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NFL Preview - Buffalo (3-5) at New England (5-3)
By Dan Di Sciullo, Contributing NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - The Buffalo Bills will try to accomplish something they haven't done since the final days of the Clinton administration when they visit the New England Patriots this Sunday.
The last time the Bills won a road tilt against the Patriots was on Nov. 5, 2000, just days before the 2000 presidential election between George W. Bush and Al Gore. Unlike that contentious election, it shouldn't take the United States Supreme Court to determine a winner in this weekend's battle between the Bills and Patriots.
Bill Belichick was in his first season as the Patriots head coach when his team last lost at home to the Bills over 12 years ago and quarterback Tom Brady was still an unknown rookie. Of course, a great deal has changed since then as Belichick and Brady have won three Super Bowls for New England en route to cementing their Hall of Fame credentials.
Over his years coaching the Pats in the AFC East, Belichick has seen his record against the Bills balloon to 22-4 and Brady's credentials against the club are even gaudier. The now 35-year-old QB boasts a 19-2 mark with 49 touchdown passes and a 104.3 rating in his 21 games versus the Bills.
Overall, Buffalo has lost 11 straight games at New England and has lost 22 of its last 24 games against the Pats.
Oh yeah, and when the Patriots traveled to Buffalo back in late September, Brady and his offense sprinted to a 52-28 win against their overmatched rivals. That's the level of success the Bills face this Sunday when they try to avoid a three-game losing streak and a 3-6 record on the season.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
With an average of 440.8 yards gained per game, the Patriots have the top- ranked offense in the NFL. It's also arguably the most-balanced offense in the league this season as New England is the only NFL team currently ranked in the top-five in both rushing and passing yards per game.
Although, New England can technically beat you with its passing or running attack, slowing down Brady and the aerial game needs to be the true focus of Buffalo's gameplan on Sunday.
And it's not just Brady's long history of success against the Bills that should have them worried because one of his best games of this season was versus Buffalo . Back on Sept. 30 when the Pats destroyed the Bills in Buffalo, Brady threw for 340 yards and three touchdowns and his 9.4 yards per attempt was his highest mark of the season in that category.
The explosiveness of New England's offense was on full display in that September meeting considering the Pats trailed 21-7 early in the second quarter before outscoring the Bills by a 42-7 margin the rest of the way.
That kind of offensive dominance gets the attention of the opposition and the Bills certainly can't be accused of lacking respect for Brady.
"He is the best that I have played," Bills defensive tackle Kyle Williams said of Brady. "I think that it is just on the command that he has on their offense. He knows what the defense you are in and what it might give up, what it might not give up and he puts them in a good position."
Of course, the best way to get Brady off his game is by getting pressure on him, but the Bills were only able to sack the two-time Super Bowl MVP once back in September.
"The only time he really has trouble is whenever he has got guys in his face and guys hitting him," Bills defensive end Mario Williams said. "We have to get that done. We have to find some way to get pressure on him and get him off his spot."
While slowing down Brady and his primary receiver Wes Welker is key to beating the Pats, the Bills know that this version of New England's offense can just as easily take control of the game with its running attack. The Pats out- rushed Buffalo by a 247-98 margin in the first meeting of the season as both Brandon Bolden and Stevan Ridley went over the 100-year mark.
"They are very balanced now," said Buffalo linebacker Kelvin Sheppard. "It is not just the Tom Brady show, it's not just that they are going to line up five wide and throw the ball around. Now they do have the run dimension and they are averaging about 150 yards a game and that is definitely something that we are definitely going to have to handle."
The Bills enter this week with the 31st-ranked defense out of 32 NFL teams and it doesn't appear they have the personnel to deal with New England's well- oiled machine of an offense.
While Bills head coach Chan Gailey believes there are no easy answers to slowing down the Pats, he does think that poor tackling did his club in against New England earlier this season and it's reasonable to believe Buffalo could at least shore up that part of its D on Sunday.
"That was the biggest part of the issue last game," Gailey said this week. "We missed 12 or 15 tackles in that ball game. You miss that many tackles, you are going to give up some runs and they happened to be on the running plays."
Brady believes that outside of the slow start against the Bills in September, his team eventually won going away thanks to a total team effort. His hoping they can accomplish the same thing in Sunday's meeting, minus the early problems, of course.
"I think everybody clicked. I think the defense clicked. I think the special teams clicked," Brady said. "I think everything does and it's complementary football and capitalizing on turnovers. We didn't play very well in the first half so we were down 21-7 and it was a little bit of an adverse situation for us and we found a way to dig ourselves out of it. Hopefully we don't have to dig ourselves out of it this week."
Even if the Bills' track record against the Belichick and Brady-led Pats was good, it'd be hard to pick them in this contest. Not only is it a matchup between possibly the best offense in the league against one of the worst defenses, New England had an extra week to prepare for the Bills after sitting out last week on a bye. Giving Belichick more time to prepare for a team that they ran up the score on only several weeks is clearly a bad sign for Gailey's Bills.
It also doesn't help Buffalo that its best offensive asset -- the dual rushing attack of Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller -- is capable of being neutralized by a New England team that ranks seventh in the NFL against the run. Spiller had 33 yards in the first meeting against the Pats, while Jackson managed 29.
The most obvious way this game will be different from the first one is that the Bills will be lucky to hold a lead at all, let alone a 21-7 advantage.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Patriots 34, Bills 14
11/08 15:23:48 ET
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