We have reached that point of the NFL season where tightly contested divisional matchups become a weekly occurrence and playoff seeding starts to take shape. Some of the best games of the season occur around this time of year as teams jockey for position. This weekend features some pivotal matchups that every football fan will definitely enjoy. The Minnesota Vikings (9-2) square off against the Atlanta Falcons (7-4) as both teams battle to position themselves amongst the NFC’s elite. The New Orleans Saints (8-3) and Carolina Panthers (8-3) meet in a pivotal NFC South match up that could go a long way towards determining the winner of that division. The Sunday Night game features an exciting matchup between the surging Philadelphia Eagles (10-1) and the Seattle Seahawks (7-4).
In between these games, The Patriots (9-2) will square off against the Buffalo Bills (6-5) in a
highly anticipated AFC East matchup that all Pats fans will surely be excited to watch. The Patriots are heavily favored to win this game as the Bills have had various issues throughout the year such as a self-created quarterback controversy, a lack of production from their receiving corps, and an inept rushing defense that Trent Richardson might be able to find holes in. But despite all of those problems, the Bills still feature one of the top running backs in the league, LeSean McCoy, who will serve as yet another test for an injury plagued Patriot front seven that ranks 22nd against the run. While the defense was able to limit the Dolphins rushing attack last week, they had given up more than 4 yards per rush each of the prior three weeks, including a whopping 7.5 yards per rush (157 total rushing yards) to the Chargers.
Stopping McCoy will be paramount to the Patriot’s success and will heavily impact the chances of the team leaving Buffalo with a win. As Rich Hill pointed out, McCoy leads his team in yards from scrimmage with 1,053 yards. He accounts for 32% of his team’s total offense, which is the third highest mark in the league. Slowing down McCoy will not only help them this week but could also help prepare the team for their matchup with the Steelers in two weeks (not that I’m looking ahead or anything).
Both teams utilize their star running backs very heavily. Similar to McCoy, Le’Veon Bell leads the Steelers in yards from scrimmage and accounts for 34.1% of his team’s offense, the highest percentage in the NFL. The Patriots are going to have to focus a lot of their attention on McCoy, which could leave their secondary vulnerable. Again, this could serve as another building block for the team as the secondary has been playing very well in recent weeks. While the Bills do not receive the same amount of production from their receiving corps as the Steelers, they still have a talented group that includes Kelvin Benjamin, Jordan Matthews, and tight end Charles Clay. Luckily (or unluckily, I would have liked the challenge), Benjamin is dealing with a torn meniscus and is unlikely to play this week.
With Benjamin out of the lineup, the secondary should be able to hold its own and allow the front seven to deal with McCoy and quarterback Tyrod Taylor. The defense was able to get a lot of pressure last week on the Dolphins, registering seven sacks. It will be a little harder to do that this week, not because of the Bills’ offensive line, but simply because Taylor is not Matt Moore. Compared to Moore, whose elusiveness last weekend could make Brady look like the second coming of Mike Vick, Taylor will be much harder to bring down and should continue to push a Patriots pass rush that has been steadily improving.
Offensively, Pats fans could not be less worried about Buffalo’s defense. I’ll just let these numbers speak for themselves: The Bills rank 17th in points given up per game, 21st in rushing yards allowed per game, and 22nd in passing yards allowed per game (according to ESPN). Simply put, the offense should be able to do whatever it wants this week (I’m still waiting for my James Develin touchdown). The secondary does not feature enough talent to slow down a Patriots offense that has been as hot as Giants fans after the benching of Eli Manning. Even though former Packer Micah Hyde is a respectable and versatile playmaking safety, he does not match up well with any of the Patriot’s targets.
Last week, the Patriot’s offensive line, which was missing center David Andrews and right tackle Marcus Cannon, struggled with the Dolphins front seven which featured players like Ndamukong Suh, Cameron Wake, and Lawrence Timmons. While they only allowed one sack, Brady still took six hits from that vicious line (according to Jeff Howe). Those pressures might have had an impact on the team’s two turnovers and left the coaching staff visibly displeased (Mike Reiss reported that Belichick made the team come in on Tuesday for meetings instead of having the day off).
Buffalo’s front seven features veteran players like Lorenzo Alexander and Kyle Williams. Though experienced, this may not translate into success. The offense, and specifically the offensive line, should be pleased with the amount of success they were able to have despite their struggles with the Dolphins’ front seven. With that being said, they need to come into this game motivated and intent on fixing the aforementioned issues that they had last week. I would look for the offense to put together another dominant performance and build on the complete game they put forth last week. If the team comes out focused and plays as they should, they will have no problem with Bills and we will have no problem switching back and forth between this game and some of the more competitive NFC games.
Patriots 34 – Bills 13