After losing two painful games the past two weeks, New England travels to Buffalo, looking to get back on track. The Bills enter the game at 2-1, tied for first place with the Jets. Many analysts, including myself, counted out Buffalo after they gave up 48 points to the Jets on opening day. However, led by explosive running back C.J. Spiller, Buffalo convincingly beat the Chiefs and Browns. Buffalo ranks 3rd in the NFL in rushing with 178 yards per game. Fortunately for New England, C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson are both game-time decisions. If neither running back can play, I expect the Bills to be in a world of trouble. As always, if the Patriots follow my keys to victory, they will get this season back on track today!
Keys on Offense:
1. Make plays in the Redzone. In the first three weeks, Tom Brady has only 4 touchdown passes. Two to Rob Gronkowski, and one each to Julian Edelman and Aaron Hernandez. This needs to change for the Patriots to have success not only today, but for the rest of the season. Brandon Lloyd and Wes Welker disappear when the Patriots get into the redzone. New England has scored touchdowns on only six of their 12 redzone attempts, and it won’t get any easier this week. The Bills allowed only two touchdowns from inside the 20 the past two weeks. Coach Belichick needs to be more aggressive when his offense gets inside the redzone.
2. Expose the secondary! If Mark Sanchez can pick apart the Bills secondary for 48 points, then Tom Brady should put up 100! I believe the Bills’ defense has glaring holes in its secondary that have been masked by playing the likes of Kansas City and Cleveland the past two weeks. If Brady is allowed to sit back and throw, the Patriots will run away with this game early. This also makes Tom Brady a huge “must-start” in fantasy football today.
3. Maintain the pocket. When Buffalo went out and signed defensive end Mario Williams this offseason, they made it obvious they wanted to improve their pass rush. They are currently 7th in the league in sacks, amassing nine through the first three weeks. The Bills will absolutely be looking to bring the pressure to give their secondary as much help as possible. The offensive line will be the x-factor in this game, in my opinion. If they can keep Tom Brady comfortable in the pocket, then the offense will flourish today.
Keys on Defense:
1. Think Run First! Even if C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson don’t play, Tashard Choice stepped in last week and had a great game rushing. The Bills are going to want to run the football to keep possession and force Tom Brady to spend as much time as possible on the sideline. Vince Wilfork and Co. are going to have to be aggressive and win the battle on the line of scrimmage. If Buffalo can run all over the place today, the Patriots’ odds don’t look good. I expect the defense to crowd the box today and put shutting down the run at the top of their priorities list.
2. Shut Down Stevie Johnson. Best known for his game-killing celebration penalty against the Jets last season, this underrated receiver is Ryan Fitzpatrick’s favorite target. Johnson leads the team with 26 targets, 10 more than any other receiver on the team! Unfortunately for Buffalo, he has only caught 13 of those balls. However, nine of those catches were for first downs, and three were for TDs. Johnson has great downfield speed and Ryan Fitzpatrick certainly has the arm strength to get him the ball. The secondary cannot let Johnson have one-on-one coverage during this game, or Johnson will certainly be doing more ridiculous touchdown celebrations.
3. Get Pressure! The most telling statistic besides their rushing yards per game has to be the fact that the Bills have only allowed one sack this season. The combination of great blocking and Fitzpatrick’s quick reads have left opposing pass rushers with empty hands. If you allow any NFL-caliber quarterback time in the pocket, your defense will get burned. It doesn’t help that the Patrio”s defense has to be concerned with first stopping the run, which will make it that much harder to get after Fitzpatrick. Nevertheless, the Patriots have the talent to get pressure, even if the pressures don’t result in sacks.
I expect this to be a close game. If the Bills can run the football the way they want to, they will dominate New England in time of possession. However, if Tom Brady goes to the air early in the game for a couple scores, the Bills will have to play from behind and shy away from their vaunted rushing attack. The Bills are certainly a worthy opponent, but with Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller questionable for today’s game, I’m going with the Patriots. Patriots 31 Bills 24