by the Patriots Daily Staff
The Pats are back in action this weekend with a Sunday night flex game that gives them a total of six such prime-time contests this season.
Their opponent this week is divisional rival Buffalo, who has quietly won four straight to put itself, after nine games, in the mix for a wild card playoff spot.
This is going to be a huge day for the apparently-suffering Bills fans, who plan to set up camp at the Ralph sometime tomorrow to ensure that they’re loaded enough for their close up Sunday night. I’m sure Tim Russert is going to be particularly sloppy.
We can’t go in there unarmed. We at least need a defiant rap or something. Maybe Pats fan D-Major, who is currently delivering “In the Razor” over in our media player (to your right; just hit start), can help. Look out, Buffalo.
Meanwhile, let’s see who made it back from bye week in one piece. Men?
It was a tumultuous bye week. Indy dropped a second straight game, and might have lost Dwight Freeney for the season. The Steelers survived a scare vs. the Browns, but now control their destiny in their division. How do you see these things playing out?
Scott Benson: I think the Steelers are going to be there as they have one of the easier schedules the rest of the way out (opponents are a combined .381, even including the 9-0 Pats). I think the Colts eventually come around, but will it be in time to save a first round bye? I think the Freeney thing doesn’t have to kill them – they still have a capable defense without him. For Indy, its all about getting their legs under them again on offense, it seems to me.
Travis Graham: I’m not sure how much the loss of Freeney will hurt them on defense. I’ve always felt that he is overrated because of how he takes himself out of plays from over pursuing, but after seeing him get in the backfield and pressure Brady so many times in the game two weeks ago, it has to make a difference in the Colts’ ability to disrupt an opposing offense. The key for Indy is to get at least two of their three receivers back for the Jacksonville game in two weeks. I can’t see the Colts winning their division if it’s just Manning, Wayne, Addai and a bunch of JAGs on offense for here on out.
Kevin Thomas: I am now a true believer when it comes to the Colts defense. They seem to have finally figured out and bought into a scheme that works, have the personnel to pull it off, and at least since January have been playing team defense at a level that is much better than the sum of the individual parts. I don’t think the loss of Freeney is really going to upset that. I fully expect that the Colts will get back on track and win the division running away. It wouldn’t surprise me if they win the rest of their games.
I don’t view Pittsburgh as a legitimate Super Bowl contender, simply because I don’t see them as capable of beating Indy and New England in successive weeks in the post-season. But they are a good enough team to maybe steal the game at New England if a few breaks go their way. If that were to happen, then the last 3 weeks would suddenly become mighty interesting for the Patriots, who in all likelihood would need to win out to preserve the #1 seed over the Steelers.
Of course, if the Patriots do beat the Steelers, then home field would be basically locked up on December 9th, making those last three games essentially meaningless exhibitions from a Patriots perspective. If that’s the situation they find themselves in, I do think they will lose at least one of those last three games. That is the paradox of the perfect 16-0 regular season: the closer they get to it, the more likely they will drop a game that really means nothing to them.
Greg Doyle: The Steelers lost to Arizona and we’re supposed to take them seriously? They will win that division and are a pretty good team, but they’re not the Patriots. The Colts are done. They’ll limp to 11-12 wins, but they are the 2005 Patriots right now.
Dan Snapp: I’m naturally preconditioned to seeing the Ben Roethlisberger as this lunkhead fraud, and the Steelers as more pretender than contender. But then they do something, you know, impressive. Nah, it’s an illusion. I don’t agree, Greg, on the Colts. They’re still better than any of the other threats in the AFC, including the Steelers. They’re not as good as the Patriots, but they know how to win tough games. I think they’ll re-emerge as the No. 2 seed.
The Bills have been quietly building a nice little team. Winners of five of their last six games (and one they should’ve won against Dallas), the Bills might be the toughest game left on the schedule. Cold-weather night game in Buffalo, playmakers at RB and WR, gritty defense, excellent special teams and well-coached. How do the Bills rank among AFC contenders?
