The Buffalo Bills are very much alive in the AFC playoff picture and their remaining schedule doesn’t look too bad.
Well, except for two games against the sizzling New England Patriots, the defending champions who have won seven games in a row.
“I think they’re better (than last year’s team), honestly,” Buffalo coach Sean McDermott said Wednesday, as his team gets set to host the Patriots on Sunday. “This is an outstanding football team, not that the other ones weren’t.
“It just seems like now with the addition of some of other players that they’ve added to on the roster with the addition of (Brandin) Cooks and some of the other player’s they’ve been able to add the last really X amount of months I think this is a dynamite football team.”
The Bills have won three of their last four games to get to 6-5. They start a three-game homestand this week, with the Indianapolis Colts and Miami Dolphins coming in behind the Patriots. Buffalo then visits New England and Miami to end the regular season.
“It’s good inside of our building right now,” Bills tackle Kyle Williams said. “We’ve got a lot of guys that are focused on our process, our week to week, day to day process of getting better and trying to do what we need to do to win a football game.
“All we can do is worry about what’s in front of us this week, and like I said earlier, obviously we have a big challenge with the Patriots and it needs all of our attention for sure.”
The Patriots have won five straight games in Buffalo and Tom Brady is trying for his 14th career victory there this week. New England is 29-5 in the intra-division rivalry since 2000.
For the second straight week, the 40-year-old Brady, who played last week with a sore Achilles tendon and took some hits, did not participate in the Wednesday practice. The offensive line has also been battered, but center David Andrews, who missed the last two games because of illness, was back and limited Wednesday.
New England has held all seven opponents to 17 points or less during their winning streak and the Patriots are coming off a less-than-perfect 35-17 rout of the Dolphins as they begin a three-game road trip. Dec. 17 is the date people have circled because that the day the Patriots visit the Pittsburgh Steelers (also 9-2).
People are thinking ahead to that, but you know Bill Belichick is always about the game at hand. In fact, asked Wednesday about the fake punt that produced a first down en route to an opening score against Miami (and ended Nate Ebner’s season), Belichick said, “Honestly, I’m pretty much done with that. Really, I’m on to Buffalo. I really need to focus on Buffalo and I don’t really care too much about anything else right now. Sorry.”
And speaking of Buffalo, Belichick said, “They’re playing extremely well, got a really good team, a lot of veteran players that play very good fundamentally. They’re very sound. They do a lot of things well. They run the ball well. They play good defense. They’re good in the kicking game. They obviously do a good great job with takeaways and turnovers. Ball security is going to be a huge issue for us in this game.”
The Bills have turned their opposition over 19 times, but the Patriots have coughed it up only seven — two of those last week.
Since returning from his Deflategate suspension last season, Brady has thrown 54 touchdown passes and five interceptions in 23 games. A stronger running game has made him even more lethal, even with all the injuries suffered on the offense.
On the other side, Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor has returned from a disastrous benching to reclaim his starting job. His mobility is always a concern.
“There are some designed runs for him,” said Belichick. “There’s a lot more runs that go to other players, but he’s their second leading rusher, so some of those are scramble plays, loose plays. He’s very hard to tackle. He’s like a running back when he runs.
“His ability to extend plays, I would say, is just as concerning or dangerous and tough to defend as him actually pulling the ball down and running with it. That’s a problem, too. But extending the play and throwing it is, I’d say, as big or probably a bigger problem.”