as was Andy Levitre and Eric Wood. Kraig Urbik will still have to contend with the strong interior line of the Patriots, but Erik Pears is out. I assume his replacement is Chris Hairston. That bodes well for the Patriots. Pears was atrocious against the Patriots, and I doubt his replacement will do any better.
Rob Ninkovich should have an excellent game once again, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Chandler Jones switching sides to take advantage of the favorable matchup. In fact, I think Jones will have a particularly good game with an opportunity to watch tape of himself and improve his pass-rushing moves. Vince Wilfork and Kyle Love need to hold the line of scrimmage in the middle and stop the run and the screen. Never forget about Jermaine Cunningham – he needs to continue to be a playmaker if he wants to avoid bust status.
Edge: New England
6. The Buffalo runningbacks vs the New England linebackers
Both Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller are healthy, and they’re both extremely good. However, the Patriots rushing defense is even better. Jackson was held to 29 and Spiller was held to 33. It’s absolutely essential to stuff the holes and make quality tackles with as many players as possible.
The linebackers of New England really impress me. I really think this is the best group of young linebackers in the league; if they stick together long enough, they could become the next Tedy Bruschi-Willie McGinest-Mike Vrabel. Jerod Mayo will likely drop into coverage a lot, where he can get exposed, but he has great technique while tackling. Brandon Spikes opines that he’s bad in the snow and has been nursing a leg injury, but he was absolutely fantastic last time against the Bills and I expect similar results. Dont’a Hightower is finally healthy, so we’ll hopefully see him.
Edge: New England
There are far too many factors in this game in New England’s favor. They’re coming off a bye week and a huge win. They’re mostly healthy. It’s at home. They’ve dropped 50+ on this team already. Even if New England gets down early, they’ll come back – just like they did last time.
Final score: New England 38, Buffalo 10
You can follow Christopher Field on Twitter @ChrisDField.