Here comes a match-up of two undefeated teams in the AFC East- the Patriots and the Bills. Who will walk away victorious?
1. Overcome Injuries - The Patriots are hurting badly. This past week they had to IR DT Myron Pryor and C Dan Koppen. Star TE Aaron Hernandez is out with an MCL injury. DT Albert Haynesworth and OT Sebastian Vollmer are both out with back injuries. DL Mike Wright is out with a concussion. Star safety Pat Chung is out with a hand injury. That's a list of five starters who will be sitting out this week (or season) due to an injury. Add in WR Taylor Price out with a hamstring injury and the depth is depleted. Punter Zoltan Mesko is a game time question mark, and starters LB Jerod Mayo, LB Gary Guyton, and CB Ras-I Dowling are all nursing injuries. The Patriots are ripe for the picking by the Bills. In order for the Patriots to win, they have to overcome all these injuries and continue to set the pace in the game.
2. Covering Loose Ends - Currently, Tight End Rob Gronkowski is the only active tight end. His brother Dan Gronkowski was cut this week (although I don't think we've seen the last of him), and Robo's partner in crime Hernandez is out for the game. It looks as if Gronk will have to carry the team this week. However, since last week's tight end, but really tackle, Nate Solder is going to start at right tackle, the Patriots are going to be playing with very few available blockers. That means that Robo Gronk will most likely be utilized as an inline blocker for a lot of the game. So in order for the Patriots to have success with their tight ends, they'll have to find ways for Robo Gronk to get involved in the receiving offense.
3. Master the Spreads - With Hernandez and Price out of the game and Gronkowski most likely utilized as an inline blocker, the Patriots are left with Wes Welker, Deion Branch, Chad Ochocinco, Julian Edelman, and Matthew Slater as the receiving weapons. The Bills are currently weak at the cornerback position, so look for the Patriots to create mismatches down the field. If the Patriots want to remain explosive, a third and fourth receiver will have to step up.
4. Human Flyswatters - Devin McCourty knows that the past two receivers he's covered have put up quality numbers (Brandon Marshall and Vincent Jackson). He also knows that the Bills' star receiver Stevie Johnson is hampered with a groin injury. Look for McCourty to look like the stud he was last year. However, the Patriots' secondary is looking ragged. Out of the safeties, Chung is ruled out, Josh Barrett is playing with a club and the team was forced to bring practice squad stud Ross Ventrone up to the game day roster. At cornerback, Ras-I Dowling has a hip injury, Kyle Arrington is battling a concussion, and Leigh Bodden has a hand injury. The Bills are very deep at the receiver position, so the Patriots must find ways to adjust and take away the Bills' potent passing attack.
5. Stop the Second Jackson - The Patriots opted to remove Chargers tight end Antonio Gates from the game last week since he is quarterback Philip Rivers' safety blanket. However, while Gates was eliminated, receiver Vincent Jackson had a monster game. This time, against the Bills, look for the Patriots to stop Fred Jackson, the Bills' versatile running back. Jackson is, by every metric available, one of the top running backs in the league. He can run, he can catch, he can block, and he protects the ball. He's elusive, he's strong, and Bill Belichick loves him and he has for a while. Look for Belichick to scheme around around Jackson and try to eliminate him from the game. In order for the Patriots to run away with the game, they need to take away FJax. If they can't slow him down, the Bills will make the game a dog fight.