Sunday, September 30, 2012

Gameday Deciding Factors: Patriots at Bills


This Sunday's matchup between the Buffalo Bills and New England Patriots is one of polar opposites, just not the type we're accustomed to seeing. As the Bills look to carry momentum from their last two decisive victories into Ralph Wilson Stadium on Sunday, the Pats will be aiming to reverse their fortunes and avoid starting 1-3 for the first time since 2001.

Though the Buffalo offense has been clicking, the fate of its running back squad is still murky, with C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson still not 100 percent. New England's offense has struggled relative to its usual production, particularly in the passing game, with quarterback Tom Brady's touchdown numbers surprisingly low. The Bills hope to duplicate its performance of a year ago when it snapped a 15-game losing streak against the Pats, while New England will try to right the ship and stay competitive in a tight division.

Deciding Factors:

Don't rush into it. Despite having the most successful rushing attack in the league, the Bills are in an awkward position this week, as both Jackson and Spiller are trying to return from injury. That raises questions for both teams in terms of preparation, and it still leaves open the possibility of seeing Tashard Choice, who had a stellar game last week, on a fair share snaps. Jackson was feeling very confident about his ankle Friday, so don't be surprised if he takes the lion's share of the playing time Sunday and the Bills revert back to using Spiller as a screen and Wildcat back.

Special, so far. Thanks to the explosive performance of Leodis McKelvin, Buffalo's specials teams is tops in the league. He is averaging more than 25 yards per kick return and nearly 30 yards per punt return, including a touchdown. Buffalo's kicking crew will have their work cut out for them this week, however, as New England's special teams squad has historically shut down big plays in the return game. It will be interesting to see whether the Pats decide to kick around McKelvin or right at him, and if the Bills can sneak a special teams score in somewhere, it would be a game-changer.

Gronk a ghost? Though it may be some last-minute mind games by coach Bill Belichick, the Patriots have officially listed tight end Rob Gronkowski as questionable for Sunday's matchup. With Aaron Hernandez already on the bench with a high ankle sprain, Gronkowski's absence would be a big hit to the Patriots' offense, but not dressing seems very unlikely. Regardless, New England relied heavily on Gronk's production last year, and he hasn't quite hit his stride this season. In 2011, Gronkowski averaged 83 yards receiving per game and 14 yards per reception. This year, he's averaging just over 50 yards a game, and his average per catch is down to 11.

On the line. The Patriots have seen some changes in their offensive line this season, and with them, some rare inconsistencies. Quarterback Tom Brady has been on his back more frequently than the team would like thus far, and it won't get any easier for him and the line this week against the Bills' defensive front. Buffalo has tallied nine sacks in their last two games, while New England has allowed six in its previous two games. With Pro Bowl guard Logan Mankins officially listed as questionable for Sunday's game, The Pats will need big games from their less experienced guys on the line, namely Nate Solder and Sebastian Vollmer.
A week in Patriots and Bills Posts: