In Week 2 of the NFL season, the Patriots knocked the Buffalo Bills down to earth with a humbling 40-32 loss that was more lopsided than the final score. The Bills have gone 4-3 since that game, with Rex Ryan picking up an emotional win against the Jets on Thursday Night Football. The Patriots have gone 7-0 in that stretch and were looking to really to carpet bomb the NFL until injuries started piling up on the offense. The Patriots magic number to clinch the AFC East is now 3 games. Meanwhile, the Bills are looking to salvage a Wild Card berth and get to the playoffs to play the Patriots a 3rd time. The Bills remaining schedule will certainly give them opportunities to do so with match-ups against the Chiefs, Texans, and Jets upcoming.
Changes for the Patriots
The Patriots offense has been decimated by injuries even worse than the 2013 team, losing half the offensive line, their shifty RB, and go-to receiver. The Patriots offensive line the last two weeks has been Cameron Fleming-Shaq Mason-David Andrews-Josh Kline-Bryan Stork. Fleming has been the best OL of this particular group, although that may be a sign of teams going after Stork on the other side. Stork isn't built to play OT at the NFL, his skills set is much better inside where it's more of a phone booth setting. The Patriots do need to get either Marcus Cannon or Sebastian Vollmer back for this game, or it's going to be a low-scoring game.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Patriots' biggest loss is Tarell Brown. Brown has since been replaced by Logan Ryan, who has done an excellent job of playing the #2 CB role. The Patriots still have the same pass rush as they had in Week 2, when they sacked Tyrod Taylor eight times. Chandler Jones picked up 3 sacks in that game and has spring-boarding his breakout campaign. Jones has 10.5 sacks so far on the season and is only 2 away from tying Vrabel's mark from 2007. LB Jamie Collins has been battling the flu bug the last couple of weeks, but his return could be coming this week. Behind Dont'a Hightower and Jamie Collins, the LB depth isn't that encouraging although the Patriots seem to like Jonathan Freeny and Jerod Mayo started getting more snaps against the Giants. The Patriots have established themselves this year as a Top 10 defense, which was my preseason prediction.
Changes for the Bills
The Bills have found their QB in Tyrod Taylor, who is 5-2 as a starter this year. On the offensive side of the ball, the approach has not changed since Week 2, although it won't be with Percy Harvin this time. The Bills feature a good 1-2 punch with Lesean McCoy and Karlos Williams at RB. The Bills offense is a bit banged up at a couple spots with Sammy Watkins battling a calf injury all season and McCoy battling a shoulder. The Patriots should be expecting more of the same from the Bills as they did in Week 2.
Defensively, the Bills are a bit more banged up. Safety Aaron Williams left the Week 2 game and has not returned yet. He's currently on IR-Designated to Return. Kyle and Mario Williams are both battling injuries, with Kyle missing the game against the Jets with a knee problem and Mario with a calf problem. They do get Leodis McKelvin back off PUP, which gives the Bills another cover guy against the Patriots banged up offense. Outside of the injury realm, there were rumblings about Bills players being unhappy with the scheme when they suffered back-to-back losses. That has since died down with the two wins in a row, so perhaps that was a result of frustration over the team's performance more than anything.
This game is going to be a dogfight, the Patriots are banged up and the Bills are still relatively healthy. The game is at Gillette, so the Patriots are to be expected to win. Stay tuned this week for the injury reports and Rex Ryan doing Rex Ryan things.