After going 5-3 halfway through the season, the Patriots turn their heads to their division rivals, the Buffalo Bills, also 5-3, in what is likely the most important game thus far.
A win puts the Patriots at 6-3, and likely a one game division lead. A loss puts the Patriots at 5-4, and in the thick of the wildcard race. In essence, this becomes a must-win game for the Pats.
Key Injuries – Patriots
Terrence Wheatley – Out
Sammy Morris – Doubtful
Lewis Sanders – Doubtful
Ellis Hobbs – Questionable
Lamont Jordan – Questionable
Vince Wilfork – Questionable
Analysis: The Patriots are definitely hurting in the secondary, with Terrence Wheatley out, and Hobbs and Sanders possibly out. The Patriots re-signed Jason Webster to help make up for this, but unless DeAngelo Hall is suiting up for the Patriots come Sunday, this could present a problem. The Patriots will likely be without Sammy Morris, as well as Lamont Jordan, who has missed practice all week. Vince Wilfork will likely be a game-time decision, but losing him would probably force the Patriots to run out of the 4-3 more than usual.
Key Injuries – Bills
Josh Reed – Out
Ashton Youboty – Out
Donte Whitner – Out
Aaron Schobel – Out
Kawika Mitchell – Questionable
Analysis: To the Patriots benefit, the Buffalo Bills could be without several key starters on defense come Sunday. Youboty, Whitner, and Schobel are three very key guys on defense, and are all out. Kawika Mitchell will be a game-time decision. The Bills’ bad health on defense will work to the Patriots benefit, assuming they can take advantage of the opportunity.
Keys to the Game
1. Throw the Ball Early and Often – With the Bills missing two starting guys in the secondary, as well as a good passrusher in Schobel, the Patriots will have their opportunities to attack the Bills through the air. The Bills have a good run defense (pass defense too, though), and with the majority of the Pats’ backs banged up, this may be the week to have the pass set up the run.
2. Pressure the Quarterback – The Patriots’ success this season against the pass has hinged on one major factor – getting a consistent pass rush. If the Patriots are going to stop Trent Edwards and Marshawn Lynch, it needs to start with generating the pass rush. Look to see a lot of stunts by the linebackers and such, to get things going early.
3. Make Stops in the Red Zone – The Patriots weakest aspect on the defensive side of the ball this season has been red zone defense. The Patriots are currently ranked 30th in red zone defense. This should be a key area, as the Bills are ranked 24th in red zone offense.
Players to Watch – Patriots
1. BenJarvus Green-Ellis, RB, #42 – For some reason, I’m seeing a breakout game from Green-Ellis, don’t ask me why. The cannonball who could.
2. Stephen Neal, RB, #61 – The right guard is looking real good since coming back from an injury suffered in the Super Bowl. Look to see if he can continue to get the push.
3. Jonathan Wilhite, CB, #24 – With three of the Patriots’ cornerbacks possibly out, Wilhite could possibly get his first career start. We’ll see how he responds.
4. David Thomas, TE, #86 – I understand that Thomas screwed up last week’s game, but hopefully, he can come back hungry. He actually looked real good in the receiving game, so we’ll see if he can continue upon his success in that area.
5. Gary Guyton, ILB, #59 – Why the hell was this guy not drafted? Last week, Guyton had his best game as a pro in his most playing time as a pro. He may get even more snaps against a very athletic Bills team.
Players to Watch – Bills
1. Trent Edwards, QB, #5 – The second year quarterback has struggled as of late, but will look to get back to form in this crucial matchup.
2. Derek Fine, TE, #86 – Rookie tight end is just emerging, and may be an x-factor.
3. Marcus Stroud, DT, #99 – The game-changing run-stuffing defensive tackle has been very solid thus far for the Bills.
4. Leodis McKelvin, CB, #28 – Rookie corner has been as advertised, and is perticularly potent on special teams.
5. Roscoe Parish, WR/KR, #11 – Speaking of kick returners, Roscoe Parish is a true game-changer on special teams, something that the Bills are very good at.
Greg’s Prediction: Patriots 23 Bills 20
This certainly isn’t going to be one of those games where the Patriots put up 56… they just aren’t that team. In a game that could decide the fortune of the AFC east, I think the Patriots will pull out a tight one that will be more lopsided than the score suggests.