Dan: The injuries are going to screw up their chances this year. A couple more playmakers, and they’ll be a threat in the near future.
Scott: They’ve got a chance at a wild card, though the best teams they’ve beaten are the Ravens and Bengals. But you have to play the schedule, and I’ll give them this: in a lousy division, they at least know enough to close out games against the Jets and Dolphins (3-0 there). They’re good enough that they don’t find a way to screw that up. To me, this means they’re coming along. Are they up there with the Jaguars and Titans for the wild card? I don’t think that’s true at this point (those teams are battle-tested, comparatively), though that statement could soon live in infamy.
Kevin: The thing that most impressed me about the Patriots against the Colts was that they truly lived up to that whole “60-minute men” slogan. They simply wore out and beat down the Colts, under the absolute worst of circumstances, and played their best football to close out the game. It was a similar thing down in Dallas earlier in the year. Even with the crowd and the weather and everything that might be in Buffalo’s favor early on, there is no way this young Bills team is going to be able to hang with the Patriots for four quarters. No way.
Let’s break it down. What areas of the Bills defense can the Pats exploit? What matchup problems do they present?
Scott: The Bills get their share of interceptions and they have done very well in scoring defense (9th), but people seem to be marching to ball up and down the field on these guys, run or pass. Zero production as far as pass rush. So they’ve done well to stone teams the way they have. The Pats nearly put 500 yards on them last time, but unlike the Bills other opponents, they closed out the drives with touchdowns, not turnovers. This may be a good chance to get Maroney more involved; he broke a hundred on them in September on only 19 carries. One thing: they want to be careful with the football, especially early: they can’t let the partisan Buffalo crowd get too cranked up. You don’t want to let a bunch of angry drunks to take over and start influencing the outcome of the game; look at the damage the Colts do with just one angry drunk.
Travis: The Pats are going to catch a huge break this week with Aaron Schobel (Jason Taylor of the North) out this week. He seems like he always has the Pats’ number. With the lack of depth in the defensive line, I also think that Maroney could be getting a lot of touches. Especially with some rain/snow in the forecast.
Greg: The Bills are a good team, but the Pats should be able to both run and throw on them as they did in Foxboro. I think one of the biggest assets of the Bills defense is the conservative nature of Dick Jauron and the offense. They control the clock and play field position football. That will be harder to do without Marshawn Lynch this week and the defense will be exposed as not as good as the pretty low point totals they have given up.
Dick Jauron said this week he’s sticking with JP Losman at quarterback. Marshawn Lynch, meanwhile, is hobbled with an ankle injury. What can we expect from the Bills offense vs. the Patriots defense?
Greg: Not a lot. Unless the Patriots absolutely mail this one in, I can’t seeing them scoring more than 13 tops unless the Patriots have a rash of turnovers in their own end or give up defensive or special teams scores.
Scott: Aside from Lynch, they have been brutal, especially in the passing game. Now they don’t even have Lynch. I would say they better hope their defense gets a bunch of turnovers. That’s their best offensive strategy. Lee Evans is the best remaining weapon if Lynch doesn’t play, and he needs to get behind the secondary to really hurt you. They may give up some yardage themselves, but the Pats secondary has been pretty good about keeping people in front of them.
This could be an exciting special teams matchup, as both teams have flourished in this area. What can we look for here?
Dan: Kind of a sad statement, but this might be Buffalo’s best opportunity to score points.
Scott: I’m trying to think if I’ve ever seen a better punter than Brian Moorman. I don’t think I have. And Lindell is pretty solid himself – he’s only missed two field goals all year, and they were both over 50 yards. Then there’s McGee, who has made a play or two against the Pats in his time – you know, let’s just change the subject. I don’t like where this one’s going.
Travis: It’ll be interesting to see how much participation Chad Jackson has in this area. I wouldn’t mind seeing him get a shot at returning kicks to take some of the workload off Hobbs.