By: Steve Balestrieri
The New England Patriots return home for their regular season finale against the Buffalo Bills. The game has been flexed by the NFL to 4:25 p.m. on Sunday.
The game will be televised by CBS with Ian Eagle and Dan Fouts on the call doing the play-by-play and analysis. It is hard to believe that the Patriots and Bills kicked off the 2013 season sixteen weeks ago in Buffalo. The season has flown by once again and the Patriots and Bills will finish things off before the playoffs start next weekend.
The Patriots (11-4) routed the Baltimore Ravens in Maryland 41-7 to not only secure a playoff berth but to win their fifth straight AFC East title and the 11th in the past 13 years. And this week, there is still plenty to play for, the Patriots still have an outside shot at the #1 seed, but more importantly, a win guarantees them at least a bye in the Wildcard Round and then they’ll have to see how things play out between Denver and Oakland.
The Bills (6-9) whitewashed the Miami Dolphins 19-0 on Sunday in Buffalo. The Bills took advantage of a Miami team that wasn’t prepared to play and put a huge dent in their playoff hopes with a dominating defensive performance, holding the Dolphins to just 103 yards of total offense.
Earlier this season we looked at Buffalo for the first matchup in New England, now we’re going back for our second five impressions of the Bills:
No Quit In These Bills: It would have been easy for Buffalo to mail in their last two games of the year as other Bills teams have done in the past. The team is guaranteed another losing season and without any hope of sniffing the playoffs. But the players are still playing hard for first year coach Doug Marrone and they embarrassed a Miami team that was still taking victory laps over their win against New England the week before.
Pounding the ball with a very effective ground game that netted 203 total yards and sacking Miami’s QBs a total of seven times, the Bills thoroughly dominated the game by shutting out the Fins 19-0. They feel they are building for the future with this team and not just going through the motions.
Expect another solid effort from Buffalo from start to finish.
Pettine’s Defense Stellar Against the Pass: When we wrote about the Bills defense in Sept. the thought was that Defensive Coordinator Rich Pettine would bring a lot of Rex Ryan’s defense with him to upstate New York and try to pressure opposing QBs. Well he’s done that in spades.
The Bills have the 5th ranked passing defense in the NFL allowing only 210.4 yards per game and have really gotten after opposing quarterbacks with 56 sacks which is a franchise record.
Buffalo’s defense has three players with double digit sack totals in Kyle Williams, Mario Williams and Jerry Hughes, the first time since the Bruce Smith years in 1995 that the Bills have had those kind of numbers. It is also the first time that it has been done since the 2000 Saints. Marcel Dareus has also been effective with 7.5 sacks.
The Bills are getting a very good defense together under Pettine, this off-season, they’ll look to shore up their run defense and you may be looking at a top unit in 2014.
Jackson Still Getting It Done: Earlier this summer, it was thought that C.J. Spiller would become the feature back for Buffalo and that veteran Fred Jackson would fill a more complimentary role. But that hasn’t happened, Jackson has remained a very viable threat in the running game and he and Spiller are a true two-headed monster running the ball with 836 and 822 yards respectively.
Buffalo boasts the #2 running attack in the NFL averaging 142.5 yards per game and Spiller with just 21 yards rushing and receiving on Sunday would join Jackson in both having over 1000 yards combined on the season.
Jackson has had some memorable big games against New England in the past and with starting QB E.J. Manuel questionable to play right now with a knee injury and Stevie Johnson doubtful due to a death in his family, the Bills may opt to attack the Patriots 30th ranked run defense, and why not with Jackson, coming off of his biggest game of the season?
Thad Lewis Plays Well In Relief Of Manuel: With top prospect E.J. Manuel missing games at three different times this season because of injury, back-up quarterback Thad Lewis has stepped in and played well going 2-2 with both wins coming against the Dolphins.
Lewis actually leads the team in completion percentage, yards per attempt and Quarterback Rating on the season. Last week against a tough Dolphins defense he was 15 for 25 for 193 yards and an interception. But at crunch time last week, he led a 19-play, 92-yard drive that took an amazing 9:16 off the clock before Dan Carpenter booted a 21 yard field goal that iced the game.
If Manuel who was supposed to be ready to play this week can’t go, look for Lewis to step in and take the reins again for Buffalo.
Bills Lock Up DT Branch: In a move looking towards the future, the Bills have locked up DT Alan Branch for an addition three years, terms were not released. Branch a seven year veteran, was brought on a one-year contract in 2013 and has played well.
The 6’6, 325 tackle is a good run stuffer and plays tackle in the Bills Hybrid 4-3 and switches over to defensive end when they go to a three man front. Already stocked with defensive linemen who can rush the passer with Dareus, Kyle Williams and Mario Williams, Branch fulfils a role that is needed within the Bills. Their biggest weakness on defense is stopping the run and Branch has played very well in the absence this season of Alex Carrington who tore a quadriceps back in Week 3.