Week Four Preview: Patriots vs. Bills

As Week Four is upon us, the often-heated division rivalry between the Patriots and Bills will once again be played out on the field. With major storylines from both teams coming into this game, it'll be one to watch for sure.

After a blowout victory against the Houston Texans in Week Three, the Patriots will play their third straight home game with the division rival Buffalo Bills coming to town. They will be coming to Foxboro having already fired their offensive coordinator, Greg Roman, and also without several members of their team. Buffalo recently placed star wide receiver Sammy Watkins on injured reserve due to a foot injury, and they're also dealing with injuries to their two top draft picks, Reggie Ragland and Shaq Lawson. For New England, LeGarrette Blount's hot start (75 rushing attempts, 295 yards and four touchdowns) coupled with the question as to who will start at quarterback are two major topics of discussion.

Both Jimmy Garoppolo (shoulder) and Jacoby Brissett (thumb) are coming into Week Four at less than 100%. As of this writing, the team has not announced who will start but both are "questionable" coming into this game, so their decision may not come until right before kickoff if both are indeed active. If both are active, it is expected that Garoppolo, the "starter" while Tom Brady is suspended, would get the nod. Under Garoppolo, the offense will be more balanced with the run and pass as opposed to Brissett, who is better suited for a heavy run attack along with potential option plays. We saw those play call happens last weekend when Brissett was starting, so it would not be shocking to see them happen occasionally again if Brissett started again. He is still learning as a passer and relies more on his legs than Garoppolo does.

With that, the team has relied heavily on Blount to help guide the offense through the run game. He has functioned as a "work-horse" back, seeing 25 carries on average over the first three weeks of the season. Regardless of who starts at quarterback, expect another game of Blount being a (if not THE) focal point of the Patriots offense. In the passing game, Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, Danny Amendola, Martellus Bennett and Rob Gronkowski (who is questionable, but should play) will be the main play-makers. Going up against a team that has given up over 750 yards receiving to wide receivers in the first three weeks, that'll be an area of the Bills defense for the Patriots to focus on. The Bills have proven to be formidable against opposing tight ends so far this season, giving up seven receptions for 59 yards. With Gronkowski and Bennett as the likely tight ends that Buffalo will face, this will be an interesting match-up to watch.

For the Bills, they recently lost Watkins to the injured reserve, leaving them a big hole to fill at the wide receiver position. Behind Watkins is Robert Woods, Marquise Goodwin and the recently signed Justin Hunter. It is a very lackluster group for quarterback Tyrod Taylor to work with, especially against one of the best secondaries in the league in the Patriots. Like the Patriots, expect the Bills to focus on their running back, LeSean McCoy. He has 227 yards rushing and three touchdowns on 48 rushing attempts. New England's run defense has been a weakness so far, allowing 4.4 yards per carry on 62 attempts. This will be another match-up to watch as the Bills will have to run the ball more to keep their offense functioning with the loss of Watkins.

The Bills may be forced to try and use tight end Charles Clay more in their passing attack with the loss of Watkins, which has not been a main part of their offense up to this point. He has only seven receptions for 67 yards through the first three games and has not panned out so far after being a major free agent signing last year. In his first 16 games with the team (he only played in 13 games last season, his first with the team), Clay has 58 receptions for the 595 yards and three touchdowns. This was after putting up 127 receptions, 1,365 yards and nine touchdowns in the 2013 and 2014 seasons with the Miami Dolphins. The Bills can only hope that Clay is going to be able to pick up the slack in the passing game with no clear #1 target for Taylor.

With the Patriots still dealing with depth issues at offensive line, they have managed to keep their quarterbacks pretty well protected despite that. Patriots quarterbacks have only been sacked five times in the first three games of the season. But Buffalo comes into this game tied for third in the NFL with 10 sacks as a team in the 2016 season. So how the Patriots offensive line can handle the Bills front seven in the battle of pass protection will be another key match-up to watch on both sides. 

Overall, this game may not seem to be THAT close on paper (Patriots are 3-0, Bills are 1-2). But given the fact that this is a rivalry and divisional game gives it even more intrigue after the Bills upset the Cardinals 33-18 in week three. Rex Ryan and Bill Belichick have one of the most entertaining rivalries as opposing head coaches and we are bound for another helping of that come Sunday. 


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