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Buffalo Bills vs. New England Patriots Preview and Prediction

LeGarrette Blount

LeGarrette Blount

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After three weeks without Tom Brady, New England already holds a two-game lead in the AFC East. If they can beat Buffalo on Sunday and get some help elsewhere, the Patriots could stretch that lead to three over the rest of the division — and then they get their Hall of Fame quarterback back.

But is anyone really surprised? Bill Belichick has always found ways to put his team in the best position to win. While New England’s defense has rarely been dominant in recent years, opponents never seem to score much. In fact, over the last 10 full seasons, the Patriots have ranked outside the top 10 in scoring defense only once. They also force turnovers, ranking outside the top 10 in turnover ratio only once in that same span. This season they rank fifth in both categories. That’s a good formula for winning no matter who is under center.

The Bills are not as bad as many made them out to be when a pair of six-point losses left them at 0–2. But then they are certainly not as good as they looked last week in routing Arizona at home, either. The running game finally got going (208 yards) against the Cardinals under new offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn, but there are still serious questions about Tyrod Taylor as a passer. While he threw for 297 yards and three scores against the Jets, Taylor threw for 230 yards in the other two games combined this season. As a result, the Bills rank dead last in the NFL in passing offense.

Buffalo at New England

Kickoff: Sunday, Oct. 2 at 12 p.m. ET

TV Channel: CBS

Spread: Patriots -4.5

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Three Things to Watch

1. Buffalo’s running game vs. New England’s run defense

This is often where Bills games are decided no matter the opponent — under Rex Ryan, the Bills have averaged 176 yards rushing in wins. But given that no one is better than Bill Belichick at taking away what an opponent does best, the importance here is magnified. Can he force the Bills to the air? The Patriots have been solid against the run so far this season, holding both the Cardinals and Dolphins under 100 yards. If not for some garbage-time runs in the blowout of Houston last week, they would rank higher than 11th against the run. When the teams met last season, New England did a better job than most against the Bills’ running game.

2. Rex Ryan’s defense vs. ... well, vs. whoever plays quarterback

The Patriots aren’t giving many hints as to who will be under center when this game starts. The Bills can be happy they know it won’t be Tom Brady; but whether it’s Jimmy Garropolo or Jacoby Brissett, there will be a steady diet of running back LeGarrette Blount, who leads the NFL in carries, yards and touchdowns. The Bills have been good against the run so far this season, allowing just 3.4 yards per carry, but the front seven is lacking depth with Marcell Dareus suspended and Shaq Lawson and Reggie Ragland injured. Assuming the score doesn’t force them to throw, the Pats should be able to find room to run if they stick with it. If Garropolo can play, expect the passing game to be similar to what it was in the first meeting season — short, quick passes that don’t give Ryan’s blitz packages time to get home.

3. Tyrod’s time?

Twice last season against the Patriots, Taylor and the Bills got the ball late down by one score. Neither time did Taylor get them even to midfield. Until Taylor proves he can win a close game with his arm against a good team, there will be questions about his ability to be the long-term answer in Buffalo. He can make plays with his legs that no one else can, and he throws a nice deep ball. But can he complete six or seven short-to-intermediate throws in a row? Expect Belichick to make him prove he can do just that, loading up to stop the run and keeping two safeties back to keep everything in front of them.

Final Analysis

A Bills win here would make everyone forget the 0–2 start and put them right back on track toward... well probably toward another season with eight or nine wins while Tom Brady returns and the Patriots run away with the division. Take away the 2014 season finale when the Patriots rested starters for the playoffs, and the Bills have not won in Gillette Stadium since Nov. 5, 2000. New England always seems have just enough to beat the Bills when Bill Belichick is on the sideline. Even Rex Ryan, who had some success against New England when he was leading the Jets, couldn’t change that last season. We’re not ready to predict that this is the year, either.

NFL Power Rankings: Patriots

Prediction: Patriots 21, Bills 17