Who: New England Patriots (11-4)
When: Sunday December 29, 4:25 p.m. EST
Where: Gillette Stadium, Foxboro, MA
The Line: New England (-8.5)
Buffalo Bills Offense vs. Patriots Defense
The recipe for upset is the same as it was last week against the Dolphins: The running game. Buffalo comes into the final tilt of the regular season with the second-best rushing attack in the league at 142.5 yards per game.
The Patriots are depleted in the middle thanks to injuries and, as such, are the 29th ranked run defense in the league, giving up 131.7 yards per game. If the Bills want to play spoiler they’ll need another strong performance out of the Fred Jackson/C.J. Spiller duo that combined for over 200 yards last week.
An aerial attack isn’t likely to be there even if E.J. Manuel is in the lineup and that possibility seems to decrease as the days go on. We’re more likely to see Thad Lewis, and you know what you’re getting out of him: 150-200 yards and maybe a touchdown. You’re getting “game manager” and nothing more.
Run the ball and you have a chance.
Key: Running game vs. gaping hole where rush defense used to be
Bills Defense vs. Patriots Offense
This part of the equation is not so simple. Tom Brady is Tom Brady, so he’s always going to be a threat and will always keep the Patriots in a position to win. He’s been hot of late, and the Pats come into Sunday with the 7th best passing attack at 264.8 yards per game. Last week, the Bills sacked Ryan Tannehill seven times en route to a shutout. Get to Brady, disrupt his timing and make him pay extra attention to the pass rush and you have a shot.
Unlike the Dolphins, however, the Patriots have a running game (12th in the league; 119.9 YPG). It’s a platoon attack, but it’s still effective. LeGarrette Blount is the bowling ball, downhill runner, Stevan Ridley is the finesse runner and arguably the most talented, and Shane Vereen is the threat out of the backfield who can occasionally take the rock on a running down.
The Bills’ run defense is suspect (23rd) and always capable of getting gashed. When these two met in Week 1 (a near Buffalo upset), the Pats sliced and diced the Bills on the ground late on their way to 158 yards rushing. That’s only ramped up as the year has gone on (Vereen finally came back from injury and Blount has emerged) so the Bills will have a tall task ahead of them.
Key: Run defense vs. slice and dice
Brady will be under duress all day as the Bills collect another four sacks, finishing with a franchise-best 60 on the season.
The inefficiencies in the run defense will come back to bite Buffalo with someone (we’ll go with Ridley) hitting 100 while another back gets close.
The Patriots will grab an early lead and the Bills will abandon the run a lot sooner than they should.
Is it almost April yet?
Prediction: 27-17 New England