The Patriots head into another cold weather game this weekend up in Buffalo coming off an excellent, complimentary game last week that suits this time of year perfectly. Amazingly, despite this inconsistent season, they are in position to clinch the AFC East with a win and a Miami loss. And that will be the most important thing they are searching for this weekend, besides a win, consistency. With a good, consistent performace, there will remain hope they are gaining momentum towards a possible playoff run. With a setback, it’ll appear almost assured this season will end without much noise being made in the playoffs.
The early forecast for Buffalo on Sunday calls for snow showers and temperatures in the low thirties at game time. That is very similar to the weather the Patriots played in last week against the Jets. And they’ll want to play a similar game with a similar game plan as a result.
The Bills rank second to last in the NFL this season against the run. They give up a whopping 140 yards per game rushing. This needs to be a focus of the Patriots game plan. Not only because they can do it with Corey Dillon and Kevin Faulk now back at running back, but because they need to continue to help out their struggling defense which finally showed signs of starting to come together next week.
One of the reasons the Bills have such a hard time against the run are their linebackers are extraordinarily weak. With Takeo Spikes out, they start Angelo Crowell and Jeff Posey at two spots, two atrocious options as starters. Even in the middle, the smallish London Fletcher’s reputation far outweighs his actual playing ability. He doesn’t do much to help against the run. The ends, while good pass rushers, are also smallish. The end result is the Patriots should be able to run at will on this team if Dillon and Faulk haven’t had any injury setbacks.
This could set up a short passing game involving the tight ends and wide receiver on shorter routes. If the Patriots want to occasionally go a bit longer downfield, and this could depend on the wind which is often vicious in Buffalo in December, they may get some shots on play action after the running game clicks a bit early on. This is because to stop the run, Buffalo may have no choice but to sell out altogether at some point. A lead by the Patriots could contribute to this possibility and the killer blow to put the game away for the Pats could come on a longer downfield pass.
On defense, the Patriots of course will want to stop Willis McGahee, who has been struggling for some time now, but is always capable. He really runs hard and physically and if the Patriots let him get in a groove, he’ll help keep the game close by helping create long grinding drives on Buffalo’s side. The other danger is Lee Evans has definate deep downfield ability and if its a close game, that could be the difference. Buffalo will undoubtedly take several shot to Evans deep given his speed and ability downfield and the struggles the Patriots have had with it all season.
Bills quarterback J.P. Losman has struggled most of the year and is inexperienced. His completion percentage is very low. But he has improved somewhat in recent weeks and also is mobile and could scramble for a few first downs if the Patriots let him. That is something they’ll want to keep an eye on on third downs and if they let him get away with it, he could keep the chains moving with his feet.
The Bills feature two excellent kickers in Brian Moorman, the punter, and Rian Lindell, the kicker. Moorman has an amazingly strong leg and can kick the Patriots into definate field-position disadvantages that could hold the key in a close game. Lindell hasn’t been nearly as inconsistent as in past years and has a very strong leg and could connect on long field goals to win a close game if needed. Special teams are in the Bills favor as they also have good returners and do a good job in coverage. The Patriots could lose the game here if they don’t significantly outplay Buffalo on defense and offense.
Buffalo plays far better at home than on the road. And they nearly beat the Patriots in Foxboro a month ago. They are 4-2 at home, 0-6 on the road. Clearly, the Patriots will have their hands full this weekend. Still, the progress shown last week by the Patriots is encouraging, as is the somewhat steady return of key players from injury they’ve had in recent weeks. It won’t be easy, but they’ll do just enough to get the needed win 20-13 and more than likely clinch the division later in the day when Miami loses at San Diego.