Not A Typo: Bills Should Beat Patriots
by Dave Staba (@DavidStaba) - posted 8:35 am, October 12, 2014
Buffalo hosts New England today, with sole possession of first place in the AFC East at stake, as a three-point underdog. Given the way the Patriots have toyed with the Bills for lo these past 13 years, it feels weird to even think this, but the Bills should be favored by at least as much.
The Bills are better at every position except one, and the Patriots’ singular advantage, while glaringly obvious, should be negated by their deficiencies.
Buffalo enters the first-place showdown tied for the NFL lead in quarterback sacks and second only to Super Bowl champion Seattle in run defense. The defensive line has been the foundation for those lofty rankings and should overwhelm New England’s shuffling offensive line, which bears primary responsibility for Tom Brady looking so crappy through the season’s first quarter.
The Bills’ front wall should only improve with the expected return of Kyle Williams, who missed the dominant performance in Detroit with a knee injury. Brady has traditionally struggled most against opponents whose front four has been able to decimate the pocket, as in both Super Bowl losses to New York. Williams and Marcell Dareus, who registered three of Buffalo’s six sacks against Detroit, should rupture Brady’s protection, either burying him themselves or forcing him into the perilous rush lanes occupied by Mario Williams and Jerry Hughes.
What with the league’s official approval of the sale of the team to Terry and Kim Pegula, along with the game’s early-season importance and a forecast conducive to high-intensity tailgating, a raucous crowd should amplify the talent gap up front. Sufficiently disruptive noise from the home fans should scramble the visitors’ timing on offense, particularly when that offense relies heavily on play calls and blocking schemes being adjusted at the line. That’s what happened a couple weeks ago in Kansas City, when New England got rolled 41-14 and the hopeful started talking about the end of the Patriots’ divisional dominance.
After several weeks of struggle, Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller should be able to find some running room against New England’s defense, which rates 18th in the league against the run. The Chiefs’ two-back approach yielded 107 rushing yards from Knile Davis and 92 more by Jamaal Charles.
Any degree of success from a running game that has struggled since Buffalo’s 29-10 win over Miami in Week 2 should create some space for Sammy Watkins, who does not seem to need much, and the rest of the Bills receivers, as well as provide cover for Kyle Orton, who historically needs all he can get.
This may also sound historically inaccurate, but Watkins, Robert Woods and Mike Williams should give Orton a set of targets superior to Brady, who has little beyond Rob Gronkowski and a bunch of failed Wes Welker impersonators from which to choose.
OK. That is a whole lot of shoulds. And, as the Bills have demonstrated repeatedly over the past 15 years or so, should does not mean a whole lot once the game begins.
New England, as demonstrated throughout last Sunday night’s 43-17 wipeout of previously unbeaten Cincinnati, is far from finished. And for a guy who pundits had on his way out of Foxborough, Brady looked a lot like the guy who guided the Patriots to 11 of the last 13 divisional titles, five Super Bowl berths and three Lombardi Trophies against the Bengals.
Bill Belichick has shown a knack for finding new ways to torment the Bills over the years, dating back to the two-man line that Jim Kelly never quite figured out how to exploit in Super Bowl XXV. Futility against the Patriots has been a constant through Buffalo’s era of revolving quarterbacks, so the less asked of Orton, the better.
New England’s anti-Bills innovations have not been limited to defense, either. You might recall New England’s visit two years ago, when the Patriots limped into Buffalo with a 1-2 record and a struggling running game that shredded the 2-1 Bills for 247 yards on the way to 45 unanswered points and a 52-21 humiliation.
Besides signalling the end of any hope Buffalo might accomplish much of anything with Ryan Fitzpatrick quarterbacking and Chan Gailey coaching, that game inspired Brady to vocalize his feelings about Bills fans, as GIF-ed above.
This year’s renewal provides a similar crossroads for Orton and Doug Marrone, as well as general manager Doug Whaley and the rest of Buffalo management.
Beating New England does not necessarily mean a shift in the balance of divisional power. After their only two wins over Belichick and Brady, in 2003 and 2011, the Bills went on to finish 6-10.
If they can not beat these Patriots under these circumstances, though, there is little reason to hope Buffalo will wind up in any better shape this time around.
And if that happens, the Pegulas should start thinking about who they want managing their $1.4 billion investment.