When the Patriots Run: The Patriots have been running the ball well lately, but Buffalo poses a different type of challenge due to their talented defensive line. With the return of Sebastian Vollmer and Marcus Cannon, expect to see an upgrade in the run blocking, but running on the Bills is a tough task. One back that has had a lot of success versus the Bills is the currentlly-hot LeGarrette Blount, and with injuries to Dion Lewis and Julian Edelman, the Patriots need to establish a traditional running game like they have the last few weeks. James White will probably see some action as the third-down back, but most of his touches will come in the passing game. The Bills are ranked 12th defending the run, so they can definitely be run on, but it all depends on the game plan.
When the Patriots Pass: Buffalo hasn't been able to stop teams from throwing, ranking 21st in the NFL so far in 2015. New England is banged up with the losses of Dion Lewis and Julian Edelman, but they have so many weapons that they should be able to withstand these two huge losses. Amendola will most likely move to the slot position while Keshawn Martin and Aaron Dobson will play the outside. The Patriots also activated Chris Harper, another candidate to get some reps in the slot. Marcus Cannon and Sebastian Vollmer are both listed as questionable, but I expect to see them play. Assuming the line can handle the Bills excellent front four, the Patriots should be able to throw the ball for over 300 yards.
When the Bills Run: Buffalo has had an excellent year running the ball, not surprising considering they traded for LeSean McCoy and added Greg Roman to their staff as the offensive coordinator. The Bills have the second ranked run offense in football, running for 1,281 and 11 touchdowns; they're also averaging 4.8 yards per rush. With Jamie Collins still out with an illness, the Patriots defense isn't as good defending the run or the pass, but they can hide the Collins loss easier when defending the run. Buffalo has the second ranked run offense, but the Patriots have the second ranked run defense, so something will have to give on Monday night. Buffalo holds a slight advantage due the Collins injury, but this matchup appears to be even.
When the Bills Pass: If there was ever going to be a time to throw on the Patriots, this is the time to do it. They have no nickel corner and they struggle to cover down the field, so don't be surprised the see the Bills take a few shots downfield, specifically to Sammy Watkins. New England does have Jabaal Sheard back and healthier than he was last week, so if the Bills can't block for Tyrod Taylor, it won't matter if they have an advantage downfield because he'll be on his back. New England held Taylor in check for the first three quarters of the game in September, but the Patriots played stupid football in the fourth, tried to run up the score and allowed the Bills back into the game. Assuming the Patriots play their game and handle Taylor the way they did for 75% of the first game, they should keep the Bills well under 300 yards passing.
Special Teams: New England remains the top special teams unit in football a week after facing the former number two ranked Giants. Although the Bills aren't as good on special teams as the Giants, they are still ranked ninth in the NFL, so they certainly aren't slouches. New England is fully healthy again on the special teams units and after a huge field goal to beat New York last week, kicker Stephen Gostkowski is supremely confident in his ability. Ryan Allen has been his typical terrific self, so assuming everything stays status quo, New England should have the advantage but Buffalo isn'd bad enough to make it a huge factor in deciding the game.
Bill Belichick is 10-4 against Rex Ryan in his career, but don't let that record fool you into thinking this is an easy win. Rex always gives Brady and the Patriots some headaches, and with the injuries mounting in key areas of the Patriots offense, Rex can now focus on stopping one guy (Gronkowski) and that may slow down the Patriots enough to beat them. I say MAY slow them down, but ultimately I see New England getting their offense rolling at home, albeit with new players in different spots, and the defense will make enough plays to help the suddenly undermanned offense. Belichick has the advantage because he is at home and he has better personnel.
Prediction: Patriots 31, Bills 17
Statistics Provided by http://www.pro-football-reference.com/teams/nwe/2015.htm
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