Offensive matchup to watch
Marshawn Lynch vs. New England's front seven
TD: The Bills haven't been able to run on anybody this year. Derrick Dockery and Langston Walker, the team's marquee signings last year, have collapsed into the backfield regularly, while camp holdout Jason Peters has also underachieved. It may be tough treading for Lynch Sunday against the Patriots. Indianapolis only mustered 47 yards on 21 attempts (2.2 avg.) last week against New England. On the road, Buffalo will need to establish some semblance of a rushing game to keep the Patriots' fast-developing offense off the field and ease Trent Edwards into a rhythm.
JS: The Buffalo Bills have suffered a rash of injuries to their secondary. Normally the Bills would have a young experienced secondary with plenty of options to fill in, but Buffalo placed Ashton Youboty on IR this week. Safety Donte Whitner has been ruled out as well. The Bills have just four cornerbacks and limited help at safety with Ko Simpson the best of the bunch. Expect the Patriots to exploit the weakness by trying to use plenty of spread options to get Randy Moss matched up one-on-one or to take advantage of the rookie Leodis McKelvin in the slot. Moss and Welker haven't had the big games of 2007, but this matchup is setting up for one of those days. The Patriots will also use some of their other wide receivers to run off the coverage, possibly opening up things for Jabar Gaffney if Buffalo continues to try to double Moss.
Defensive matchup to watch
Leodis McKelvin vs. Wes Welker
TD: It might not be McKelvin. Buffalo may pit fellow rookie Reggie Corner on Welker in the slot. Either way, Buffalo will need to be aware and mark up on Welker play-to-play. He doesn't take snaps off and is a killer on third downs, ranking third in the NFL in receptions (56). The Bills don't have Donte Whitner (shoulder) around to assist on slot coverage as he's done. McKelvin, who has struggled at cornerback thus far in his rookie year, must deliver or it could be a long, exhausting day for Buffalo's defense.
Patriots defensive backs vs Lee Evans
JS: Lee Evans has the ability to put up very big games against the Patriots. Although the Bills are in a bit of a slump, Evans still has 35 receptions for 678 yards (19.4 avg.). Evans has turned in three 100-yard performances this season and his season long reception was an 87-yard touchdown against the Cardinals. The Patriots will likely be without another of their corners this week, as Terrence Wheatley tries to recover from a wrist injury. With no Rodney Harrison to command the coverage deep, it will be up to James Sanders, Brandon Meriweather and Ellis Hobbs (who is also banged up), to find a way to keep Evans from getting deep on the secondary. If Buffalo moves the talented Evans around, the nickel and dime defenders will have to play better than in previous games to stop Evans from finding holes in the zones. With Josh Reed out, the Bills will need the ever-dangerous return man Roscoe Parrish to threaten other parts of the field to get the coverage away from Evans.
The Bills will win if
TD: The offense gets back on track. Buffalo's offense has been in dizzying funk the last two weeks (two touchdowns, six turnovers). Trent Edwards has lost his cool demeanor in the red zone. The offensive line has crumbled into one of the league's worst (no Bills RB has eclipsed 100 yards in a game this season). And no receiver outside of Lee Evans has emerged as the team hoped - including second-rounder James Hardy. Buffalo will need to finish drives with touchdowns if it is going to win Sunday.
JS: The Patritos continue to suffer breakdowns on defense. The San Diego game, the Miami game, the Rams game were perfect illustrations of how the Patriots knew what they hjad to do going into the game, but were unable to control it. Miami was a bnit of an exception with the Wildcat offense, but Ronnie Brown still destroyed the Patriots with the option run/pass, and New England was powerless to get off the field on third down. If Trent Edwards can continue drives by picking on the underneath coverage, the Patriots will be forced to adjust by bringing players into tighter coverage. That will open things up for the big play, something the Patriots have shown a weakness in stopping. The Patriots are the 3rd worst team in the league allowing 7 pass plays over 40 yards.
The Patriots will win if
TD: They exploit Buffalo's vulnerable secondary. Sunday marks the Bills first game without Donte Whitner this season. The strong safety has been the rock of a surprising unit. Jabari Greer or Terrence McGee will take on Randy Moss - hardly a favorable matchup either way after Moss rang up six touchdowns on Buffalo in two games last year. It's up to Matt Cassel to attack Buffalo's weak intermediate coverage with Welker and take occasional shots downfield to Moss. The Bills may need to rely on ballhawking and turnovers to thwart New England possessions.
JS: the defense keeps the game close enough for the offense to run normally. When the Patrtios fall behind early, it puts a heavy strain on the Patriots inexperienced quarterback Matt Cassel. Cassel has shown improvement in his game by not taking a sack last week instead of his average of 3 per game. If the score is close, or the Patriots get a lead, Cassel will have more opportunities to take chances, something he's carefully avoided. Both Sammy Morris and LaMont Jordan have a chance to play on Sunday, but without them, the Patriots still have to find a way to run the ball. Kevin Faulk has been invaluable the past two game, but the Bills will likely key on Faulk. If the Patriots can be balanced, the offense will get the chances it needs to turn field goal opportunities into touchdowns, unlike last week.
Prediction for the game
TD: Hard to side with the Bills right now. They're banged up defensively, dysfunctional offensively and have seemed to lost that swagger that carried them to a 4-0 start. Eventually, Buffalo should be able to escape this disarray, but not Sunday. At Foxborough, the Bills may be running into a buzzsaw. The Patriots played hard last week and really should be 6-3. This game could be a perfect storm for the Patriots. Cassel's getting more comfortable each week and Whitner's injury has forced the Bills to shuffle their subpackages around in a hurry. Look for a breakout game from Cassel and more Buffalo blues offensively.
Patriots 34, Bills 16
JS: There are far too many concerns in the Patriots defense to say New England will win the game no problem. Roscoe Parrish is a scary adversary in the kick return game, as is Leodis McKelvin based on his college performances. The New England secondary is in disarray with the team having to sign Jason Webster this week just to field healthy bodies. Still, New England has a lot of weapons they haven't been able to unleash fully this season. The Bills secondary issues are as bad, if not worse than New England's, and Matt Cassel looks a lot more like an experienced quarterback than the first-year starter he is. Trent Edwards is a constant threat to have a big game, and he's proven he can do it. The Patriots will find a way to contain him. Expect Buffalo to make some hay in this game, but they'll bog down having to settle for field goals when they need touchdowns. The Patriots receivers will find some success against the Bills secondary
Patriots 27, Bills 20
Tyler Dunne covers the Buffalo Bills for Buffalo Football Report, part of the Scout.com network..
Jon Scott is a contributor to Patriots Insider, (the New England Patriots site on Scout.com), and Comcast SportsNet New England.