The New England Patriots will have a chance to lock up the AFC East and also clinch a first round bye and home field advantage though out the playoffs with a win against the 4-10 Buffalo Bills when they travel to Ralph Wilson Stadium on Sunday afternoon. When the two teams last met in week 3, the Patriots battled to a 38-30 win in a game that was much closer than expected. Patriots receiver Randy Moss caught two touchdowns, and unknown newcomer Danny Woodhead scored his first touchdown as a Patriot. Oh how times have changed!
For Buffalo, career backup quarterback and Harvard alum Ryan Fitzpatrick made his first start of the season and threw for 247 yards and two touchdowns in the loss, including one to Stevie Johnson. Both players have gone on to enjoy solid seasons, despite the team’s lack of success. However, the team’s poor record doesn’t reflect the way they have played towards the end of this season. They have played hard for a full 60 minutes in every game of the season, and will continue to do so for the rest of the campaign; a rare feat for a 4-10 team in the NFL.
It is for that reason, along with the previously mentioned Fitzpatrick and Johnson, that this could be a dangerous game for the Patriots. Johnson, who is perhaps best known for blaming God after dropping a pass in overtime against the Pittsburgh Steelers, is one of the breakout players of 2010. He currently leads the team with 72 catches for 943 yards and 10 touchdowns. If the Bills are going to have a chance this week, Johnson will have to have one of his best games of the season.
This could be a problem for Buffalo, as he will likely see plenty of Devin McCourty, who has the ability to shut down almost anyone in the NFL. If McCourty is able to put Johnson in check, the rest of the Patriots defense will be able to zero in on running back Fred Jackson, who has become the team’s workhorse. Jackson has been used in both the running and passing games, but has been shut down in recent weeks. The Patriots should be able to do the same, but even if they do, they will see a heavy dose of Jackson.
On the offensive side of the ball, the Patriots will look to bounce back from a sub-par (at least to their standards) game against the Green Bay Packers last week. They should have no problem doing that against a Buffalo defense that is ranked 23rd in the league in yardage allowed and 25th in points allowed. They are especially bad against the run, allowing a league-worst 158.6 yards-per-game, so look for BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Woodhead to come up with some big plays and open up the rest of the field for Tom Brady and company.
All-in-all, it has the potential to be a tough game as the Bills will definitely come to play and Buffalo in December is always a tough trip, no matter how bad the team is, but the Patriots should have no problem taking care of business and should be division champions by late Sunday afternoon.