Sunday, December 29, 2013

Four Point Stance: Bills at Patriots


For the New England Patriots (11-4), a win at home this weekend will yield a first-round bye and make yet another trip to the Super Bowl that much easier.

For the Buffalo Bills (6-9), playing spoiler against a divisional foe and picking up a third straight victory in the process wouldn't be such a bad way to end their up-and-down season.

To do so, Buffalo will once again be relying on quarterback Thad Lewis, who's been named the starter this week while E.J. Manuel continues to recoup from a knee injury. Lewis was sub-par in the team's win against Miami last week and will once again be without the team's No. 1 receiver, which will keep the pressure on the running game and force Lewis to be more accurate than last week

The Pats, however, have already wrapped up the division, and another win against the Bills would seal the No. 2 conference spot for the postseason. To solidify that spot, they'll have to find a way to slow down a defense that has three starting Pro Bowlers, that disrupted quarterback Tom Brady in the season opener and that has set a franchise record for sacks in a single season.

Running the ball will likely be a big part of the game plan, especially if they're trying to keep players healthy for January football.

When the Bills have the ball:
The team's running back duo has worked its efficiency up to second overall in the league, averaging more than 140 yards per game including another monster outing last week. With Lewis at the helm, expect another 30 to 40 carries from the pair with the passing plays kept to a minimum, especially with Stevie Johnson and Marquise Goodwin on the mend. An ailing Pats secondary should help to keep the pressure off as well, which may be crucial for Lewis, who's likely playing for a roster spot for next year and is up against a solid pass rush.

When the Patriots have the ball:
It's all about the sacks and turnovers for the Buffalo defense, which had an outstanding game against the Dolphins last week and forced Brady into surrendering both in their Week 1 bout. While the signal-caller's success against the Bills is well-documented, he'll also need a strong outing from the ground game to keep the chains moving. New England's rushing attack has been rather effective of late, and even Brady isn't immune to a one-dimensional game plan versus a turnover-happy defense. If Blount and Ridley can perform like they did against Baltimore's stout front, the passing game will be much obliged.

Late scores. New England has killed Buffalo in the fourth quarter in the past decade, putting up double the points en route to a handful of victories. That's been the team's M.O. this year against all their opponents, putting up nearly twice the amount of points in the final stanza (160-86). That includes the teams' first meeting this season, where Buffalo carried a 21-17 lead into the fourth only to give up two crucial field goals and lose in the final seconds.

New England has dominated Buffalo in recent history, winning 19 of the last 20 games. With a win, the Bills would snap a four-game winning streak by the Pats and pick up their first win at Gillette Stadium. The two teams have met 106 times, with New England holding a 64-41-1 record in those games. The Bills last trip to Massachusetts back in November of last year ended in a 37-31 defeat.

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