Despite a season marred with an immense amount of injuries, the New England Patriots have a chance to clinch the second seed in the AFC this Sunday. With a win over the Bills (or a Cincinnati loss), the Pats will get a first round bye, and at least one home game. This season has been quite impressive, but as Tom Brady has said in the past, the real season has yet to begin.
Something that New England will have to continue to do to be successful, is stick to the running game. Last week in Baltimore, the Pats ran up 142 yards on one of the most physical defensive fronts in the NFL. LeGarrette Blount has been reborn this year, as he is running hard, hitting the right holes, and using his size to his advantage. The combination of him, and Stevan Ridley can be extremely effective, and I expect them to run the football a lot this week versus the Bills. Buffalo has the 23rd ranked rush defense in the league, and it would be silly for the Patriots not to exploit it. I certainly think that Brady will throw the ball when needed, but by getting a good run game going, you not only take the pass rush of the Bills out of play, but there will be open receivers all over the place for number 12, which makes his job much easier. The Bills versus Patriots rivalry has not been the most competitive one over the last few years, but now is no time to take your foot off of the gas pedal, if you are the Patriots. The difference between a two and three seed is huge for this team, largely because of all the injuries that they currently have. If Brady and Belichick want any shot at hoisting a four Lombardi Trophy, they must get that first round bye.
The other big key to winning this game for the Patriots, is to slow down the Bills’ rushing attack. The two headed monster of C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson is tough to stop, and they figure to present a big challenge to what has recently been a stout New England run defense. Yes, they are ranked 29th in the league in yards given up on the ground, but the last three games they have played, have brought about much better results. Sealver Siliga seems to have settled this group a little bit, and the play of linebacker Dont’a Hightower has improved a lot as of late. Rookie defensive lineman Chris Jones had a great performance last week against the Ravens, and the Pats will need him to play well once again, if they hope to stop the Bills ground game. We do not currently know who will be under center for Buffalo on Sunday, but whoever it is will not be able to beat the Patriots with no run game, especially when the guy on the opposite sideline has a running game of his own. New England’s defense played extremely well against Baltimore, even coming up with four turnovers, and two defensive touchdowns. I expect them to bring that same intensity to the field this Sunday, not only to clinch the two seed, but to show the rest of the NFL that their performance against the Ravens was not a fluke.