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A victory over the Buffalo Bills (4-10) this weekend will give the New England Patriots (12-2) the AFC East title and the No. 1 seed heading into the AFC playoffs.
The Patriots suffered a scare last Sunday night, but managed to squeak past the Aaron Rodger-less Green Bay Packers, 31-27.
The win over the Packers has put the Pats in a great position heading into their matchup with the Bills, who they’ve beaten an astounding 14 consecutive times.
The Bills pulled off an improbable 17-14 win at the Miami Dolphins last weekend, and are a team that hasn’t quit under head coach Chan Gailey. They’ll be determined to play the role of spoiler against the Patriots on Sunday, and beat them for the first time since Week 1 of the 2003 season.
The Patriots defense made Packers backup quarterback Matt Flynn look like Peyton Manning last weekend. Flynn, who was drafted by Green Bay in the 7th round in 2008, completed 24/37 passes for 251 yards and 3 touchdowns against the Pats.
Flynn was able to have success against the Patriots because the Packers were able to gain significant yardage on first and second down, and put themselves in manageable situations on third down. The Cleveland Browns, one of two teams to beat the Patriots this season, were able to do the same thing against them back in Week 9.
Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, far more accomplished than Matt Flynn, has had a great season after taking over the reigns of the offense back in Week 3 against the Patriots. He completed 20/28 passes for 247 yards and 2 touchdowns in that game, but also threw 2 interceptions. Fitzpatrick has thrown 23 touchdowns and 12 interceptions so far this season.
The Harvard Alum is smart, makes accurate throws, and has two solid wide receivers in Steve Johnson and David Nelson.
Patriots’ corners Kyle Arrington and Devin McCourty will have to tighten up their coverage on first and second down this week, and not allow Fitzpatrick to complete short passes to Johnson and Nelson. They’ll also have to do a better job of tackling than they did against the Packers’ Donald Driver, Greg Jennings, and James Jones last week.
Part of the equation for putting the Bills’ offense in third and long situations will involve shutting down running back Fred Jackson. Jackson has had a disappointing season, rushing for 811 yards and scoring 5 touchdowns on 196 carries.
The Pats defense held Jackson to 8 yards on 4 carries in Week 3. Jackson, however, has rushed for over 100 yards in three of his last six starts.
Jackson was a 1,000-yard rusher last year, and still has the respect of Patriots coach Bill Belichick.
“I have as much respect for him as really anybody we’ve played,” Belichick said Tuesday on a conference call to preview Sunday’s game at Ralph Wilson Stadium.
“He’s a complete guy, does it all and shows really good toughness and can get the tough yards.”
The Pats lack depth on the defensive line, and they’ll be tested against Jackson on Sunday.
Prediction: There’s a lot at stake for the Patriots in this game. I see no reason why they won’t be able to extend their win streak over the Bills to 15 consecutive games. Patriots 24-17