Head coach Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots walks the sidelines in the first quarter against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field on November 27, 2011 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)
In recent years, the Bills have made the rounds as preseason dark-horse candidates in the mold of the Lions and Texans. So far, the only thing Buffalo has in common with Detroit and Texas is that they're all in the NFL. While the latter made the playoffs last season, the former is still on the search for consistency.
As most conversations about such things begin, this one starts with the quarterback. The Lions have Matthew Stafford and the Texans have Matt Schaub, both franchise players largely responsible for their team's success. Buffalo has Ryan Fitzpatrick, a former seventh-round pick who was rewarded with a big contract last October. He has yet to live up to the payday and there's no indication that the Bills' fates will be changing anytime soon.
This is welcome news to the Patriots, fresh off their bye and looking to add to their lead in the AFC East. New England had the week off and still managed to put distance between them and the rest of the division; the Dolphins lost to drop to 4-4, and the Bills fell to 3-5. (The Jets, who were also on their bye, remained at 3-5.) On Sunday, the New England will host Buffalo in a game Vegas has favoring the Pats by 11.5 points.
The last time these two teams met, the Bills led 21-7 before the whole thing collapsed and the Patriots ended up winning, 52-28. So is there any reason to expect things to change this time around? Not if we see the same old Fitzpatrick. At least to hear ESPN's Tedy Bruschi tell it.
" It has to be disappointing for Bills fans that Fitzpatrick isn't showing more growth," he said Thursday. "He just hasn't developed in terms of attacking teams down the field more.
"Fitzpatrick has attempted only 19 passes this year over 20 yards and has completed only four, according to ESPN Stats & Information. The whole dink-and-dunk concept, teams can game-plan for it. Tackling is such a big key because of who they have at the receiver position -- when they get them on those quick slants and quick passes, the bad angles taken by the safeties can lead to big yards after contact. Elsewhere, their rookie left tackle, Cordy Glenn, was hurt earlier in the year. Getting him back solidifies their offensive line that much more, and gives them a different look."
Then, of course, there's the Bills' defense which has been among the worst units in the league. According to FootballOutsiders.com, Buffalo ranks 31st overall (29th against the pass, 32nd against the run). Given that Tom Brady is, well, Tom Brady, it's reasonable to assume the the Pats' passing game will be fine. And with the emergence of a running game led by Stevan Ridley, the rushing attack shouldn't have much trouble, either.
Put another way: it's going to take a lot for the Bills to come into Gillette Stadium and pull off the upset. Even against one of the NFL's most overrated coaches.