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New England Patriots at Buffalo Bills Gameday Preview

PATRIOTS OVERVIEW (2009 RANKINGS)

In recent weeks, Tom Brady hasn’t looked like the cool, efficient quarterback of old. Opposing players are questioning Randy Moss’ effort. The defense bears little resemblance to the one that helped stake the team to three Super Bowl wins. And yet, there they are, back in their customary place atop the AFC East standings ... for now, anyway.

OFFENSE (#2 total yardage, #14 rushing, #2 passing, #6 scoring):

Brady’s numbers look pretty good – a 65.3 percent completion rate for almost 4,000 yards and 23 touchdowns against just 11 interceptions – but the hits are starting to pile up, and he’s missing practices for the first time in his career (other than for the ACL injury, obviously). The Patriots have been utilizing a rotation on the offensive line, but with both Stephen Neal and Nick Kaczur missing this game, reserves Sebastian Vollmer and Mark LeVoir will likely be pressed into full-time service. Then again, they’ll get little sympathy from the Bills, who have now placed an entire starting front five on injured reserve. The upheaval on the line has also impacted the running game; the Pats may be averaging more than four yards per carry as a team, but they’ve been stuffed on several recent critical short-yardage plays.

Of course, Wes Welker seemingly doesn’t need the line to hold its blocks to get open. Despite missing two games, the Pro Bowl wideout has already eclipsed the 100-catch mark for the third consecutive season – something that only Marvin Harrison, Jerry Rice, and Herman Moore accomplished before him. Double Randy Moss to take away the threat of the deep ball, and Welker is deadly underneath. The Pats could still use a third receiver after the Joey Galloway experiment didn’t pan out, but Ben Watson has taken up some of that slack.

DEFENSE (#11 total yardage, #17 rushing, #14 passing, #7 scoring):

Geoff Hangartner had to be thrilled when he saw the latest Patriots injury report, with starting left end Ty Warren, Pro Bowl tackle Vince Wilfork, and reserve Myron Pryor all listed as out. That leaves backups Mike Wright, Titus Adams, and rookie Ron Brace in the rotation with Jarvis Green ... and Patriots fans probably wondering yet again if it was really necessary to trade Richard Seymour.

With end-sized rush linebackers Tully Banta-Cain, Derrick Burgess, and Adalius Thomas on the roster, though, the Pats do still have some options. Banta-Cain has made the most of his latest chance, leading the team with 5.5 sacks. Thomas was already deep in Bill Belichick’s doghouse even before last week’s “Lategate,” but expect him to be back on the field this Sunday. At this point, the tandem of second-year inside ‘backers Jerod Mayo and Gary Guyton are the closest thing the New England defense has to a stabilizing influence.

Shawn Springs is back in the mix at corner along with Leigh Bodden and Jonathan Wilhite, but the secondary remains a source of concern; opposing quarterbacks have tossed 22 touchdown passes against the Pats this season. Brandon McGowan has displaced James Sanders as the free safety next to Brandon Meriweather.

SPECIAL TEAMS:

Stephen Gostkowski ia having another good season, missing just one of 19 attempts from inside 40 yards. Punter Chris Hanson must be an All-Pro holder, because his performance in his primary job – averaging under 35 net yards per attempt – would earn him a bus ticket out of town from most teams. The coverage teams are average, as are the various players the Patriots have tried on kick returns, but Welker is averaging 13 yards per punt return.

OUTLOOK:

You know the numbers by now: Twelve consecutive losses and 17 of the last 18. The last time Buffalo defeated New England, Drew Bledsoe was the Bills quarterback, Lee Evans was still playing for Wisconsin, and 14 players on the current 53-man roster weren’t old enough to register to vote.

Does that change on Sunday? While the Bills weren’t able to finish the job in Week 1, the Patriots appear as vulnerable as they have been in a long time – in fact, the London game against the dreadful Buccaneers remains their only “road” victory of the season.

If Buffalo wasn’t reduced to patching together an offensive line from week to week, I’d be sorely tempted to pick them to win this game. Against my better judgment, and considering that the defense is as healthy as it’s ever going to be for the rest of the year, I still am.

Ah, why not? Go Bills, see you in Lot 1, and Merry Christmas.

LINKS

Patriots depth chart | 2009 regular-season stats
Bills depth chart | 2009 regular-season stats

Welcome to the Blogosphere:
ESPN AFC East (Tim Graham)
ESPNBoston.com (Mike Reiss, Chris Forsberg)
Extra Points (Boston Globe – Albert Breer, Christopher Gasper, Adam Kilgore, Monique Walker)
The Rap Sheet (Boston Herald, Ian R. Rapoport and Karen Guregian)
ProJo PatsBlog (Providence Journal, Shalise Manza Young)

Lori Chase, a staff columnist for Two Bills Drive, can be contacted at lchase (at) twobillsdrive.com.

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09/07 @ Chicago Bears 1:00 pm
09/14 Miami Dolphins 1:00 pm
09/21 San Diego Chargers 1:00 pm
09/28 @ Houston Texans 1:00 pm
10/05 @ Detroit Lions 1:00 pm
10/12 New England Patriots 1:00 pm
10/19 Minnesota Vikings 1:00 pm
10/26 @ New York Jets 1:00 pm
11/09 Kansas City Chiefs 1:00 pm
11/13 @ Miami Dolphins 8:25 pm
11/23 New York Jets 1:00 pm
11/30 Cleveland Browns 1:00 pm
12/07 @ Denver Broncos 4:05 pm
12/14 Green Bay Packers 1:00 pm
12/21 @ Oakland Raiders 4:25 pm
12/28 @ New England Patriots 1:00 pm

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