Last week, the Patriots won their home opener 35-21 against the San Diego Chargers. Tom Brady put up another 400+ passing yard game and the defense was able to force four turnovers against a good quarterback in Philip Rivers. This week, they take on a surprising 2-0 team in the AFC East. The Buffalo Bills have put up the most points in football over the first two games. Yes, they have put more points up than the Patriots. Think on that sentence for a second.
It all stems down to the play of quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick for Buffalo. Fitzpatrick has thrown for as many touchdowns as Brady (7), has completed 63.4% of his passes, and he has only turned the ball over once this season. He could have a field day even without wide receiver Roscoe Parrish on Sunday. The Bills are on a major high in momentum right now after their comeback last week from 21-3 down against the Oakland Raiders. Even with fifteen straight losses to the Patriots, Bills’ nation might actually have a sense of optimism about this game for the first time in a long time.
They have every reason to be optimistic. Part of that though has to come with the Patriots’ rash of injuries. Tight end Aaron Hernandez is out 1-2 weeks with a sprained MCL, safety Patrick Chung might not play after having thumb surgery this week and cornerback Ras-I Dowling might miss the game with a thigh injury. The injury bug has hit the Patriots’ camp, but as we saw with the Packers last year, you can have injuries and still hoist the Lombardi Trophy when it is all set and done.
Here are my three keys to watch in Sunday’s game:
Run Fred Run: With the injuries to Roscoe Parrish and the groin bugging Stevie Johnson, the Bills might actually look to running back Fred Jackson to try to keep Tom Brady off the field as long as possible. They have a good weapon to do that in Jackson. He leads the league in rushing through two games despite the great numbers by Fitzpatrick. Despite his 112 yard game against KC in Week 1 and 117 yard game against Oakland last week, I think Jackson will struggle this week! Dating back to 2007, the Patriots have done a good job in preventing the big run. In seven games, he is only averaging 4.83 yards per carry. However, he has 146 receiving yards. With Fitzpatrick’s success, he might make a bigger factor in the receiving game. Don’t let this guy beat you with his legs first.
Who Puts the D in Defense: Most experts think that this game is going to be a shootout at Ralph Wilson Stadium on Sunday. I tend to agree with them. The key to watch for this point is going to be turnovers. Both teams have taken the ball away five times over the first two games. New England’s turnover differential is +4 while Buffalo is at +3. This game when it comes to points could be decided with a takeaway. Tom Brady has been great so far. Buffalo’s pass defense is 13th in the NFL through two games, but they have played Matt Cassel and Jason Campbell. That is not exactly Tom Brady.
Tight at Tight End: With the injury to Aaron Hernandez and the cutting of Rob’s brother Dan Gronkowski on Friday, the Patriots are thin at tight end for this football game. I do expect Rob to come up big in this one. He is a Buffalo native and as Tom Brady tells the media, if he gets his hands on the ball, it will be caught. I think Rob has a touchdown in this game, but look for the Patriots to go to more four wide receiver sets and getting a certain Ochocinco involved.
For the Bills, they have a good tight end as well and a surprising one in Scott Chandler. Chandler backed up Antonio Gates and Jason Witten at different points in his career. This year, he is getting his chance to start. Chandler has only seven catches for 79 yards so far, but he also has three touchdowns. If the Bills get in the red zone, look for them to target Chandler for the score.
PREDICTION: We all know about the streak. The Patriots have won fifteen straight against the Bills since that 31-0 loss in 2003 up in Orchard Park. Tom Brady is 17-1 against Buffalo with a 103.0 QB rating. He knows how to take advantage of a secondary that does not have any big names on it.
I think this game is going to be a shootout. The Patriots’ defense has taken away the football numerous times like they did last year but they still give up a ton of yards. Fitzpatrick is going to play well and get the crowd fired up to start. It comes down to the 4th quarter where Tom makes one more play to win and Devin McCourty will bounce back with an interception to close it out. I’ll say this: I will not be surprised if the Bills win this game. All great streaks have to end sooner or later. Buffalo played the Pats tough last year in Gillette Stadium and lost in Week 3 38-30. I expect close to the same score this time around.
PATRIOTS 38 BILLS 31