Rushing yards per game
Buffalo offense: 140.8 (sixth)
New England defense: 88.6 (seventh)
When the Bills pass
Ryan Fitzpatrick is a smart, rugged quarterback with underrated athleticism. The 6-foot-2-inch, 225-pounder processes information quickly and has one of the fastest trigger fingers in the league. He learned pretty quick that, in this offense, if you hesitate, you’ll get buried. His throwing mechanics are just plain ugly (you’ll never see him in a quarterback how-to video) but he still gets the ball where it needs to be more often than not. He is also more elusive than you’d think and has no problem tucking the ball and taking off. Stevie Johnson is Buffalo’s best receiver. He has good size (6-2, 207) and speed, and runs excellent routes. He also possesses big, strong hands. Mental lapses and immaturity have hampered his progress, however. Donald Jones (6 feet, 208) has good athleticism, body control, and strength. He is fearless across the middle and does a good job of setting up defenders with double moves. Why Brad Smith doesn’t play much is a mystery. He is a tremendous athlete with great quickness and can line up nearly everywhere on offense. Tight end Scott Chandler (6-7, 260) is a big target with reliable hands. He won’t make a lot of hay after the catch but he’s good in the red zone. Getting pressure off the edge from Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich will force Fitzpatrick to fire quickly, and that leads to interceptions. It also helps protect one of the weakest secondaries in the league.
Passing yards per game
Buffalo offense: 202.6 (27th)
New England defense: 281.1 (28th)
Bills’ key player: Stevie Johnson
An entertaining and talented wide receiver, Johnson has been very productive but hasn’t reached elite status because of some childish antics (he’s gotten a little better in that area) and concentration issues (still a problem).
How he beats you: With speed, quickness, and deceptive strength. Johnson has strong hands and he will use them to gain separation from defenders and make difficult catches. He runs solid routes and will run hard after the catch.
How to shut him down: By matching his physicality. If you can mug him at the line and prevent him from getting in his routes early, he will get frustrated. If he’s not involved from the get-go, he will also get frustrated — and then the pouting begins.
BILLS’ KEYS TO VICTORY:
1. Control the clock: A steady diet of tailbacks Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller will help keep the clock running, the chains moving, and Tom Brady chilling.
2. Pressure cooker: The front seven have to be aggressive to help a secondary that is torn and tattered. (Patriots fans can relate). Given the time, Brady will shred this defense.
3. Isn’t that special?: Leodis McKelvin and Brad Smith are excellent return men. Their ability to shorten the field will go a long way in Buffalo pulling an upset.
PATRIOTS’ KEYS TO VICTORY:
1. Containment: Limiting C.J. Spiller is a must. He is one of the most explosive and versatile players in the league, and if he’s allowed to find an early rhythm, the Patriots could be playing from behind.
2. Smashmouth: Ryan Fitzpatrick’s best game of the season came against the Patriots. If you don’t send him a message early (hits, hits, and more hits), history may repeat itself.
3. Tight spot: Target Rob Gronkowski early (the Bills couldn’t stop him last time) and keep going back until Dave Wannstedt figures a way to stop (or at least slow) him.
Patriots 34, Bills 13
Jim McBride can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.