The New England Patriots in essence face a one game season. The playoffs start today. The Buffalo Bills come into town with the hopes of damaging both the Patriots win streak and home field advantage.
To say anything other then the Buffalo Bills season has been a complete disappointment this year is understating the worst fold job in the NFL in 2003. Only the Oakland Raiders and Tampa Bay Buccaneers were worse as far as not playing to their potential than the Bills.
It all starts with Quarterback Drew Bledsoe. The former Patriot has been a huge bust for the Bills this season and last year for that matter. Outside of his stellar performance in Week #1 a 31-0 white washing of the Patriots at home, Bledsoe's play has done little to restore the once proud tradition of the Bills organization.
Today he can settle a score, damage the home field advantage hopes of the Patriots and end the 12 game winning streak that has made New England the class of the AFC. Does Bledsoe have one more game in him? He might.
The weakness of the Patriots is their low-scoring offense. They have the leagues most aggressive defense but the offense is simply average. However, it generally scores more points than the opponents but outside of a shoot out in Indy, the Patriots have done what it takes to win games without scoring a lot of points.
The Bills can score points only when Bledsoe is on fire. That's not been the case much this season. But Bledsoe has a score to settle and that should be a huge concern for New England today.
The Bills are not without offense as they feature running back Travis Henry and wide receiver Eric Moulds. Both can take over a game. The Bills defense is solid and at times stubborn. So they can make plays.
Today is one game showdown for respect for the Bills. They can ride out their 2003 season with bookend victories over the Patriots that will legitimize their season enough to get them back on track in 2004. The Bills, along with the Patriots, New York Jets and Miami Dolphins are in the toughest division in the AFC. That won't change next year.
The Bills have no shot to advance to the post season this year. Most experts felt that Buffalo should have won the AFC East in 2003 but the few who did not choose them before the season began pinned that failure on Bledsoe.
So this game is crucial to the Bills and their future. They have a head coach who is on the hot seat as rumors are already swirling that Greg Williams will be canned after this game unless the team wins against the Patriots. Even a victory might not save his job but it can't hurt.
Expect the Bills to throw out all the stops on offense today by using trick plays and gambling down the field. They will win or lose based on the efforts of Bledsoe. The Patriots hope they can contain him and if they do then New England will win their 13th game of the season.
But if the Bills defense shows up unlike other recent road games, then that would bode well for them and they could upset the Patriots.
New England has to continue doing what it's been doing all season, especially in the streak. They've made the plays on offense when they've needed them and on defense they've attacked.
They'll need that same effort later today if they expect to beat the Bills. In the wacky world of the NFL, any team can upset the favorite on any given Sunday, or Saturday in this case. The Patriots might need to play their best game of the season to win today and to secure the #1 seed in the playoffs.
A most interested observer today will be the Kansas City Chiefs. If the Patriots lose today, then the Chiefs with a win at home over the Chicago Bears on Sunday can wrap up home field advantage with a win. The Patriots actually play better on the road but you want to be home in January in the playoffs.
So New England can't take the Bills lightly. One thing is for sure the Bills will be fired up and the Patriots need to match their intensity. If not, the eleven game winning streak will mean very little in the end.