This Sunday’s game against the Bills is about as big as they come. No, it doesn’t have the mass-appeal of the showdown vs. Peyton Manning, the hype of facing the Saints on Monday Night, or the rivalry factor involved in a game vs. the Jets. The importance of this week’s game boils down to pure, simple survival. If the Patriots’ can’t beat the lowliest team in the AFC East, they will no longer sit atop the AFC East. Sure, Miami and New York could easily lose their games next week, but assuming that they don’t, this game is absolutely vital for the Patriots. A loss puts Miami squarely in the driver’s seat by virtue of a better divisional record. Suddenly, the Patriots would not only be praying for a Miami loss to help them regain the division and a home playoff game, but with six losses, they’d likely be another defeat away from missing the playoffs entirely. Also of note, is the fact that they’d now be 0-6 in true road games, a very, very disturbing trend as we approach the playoffs. So yes, it’s very easy to dismiss this game as “just another easy game” against Buffalo, a team they’ve defeated 12 times in a row, but this is about as much of a “do or die” game as you can get without your season literally being on the line.
1st Down: Right down their throats. I’m going to start sounding like a broken record, because the keys to this game are eerily similar to the ones from last week. In fact, they’ll likely be the same each and every week from here on out, because there’s clearly one style of football that works best for this Patriots team. Against Buffalo, the running game has to take top priority. The Bills are ranked dead last in the league in run defense. With Maroney, Sammy Morris, and possibly Fred Taylor in the fold, there’s no reason that New England shouldn’t be able to come up with a well-balanced attack. The more they can dominate in the ground game, the more opportunities will open up for Moss and Welker. The Patriots are at their most vulnerable when their offense degrades into Brady throwing to just two targets. If New England can establish the run, I have a hard time seeing how Buffalo is able to match points with them.
2nd Down: The Middle. Vince Wilfork may be a scratch for this game. Outside of losing Brady or Welker, this may be the most devastating turn of events the team could have facing the Bills. Buffalo is built around its solid rushing attack. Without big Vince clogging up the middle, the Patriots are in danger of getting gashed by the Bills’ terriffic two-some of Marshawn Lynch and Fred Jackson. The Patriots secondary has been known to get picked apart by the likes of Chad Henne, so if the ground game is allowed to get going, it’s going to open up chances for Ryan Fitzpatrick and Terrell Owens. The Patriots are known for taking away the thing their opponents do best. Tomorrow, this means taking away Buffalo’s running game. Conditions will likely not be very good up in Buffalo, and this contest could easily boil down to the team that perfoms the best on the ground.
3rd Down: The Case for Randy Moss. I’m not buying what the media is trying to sell about Randy Moss one bit. Like they’ve done all season, they see what appears to be a crack in the Patriots armor, and they swarm all over it. Honestly, the fact that ESPN even throws up headlines like “Should the Patriots cut ties with Randy Moss?” just shows how ridiculous the whole situation has become. That makes about as much sense as the headline of “Should the Patriots cut ties with Tom Brady?” Randy had a bad week, but that week is over. His teammates his coach, and his owner all have his back, and now this week is the time to put those stories to rest. Look for the Patriots to find ways to put the football in Moss’s hands, as this is one rumor you don’t want building steam. I’d be very surprised if Moss doesn’t catch at least one TD this week.
Patriots 24, Bills 6