Ten things you have to know about Patriots-Bills
|11.10.12 at 12:49 pm ET|
Here’s everything you need to know about Sunday’s Patriots-Bills game:
Our three favorite matchups on the afternoon:
1. Running back Stevan Ridley against the Bills run defense. This isn’t exactly rocket science: Ridley’s 716 rushing yards are third best in the AFC, and his 89.5 yards per game is second in the conference. Meanwhile, Buffalo has the worst run defense in the AFC (169.5 rushing yards per game) and second worst in the league, trailing only the Saints. Opponents average 5.7 yards per carry. Ridley accounted for 106 rushing yards and two touchdowns the first time these two teams met, and it wouldn’t surprise anyone if he improved on that number this time around.
2. Linebacker Brandon Spikes against running back C.J. Spiller. The one thing the Bills do very well offensively is run the ball (Spiller averages an astounding 7.2 yards per carry), while the one thing we know about the Patriots defense is that it’s one of the best in the league against the run (New England allows 88.6 yards per game, seventh-best in the league). Spikes — who remains New England’s best run defender — and the Patriots won this matchup the first time around, as they limited Spiller to 33 yards on eight carries. The key moment in that one came in the first half when Spikes forced a Spiller fumble with Buffalo in the shadow of the New England goal line.
3. Cornerback Devin McCourty against wide receiver Stevie Johnson. The premiere matchup on the perimeter. McCourty and Johnson won’t be matched up exclusively in man coverage, but they’ll spend a lot of time staring each other down Sunday like they did in the first matchup back in September. In that game, McCourty delivered five solo tackles (one for a loss), two passes defensed and two interceptions, while Johnson had just two catches (on 10 targets) for 23 yards.
4. Under the radar opponent who Patriots’ fans need to know: Tight end Scott Chandler. The Patriots had issues with the 6-foot-7, 260-pound Chandler when the two teams met back in September, as he finished with four catches (on eight targets) for 62 yards and a pair of touchdowns, and might have done more if it wasn’t for an injury. A look back at the film revealed that it was the New England safeties who appeared to struggle with him in coverage (he went up and over Pat Chung to haul in one of the touchdowns). With some question marks at safety heading into Sunday’s game — particularly surrounding the health of Chung and Steve Gregory — it will be interesting to see how the Patriots try and defend Chandler this time around.
5. By the numbers: In five career games against the Bills, Rob Gronkowski — a native of upstate New York — has 27 catches for 418 yards (including three straight games where he’s topped 100 yards receiving) and eight touchdowns. Those numbers represent his best numbers against any opponent.
(One more stat to consider: In six games against the Patriots, Buffalo quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick has thrown 16 interceptions. It’s the most he’s thrown against any opponent.)
6. Quote from the Bills: ‘I don’t think that is something that is thought about by the players and the coaches as much as it is by the outside people ‘ that is what you all do is gather statistics and put them out there. The majority of this team has been here for less than three years, so they don’t know. They just know that they have a big job in front of them as far as going in there and winning a tough game on the road. We have been able to win on the road a couple of times this year, so that is not something that is new to us ‘ being able to go and try to win on the road. We played pretty good for the first quarter last year, so if you can turn that into three quarters, you give yourself a chance.’ — Buffalo coach Chan Gailey on the Bills’ historic inability to win in Foxboro. Buffalo hasn’t won a contest in New England since 2000, a stretch of 11 consecutive games.
7. Patriots fans should be worried about … the Bills’ special teams. Buffalo has always had an excellent group of special teamers, and this year is no exception. The Bills are solid when it comes to kicking and punting, and have an excellent return game with Leodis McKelvin. McKelvin averages 19.5 yards a punt return, the best in the league, and has an 88-yard return for a touchdown. And McKelvin is third in the league in kick return average at 29.8. (Brad Smith also has an 89-yard kick return for a touchdown.) Meanwhile, the Patriots have struggled at times when it comes to coverage — they haven’t allowed a kick or punt return for a touchdown over the first half, but have allowed 21.7 yards per kick return.
8. Bills fans should be worried about … New England’s ability to force turnovers. The Patriots are the best in the AFC and third in the league when it comes to turnover ratio, coming into Sunday’s game at +13. (New England has 20 takeaways — including nine interceptions and 11 fumbles — and just seven giveaways.) Buffalo is -7, and according to STATS, Inc., has allowed 75 points off giveaways this season, the second-most in the NFL. In the first game between these two teams, the Patriots forced six turnovers and cashed in on three of those, coming away with 17 points off takeaways.
9. One more thing: More than any team the Patriots have faced over the last decade or so, the Bills seem to panic when it comes to trying to match the Patriots score-for-score. With the exception of last September’s game in Buffalo, the Bills seemingly start to panic when they fall behind New England, junking their game plan and trying to air it out in hopes of staying with the Patriots. That’s not their comfort zone — Buffalo runs the ball, and when they do it consistently, its a pretty good offense that not only grounds out decent yardage, it opens things up for its offensive skill position players like Johnson.
10. Prediction: The Bills do have some quality on both sides of the ball, and if they can take advantage of an occasionally uneven New England special teams unit with a big return from McKelvin, they have a chance to hang around. But there’s little reason to think that the Patriots won’t be able to overwhelm the Bills in this one, particularly if they can take advantage of mismatches like Ridley on the ground and Gronkowski through the air. Look for Buffalo to keep it close for a large portion of the first half, but New England should be able to get some separation in the second half, particularly if the Bills get away from the running game and become one-dimensional. Ridley and Gronkowski should both get their 100 yards from scrimmage, and the Patriots should win relatively easily — something along the lines of 42-21.