On Sunday the New England Patriots (5-3) will continue their season following their bye week when they take on the Buffalo Bills (3-5). Before the bye week the Patriots played their most complete game of the year in their 45-7 drubbing of the St. Louis Rams. The Patriots will attempt to pad their divisional lead in Sunday’s matchup against the Bills.
Offensively the Bills strength will go against the Patriots defensive strength. While stopping the running game has been successful for the Patriots this year, the Bills boast an impressive running back tandem of C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson. They’ll attempt to run against a Patriots defense led by Vince Wilfork that is seventh in the league giving up 88.6 yards per game. This year Spiller leads the NFL with 7.2 yards per carry since taking over as the team’s starter in week two. The Bills ran the ball just 12 times with the two in their 21-9 loss to the Houston Texans last week. Criticism over the lack of running plays has had the Bills coaches under fire so expect more dependence on the running game Sunday.
The Bills passing game has struggled this season but they’ll face a Patriots secondary that has struggled significantly for the second straight year. The top receiver for the Bills is Steve Johnson but there’s not much of a threat after him. The Bills were forced by the Texans last week to depend on the passing game but after Johnson was injured early the other receivers lacked the capability to come up with big plays. Stopping Johnson will go a long way to stopping the passing game for the Patriots.
Unlike the Patriots, the Bills strength can be their defense. Last week they held a strong Texans offense to ten points under their season average. But inconsistency has plagued the Bills defense this year. While they shined against Houston, they gave up 45 points in the second half of the first meeting between these two teams. The lack of consistency this season was referenced earlier this week by Bills defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt.
The strength of the Bills defense is their front four. The Bills spent big money this past offseason to bring in Pro Bowl defensive end Mario Williams to join defensive tackle Kyle Williams. Both have 4.5 sacks this season which lead the team. A plus for the Patriots is that the Bills might be without starting defensive end Mark Anderson who continues to struggle to regain health following a knee injury.
While the Bills front four have shown the ability to stop the run game that wasn’t the case in their first meeting between these two teams. In week four Stevan Ridley and Brandon Bolden combined for 243 rushing yards. Bolden may not be involved having been held out of practice this week with an injury but they will have Shane Vereen who was out of the first matchup with an injury.
The Patriots passing game has been as inconsistent this season as the Bills defense but there were signs of improvement against the Rams. It was the first big game for tight end Rob Gronkowski who dropped several key passes including a touchdown in the first meeting between these two teams. The Patriots also scored a fourth quarter touchdown in London which is something that has plagued them this season.
The Patriots currently sit atop the AFC East but just a game ahead of the Miami Dolphins. After a disappointing start to the season, the Patriots looked as balanced as they have all year in their last game against the Rams. On Sunday they will attempt to extend their lead by continuing their recent good play when they face off with a familiar divisional foe. The Patriots will have to perform well down the stretch if they plan on winning the division and fulfill expectations of returning to the Super Bowl. That stretch run starts Sunday at Gillette Stadium against the Buffalo Bills.