The BFR continues its back-and-forth Q&A with PatriotsInsider.com's Jon Scott.
Click here for Part I.
And here for Part II.
Q: Who is a darkhorse playmaker the Bills must account for Sunday?
Jon Scott: The Bills have plenty to think about on Sunday especially on offense. They have to figure out a way to stop the Patriots offense with Randy Moss, Wes Welker, Sammy Morris and Kevin Faulk. Outside of the obvious (stopping the Patriots from scoring), the Bills can win by exploiting the center of the Patriots defense. Though he's not earning the respect he deserves, LB Junior Seau is having a phenomenal impact in the middle of the Patriots defense for someone closer to senior citizen discounts than his college playing days. The thing about Seau is he's filling in for Tedy Bruschi as one of the veteran leaders. His knowledge of the defense and opponent's offenses allows him to move to the correct position before the opponents can move him out of the way. While you may not see Seau running around making all the plays, watch his first step or two after the snap. He's almost always moving the right direction. Watching the tape, Seau has a much bigger impact on the game than the stats indicate. He's your darkhorse.
Q: Earlier in the season, New England's 3-4 defense gave Buffalo fits. Do you foresee a similar showing Sunday?
JS: I think injuries have a lot to do with every game. Whenever a team has a productive outing on offense or defense, a lot of that can be attributed to matchups. The Patriots are very good at taking away what an offense is good at doing. I believe the Bills were down one wideout (Josh Reed) in their last matchup, allowing New England to limit the damage Lee Evans can do to them. The 3-4 allows linebackers to fall back into coverage if need be, and the Buffalo offense relies on a lot of routes that New England's linebackers can react to. When the Bills get Lee Evans going, they can crank out a win. Against New England Evans had just 22 yards on 2 catches. He had 0 against the Browns the following week, also a loss. The following week he had 5 for 110 and the Bills rolled to their 6th win of the season. Marshawn Lynch is also a big factor in the passing game. When he has success on the ground, the passing game opens up. Lynch was held in check vs the Pats the last time (46 yards on 14 caries, 3.3 avg.).
Q: What weakness on the Patriots' defense should Buffalo exploit?
JS: The key for New England is if this team – one without Adalius Thomas, Tedy Bruschi and Richard Seymour – can put enough pressure Trent Edwards in the passing game to force them to run the ball. Then stopping the Bills on the ground. If the Patriots don't find a way to limit the yardage Buffalo gets on the ground, then it could be a long day for Patriot fans. I still think Buffalo has the ability to win, I'm just not sure they can win the battle of matchups they need to win on offense to score. To open up the run the Bills need to pass, but the Patriots will do everything to take that option away.
JS: Yeah, that hit, which still bothers me because Pollard made no attempt to get up before launching at Brady's legs, changed everything for the Patriots. New England found that they could still run the majority of the offense with Matt Cassel. I thought for sure they'd have to change the offense to suit Cassel, but that hasn't been the case. Cassel took a long time to get up to speed, but he got there in his own unique way. That has to be the most surprising. New England has three 500-yard outings so far and Cassel had back-to-back 400 passing performances. When you look at this team, they're pretty solid on offense. They lead the NFL in first downs, drives of 10 plays or more and scoring drives of at least 10 plays. Their field goal kicker leads the league in points and the running back group which featured unknown rookie BenJarvus Green-Ellis for a while is actually third in the NFL in production in making 1st downs. More impressive is that the Patriots offense has had 41 more plays from scrimmage than any other team in the NFL. I never imagined they'd be able to control the ball with that side of their team this season.
Q: Will most of New England's core be back next season in an attempt to revive the Patriots' dynasty? Or, do you think their reign is over --- with or without Brady?
JS: Rodney Harrison, Tedy Bruschi, Junior Seau, Matt Cassel, are probably headed out of town or off to the retirement lounge. The defense gets a year older, and the team still hasn't found a replacement for Richard Seymour, Mike Vrabel, Harrison or some of the starters on the offensive line. They need to find new blood at linebacker, S, CB and OL. If they do, then the names you recognize will be able to continue their trend of winning ways. Matt Light, Dan Koppen, Ben Watson, Sammy Morris or LaMont Jordan (doesn't matter)< Kevin Faulk, Welker, Moss, and company will keep the offense rolling. The defense is the key. New England desperately needs more Jerod Mayos on this team. They may have some young talent rising through the ranks, but without contributions from the rookies, the old guys looked… well, old.
Q: Prediction for the game and why.
JS: I went on record saying the Patriots would win, but I issued a caveat; the Bills will play the Patriots tough. I just think New England handles adversity better and if they run into some, I still think the Patriots will be able to win the game. It's a must-win for New England. Buffalo is playing for pride. And regardless of how well Buffalo played the past two weeks, I'm of the belief New England is a better team than the Jets or the Broncos right now. For sake of this discussion, I'll assume the game is played in fair conditions, without precipitation.
Patriots 24 – Bills 17
Jon Scott covers the Patriots for PatriotsInsider.com.