The Buffalo Bills have a chance to make (recent) history when they host the New England Patriots on Sunday. No AFC East team has swept the Patriots in a single season since 2000, when the Jets and Dolphins both did it.
The Bills haven’t won both games against the Patriots in a season since 1999. That will undoubtedly motivate Rex Ryan, who’s had a long history with the Patriots – one that hasn’t always fared well for him. Unfortunately, the Bills will be facing a different Pats team this time around. Tom Brady is back and Rob Gronkowski is healthy, giving New England its two best players on offense.
As a result, the Patriots will come away with a win in this one and avoid the sweep. Here are three reasons why.
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The Bills are depleted on offense
The Bills came into the year with a solid offense – one that led the league in rushing yards a year ago. They returned just about every starter on that side of the ball, but injuries have derailed the offense. LeSean McCoy is battling a hamstring injury, Sammy Watkins is on IR, Marquise Goodwin has a concussion and Cordy Glenn has an ankle issue.
All of those players missed practice on Thursday, which isn’t a good sign for their availability on Sunday. McCoy was in a similar position last week but he made an attempt to play. That backfired a bit as he aggravated his hamstring and only had eight rushing attempts against the Dolphins.
If McCoy is unable to go, it will be a huge blow for the Bills. And even if he does play, there’s no way he’ll be 100 percent. It will force Tyrod Taylor to throw the ball and attempt to do more than he’s capable of, which won’t end well for Buffalo – especially if Robert Woods and Goodwin are out.
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Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski will play this time
The last time the Bills and Patriots met, Tom Brady was suspended and Rob Gronkowski was nowhere near healthy. The result was a stagnant offense led by Jacoby Brissett, who – let’s be honest – is lightyears away from being anything close to Brady. The win was still impressive for the Bills last time around, but this is a completely different team they’re facing.
They’ve scored at least 27 points in each of Brady’s three starts and have yet to win a game by fewer than 11 with him under center. The Bills have a solid secondary to match up with New England’s receivers, but limiting Gronk will be a huge challenge – particularly with Aaron Williams out. They don’t have the size or speed at safety to contain Gronk, and it will likely take a two-man job to limit his production. That will open up opportunities for others in the passing game.
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Bill Belichick will take away Buffalo’s ground game
Bill Belichick is notorious for taking away a team’s best asset on any given Sunday. Whether it’s preventing J.J. Watt from having a huge game or blanketing a top receiver in coverage, Belichick knows how to force a team to win in other ways. When it comes to the Bills, they love to run the ball. They’re among the league’s best in that department, but it will be tough sledding against the Patriots – especially if McCoy is out.
Like the Dolphins did last week, the Patriots will sell out to stop the run and force Tyrod Taylor to beat them. Unfortunately for the Bills, he’ll have a less-than-ideal supporting cast. Malcolm Butler, Eric Rowe and Logan Ryan can certainly hold their own against Justin Hunter and Brandon Tate, assuming Goodwin and Woods are out as they might be, but they won't offer much more than that. The Bills simply won’t win those one-on-one matchups, and running the ball without McCoy will be difficult. Expect the Patriots to shut down Buffalo’s ground game and force Taylor to air it out more than he’d like.