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Patriots to Battle Bills in Pivotal Divisional Clash

Tom Brady (Image from articles.nydailynews.com)

Notable Injuries

Pat Chung (hand), Sebastian Vollmer (back), Mike Wright (concussion) and Aaron Hernandez (knee) are all out for the Patriots. Ras-I Dowling (hip), Gary Guyton (hamstring), Albert Haynesworth (back), Jerod Mayo (thigh), Zoltan Mesko (knee), Taylor Price (hamstring) and Ryan Wendell (calf) are all listed as questionable.

For the Bills, cornerback Terrence McGee (hamstring), linebacker Kirk Morrison (hamstring), wide receiver Roscoe Parrish (ankle), and guard Kraig Urbik (knee) have all been ruled out.

Key Matchup

Stevie Johnson vs. Devin McCourty

McCourty’s early season struggles against huge receivers in Brandon Marshall and Vincent Jackson have been documented. Meanwhile, Johnson has shown to be Fitzpatrick’s favorite target with 12 receptions for 162 yards and two touchdowns. Johnson had a super sophomore campaign in 2010 with 82 receptions, 1,083 yards and 10 scores and continues to develop into one of the best receivers in the division. If McCourty can limit Johnson’s damage, the Patriots should leave Buffalo at 3-0.

Boom Boom Pow

Fred Jackson remains the key offensive weapon for the Bills. Jackson was essential in Buffalo’s 38-35 come-from-behind victory against Oakland when the Bills rallied from a 21-3 halftime deficit. Jackson leads the NFL with 229 yards on the ground, and has had success against New England in the past. In three of his past four outings against New England, Freddy Boom Boom has garnered at least 92 yards from scrimmage.

Crimson and Thrower

Another key figure in Buffalo’s ascension is Ryan Fitzpatrick. A seventh round pick by St. Louis in 2005 from Harvard, Fitzpatrick opened the eyes of the league by passing for 310 yards as an injury replacement to Marc Bulger as a rookie. Since then, the Harvard alum has continued to produce at every stop.

Fitzpatrick possesses a career 11-14 in a Bills uniform, including an 0-3 record against the Patriots. His improved play this year, passing for 472 yards, seven touchdowns against just one interception has been vital in Buffalo’s rise to the top of the division. If Fitzpatrick can get the offense into a rhythm, his play and Jackson’s unique talents could be trouble for Bill Belichick’s D.

Beyond the Boxscores

Despite a 4-12 record last year, Buffalo’s poor record was in no way, shape or form a microcosm of their play. The Bills lost several games in heartbreaking fashion. Chan Gailey’s squad was 3-6 in games decided by one possession and 0-3 in overtime contests.

History Repeating?

The Patriots have dominated the Bills under the reign of Belichick, going 20-2 versus their AFC East rivals. The Patriots are currently in the midst of a 15-game winning streak against their AFL rivals, but the Bills have played the Patriots tough, including the 2006 and 2009 season openers. The last time Buffalo topped New England was 2003 when the Bills massacred the Patriots 31-0 following the release of Lawyer Milloy.

Final Prediction

Patriots 38, Bills 28

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