New England, a preseason Super Bowl favorite, has looked vulnerable on both sides of the ball at times this season. That said, the team is coming off of a dominant 43-17 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals. They'll look to build off against the Bills. With Tom Brady at the helm, the Patriots have had no shortage of success against Buffalo. The quarterback is 24-2 against the Bills.
The Bills are fielding their deepest roster in years and are looking to dethrone the Patriots as AFC East Champions. New England has won the division 11 of the last 13 seasons, but the Bills look like they can compete with the Pats.
Both teams have matchups that could present problems for their opponent. Here are three matchups that could determine the outcome of Sunday's game:
Bills Defensive Line vs. Patriots Offensive Line
This is one area that overwhelmingly favors the Bills. Buffalo's defensive line has accounted for 14.5 of the team's 17 sacks, tied for most in the NFL. The defensive line is also one of the biggest reasons that Buffalo's run defense has greatly improved. The Bills allow 71 rush yards per game on average, good for second in the NFL.
On the interior of the line, Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams are great at taking on blockers so that the linebackers can run free towards the ball carrier. They've also accounted for six sacks, with Dareus leading the team with five.
Mario Williams (3.5 sacks) and Jerry Hughes (3 sacks) have been disruptive forces off the ends in Jim Schwartz's defense. While getting to the quarterback is their main responsibility, both ends have shown strong play in run defense as well.
The offensive line of the Patriots have allowed 11 sacks this season. The sack amount isn't staggering, but the line has struggled to give Tom Brady time to pass. He's been hit early and often this season.
Buffalo will look to hit and disrupt Brady throughout the game. The Bills defense will also look to slow down a Patriots rushing offense that averages 122 yards per game. If Buffalo's run defense plays as well as they have early in the season, they'll make the Patriots offense one-dimensional.
If New England's offensive line performs well, there's a great chance that they win the game. The Patriots will be without backup guard Cameron Fleming on Sunday, and one starter may also sit. Bryan Stork, the starting center of the Patriots, is questionable with a head injury. Buffalo's interior should find plenty of success if Stork does not play on Sunday.
If Buffalo's defensive line continues their dominant play, Sunday's game will be very close from wire to wire.
Patriots Tight Ends vs. Bills Linebackers/Cornerbacks
Covering tight ends has been an issue with Buffalo's defense for many years and many defensive coordinators. It'll be interesting to see how Jim Schwartz matches up his defense against New England's tight ends.
Rob Gronkowski has had plenty of success this season, catching 19 passes for 247 yards and four touchdowns. New England's second tight end, Tim Wright, looks like he's picked up the Patriots offense quickly after being acquired in a trade. He has nine receptions for 120 yards and one touchdown on the season. Most of his damage came last week against the Bengals. Wright only played 19 snaps against Cincinnati, yet he caught five passes for 85 yards and a touchdown.
Schwartz will have some important decisions to make on defense. The first is with middle linebacker Brandon Spikes. The former Patriots linebacker struggles in coverage. There's no doubt that the Patriots will look to target the linebacker throughout the game tomorrow. The Bills will certainly play Spikes on early downs, but do they keep him in on third down is the question. Buffalo has options.
First, they could replace Spikes with fellow linebacker Preston Brown. Brown was drafted to be the heir apparent at middle linebacker, but he's played SLB and WLB as the Bills linebackers have battled injuries. Brown has played 343 of a possible 360 snaps. He'd certainly provide more range than Spikes in passing situations.
Buffalo's other option would be to play in nickel packages on third down. This would pull Spikes off of the field and the Bills would add another cornerback to their lineup. In this situation, the Bills would line up Corey Graham against one of New England's tight ends and keep two linebackers on the field (a rotation of Nigel Bradham, Keith Rivers and Preston Brown).
Schwartz's game plan against New England's tight ends will play a huge part in the outcome of Sunday's game.
Buffalo’s No. 1 receiver will have his biggest test to date against New England’s top cornerback, Darrelle Revis. Watkins trails Fred Jackson in receptions, but leads the team in targets. His 284 yards receiving and two touchdowns lead all Bills receivers. He's also been their biggest threat in the receiving game with five plays of 20+ yards. In Kyle Orton's first start last week, he targeted Watkins 12 times. The wide receiver finished with seven receptions and 87 yards.
Darrelle Revis, one of the NFL's shutdown cornerbacks, will be a great test for Watkins. According to Pro Football Focus (Subscription Required), Revis has been targeted 24 times this season and has given up 14 receptions for 197 yards and a touchdown. Orton will have to be careful throwing in Revis' direction, but he also needs to get the ball to his best receiver. Revis struggled in man-to-man coverage at times this season, especially against the Raiders, so this matchup intrigues me.
Young receivers have generally struggled against Revis in his career, but Watkins looks like a special wide receiver.
What matchup above do you feel is most important in determining the outcome of Sunday's game? What are some other matchups that each team should look to expose? Let's talk about it in the forums!