Earlier in the year, Rex Ryan was heart-broken after suffering an emotional loss to the Patriots in Buffalo. Building up to the game, Ryan and his team had been making noise about beating New England. This time around, Ryan has been far more understated in his approach. So can a more controlled Bills team finally dethrone the unbeaten Patriots? The Bills were plagued by injuries in the first half of the season. But after a last-minute Wembley loss to Jacksonville, Buffalo have healed and have gone on a run. After two straight wins, the dangerous Bills are now back in the thick of the AFC wild card hunt, and could overtake the Jets for second place in the AFC East. New England have remained unbeaten despite suffering several costly injuries over the past few weeks. Tom Brady is playing at an MVP level and New England’s defense is playing much better than many believed after letting Darelle Revis and Vince Wilfork go. After a nail-biting last-second win against the Giants, New England will be seeking to retain their grip on the AFC East.
Three Keys to the Game:
Locking down Gronk
The first time these teams met this season, the Bills talked all week long about having a plan to stop Rob Gronkowski. Gronk then put 113 yards and a touchdown from seven catches on the Bills. This time around, stopping Gronk could be less of a challenge with both Dion Lewis and Julian Edelman injured. Gronk is Brady’s best weapon, but is most successful when other play-makers can draw some attention away from him. Bills safety Stephon Gilmore said that the Bills have a plan to stop Gronk this time around. If he’s right, the Bills have a chance to win.
Protecting Tom Brady
New England’s offensive line has suffered several costly injuries this season, yet has still managed to protect Brady well. With some of their better linemen returning from injury over the past couple of weeks, the Patriots should still be well-placed to keep pressure off Brady. Without Edelman and Lewis, the Patriots will place more emphasis on LaGarrette Blount and the power run game, which helps protect Brady. The fact that Brady’s release is quicker than ever also helps New England keep pressure off their quarterback. With the Bills defensive line dropping into coverage more often than rushing the passer, Brady should be able to survive.
Can the Patriots stop a healthy Bills offense?
Since coming off their bye week, Buffalo’s strongest unit has been the offense. Tyrod Taylor is back under centre, and the running game is working just as Rex intended. Against Miami a couple of weeks ago, both LeSean McCoy and Karlos Williams eclipsed 100 yards. McCoy broke 100 yards again against the Jets last week. The Bills now have the league’s second best rushing offense, averaging 142.3 yards per game. Unless the Patriots can stop Buffalo from running the ball, the Bills will give them a hard time.
Matchup to watch
Sammy Watkins vs Malcolm Butler
What makes covering Buffalo’s running backs even worse is the fact that Sammy Watkins finally broke out against Miami, embarrassing the Dolphins with 168 yards and a touchdown from eight catches. Although he didn’t have the same kind of numbers against the Jets, Watkins looks healthy and will be a dangerous weapon for the Bills moving forward. Butler performed well against Odell Beckham last week. Despite Beckham opening things up with an 87 yard touchdown, Butler controlled him for the rest of the game. Beckham had just 17 yards from three catches outside of that touchdown play. If Butler can hold Watkins in check, the Patriots will be able to stack the box and stop Buffalo’s running game.
New England Patriots
The Patriots still have the edge over the Bills, especially at the quarterback position. Brady should be able to keep New England scoring even without Lewis and Edelman, while the defense controls the Bills as Butler locks down Watkins. Bill Belichick also seems to be inside Rex Ryan’s head, and should be able to get the better of his long-time rival once again.